Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet became the first Executive Director of UN Women in 2010. She recently spoke to Say NO–UNiTE about UN Women’s commitment to ending violence against women and girls, and the strategies and innovations that help show the way forward.
Why is ending violence against women one of UN Women’s main global priorities?
It is a priority for UN Women because violence against women is a global problem that requires urgent action. Every time a woman experiences gender based violence, her rights are violated. The phenomenon takes many diverse forms—among them, rape, domestic abuse, sexual violence as a crime of war, and harmful traditional practices such as early marriage and female genital mutilation.
Until we stop all of these violations, in both the public and private domains, gender equality and women’s empowerment will not be a lived reality.
What are the consequences of violence for women and societies?
There are obvious physical, psychological and economic consequences for women and girls who survive violence. What is not always so obvious is how much additional damage is being done to children, families, societies and economies. We need much more data on the scope of this problem, but where we do have it, we know that there are huge costs. Billions of dollars are being lost on extra health care and policing expenditures, and through lower productivity when women cannot work. About 150 million girls experience sexual violence each year, which extracts a price beyond calculation. Many will face a lifetime of limits to their hopes and abilities to become active members of society.
On one hand, we need to stop violence against women because women have the right to live free from violence, and because that is the correct action to take. On the other hand, we must recognize that doing so benefits everyone. Societies without violence would be healthier and more productive. They would be more stable and inclusive, because more women and girls could exercise their rights.
What can we do to end violence?
Countries have now adopted a historic number of laws to stop violence against women and girls, but these do not always translate into equality and justice, as our recent report, Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice, demonstrated. It found that laws contain loopholes, enforcement is often poor and women frequently encounter hostile attitudes from judicial officials who are supposed to protect them. Too many perpetrators elude punishment.
We need to combat attitudes and behaviours that permit or even encourage violence, and we need to help women and girls unleash their capacities for empowerment and social transformation. Accessible, high-quality services, backed by adequate resources, would allow the millions of women and girls who survive abuse every year to recover and secure justice. Intensified prevention efforts could mean that someday we will no longer need to campaign for ending violence against women and girls. The best way to put an end to this universal human rights violation is to stop it from happening in the first place.
One of UN Women’s main avenues for action on these issues is through the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. Administered by UN Women, it is leading global provider of grants for innovative strategies. As a recent example, a grantee in Guatemala is using mentoring and training so that indigenous girls—many of whom live in areas where prevention services are non-existent—can start to lead advocacy for an end to violence in their communities. A community mapping exercise with GPS technology has graphically illustrated safety concerns, and pushed community leaders towards agreeing to address factors propelling young men towards violence.
About half of UN Trust Fund-supported projects engage men and boys in some fashion, because they are integral to protection and prevention. In Nepal, for instance, a UN Trust Fund grantee reached out to men in local communities so they could reconsider their notions of masculinity and learn skills such as partner communication. The project encouraged them to become champions of gender equality, including through a “Most Understanding Husband Campaign” that featured on national radio. By the end of the three-year project, surveys found that the number of men supporting interventions to end violence had increased by five times.
Strategies like these have proven successful, and we must be able to scale up our investment in them. Demand always far exceeds the supply of UN Trust Fund resources, which come from voluntary contributions. In 2011, the Fund received grants requests of US $1.2 billion, but could offer only US $17.1 million to 22 initiatives in 34 countries. The UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign has set a target to raise US $100 million for the Fund’s annual grant-making by 2015.
What’s the role of social media and new technologies in mobilizing people to end violence?
Technology is increasingly important for connecting all the different people around the world to end violence against women. This is particularly true for young people, with a majority linked to online social networks. If they start acting differently now, they will lead us to a better future.
Online platforms like UN Women’s Say NO–UNiTE to End Violence against Women bridge gaps between what is happening in local communities, and activism globally and online. Anyone can come to the website—whether you are a government official, a religious leader, an advocate for gender equality or simply a person who wants to learn more. You can exchange ideas, take action, make your voice heard and have your actions known worldwide.
Today is the second anniversary of Say NO–UNiTE. In just two years, we have recorded over 2 million actions and have over 600 partners. But we need even more actions and more partners. The annual 16 Days to End Violence against Women at the end of November is one opportunity for taking action and accelerating momentum, and then letting the world know by posting actions on saynotoviolence.org.
Are you personally committed to saying no to violence against women?
Yes. I first signed on to Say NO as President of Chile because everyone should be involved in ending violence against women and girls. My mother was a very strong woman, who always told me to develop my own capacities so I could make choices in my life and decide what I want to do. Violence destroys both capacities and choices. I would like every woman and every society to live free from violence and discrimination.
[Reprinted from Say NO–UNiTE to End Violence against Women website]