Preventing and Responding to Violence against Women and Girls: From Legislation to Effective Enforcement

Date: Thursday, September 15, 2011

Video message delivered by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet during an event on “Preventing and Responding to Violence against Women and Girls, sponsored by the IPU and the Parliament of India, in New Delhi, 15-17 September, 2011.

Honourable Parliamentarians,

It is a great pleasure for me to address you on the critical issue of preventing and responding to violence against women and girls. I thank the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Parliament of India for hosting this important regional meeting.

As parliamentarians, you bring the voices of people to the halls of power and you are responsible for making sure their voices are heard and responded to. As the Executive Director of UN Women, I often ask myself: Am I doing enough for the world's women? Today I encourage you, as parliamentarians, to ask yourselves: Am I doing enough to speak out for zero tolerance of gender-based violence? Am I doing enough to enact laws and policies and approve budgets to achieve justice for women? Am I doing enough to promote equal opportunity and human rights for all?

In my visits to more than 15 countries in the past 10 months, and through my participation in meetings, I am reminded that gender equality and women's empowerment will not be a lived reality unless we firmly address the violence that women and girls face in the private and public domain.

While there is no one-time intervention to end violence against women, there are several key strategic investments that serve as “protective and preventive factors. These include: ensuring that girls complete secondary education; delaying the age of marriage; furthering women's reproductive health and rights; and increasing women's economic autonomy and security. And we know that the more women there are in parliament and political office, the greater the chances are of having effective laws, polices, and programmes in place that protect the rights of girls and women. So I encourage all of you to open your doors to women.

I say this because for most of the world's women, the laws that exist on paper do not always translate into equality and justice. This finding was confirmed in a recent report launched by UN Women entitled, Progress of the World's Women: In Pursuit of Justice. The report found that despite major progress on legal frameworks, the justice system is failing women. This failure manifests itself in poor services and hostile attitudes from the very people whose duty it is to protect women's rights. Despite guarantees of equality, inadequate laws and loopholes, poor enforcement and vast implementation gaps make these guarantees hollow promises. In fact surveys show that up to 60 percent of women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes.

And this is precisely why this meeting is so important. Where there are laws in place, they need to be enforced — and here is where investment comes in. Greater investments are needed to raise awareness; to provide legal, medical and social support services; and to track implementation. As parliamentarians, you can take up this agenda by pushing forward and strengthening accountability mechanisms at the highest level.

And let me also say this: clearly the best way to put an end to this universal human rights violation is to stop it from happening in the first place. For this, we need to also focus on boys and young men. Boys who witness domestic violence or are victims of sexual abuse have a higher chance of repeating the abuse later in life, often starting when they are teenagers. So it is important to start working with boys and young men to create a generation in which violence against women and girls is no longer viewed as acceptable.

In closing, let me stress that UN Women stands by you. Our commitment to addressing the pandemic of violence against women is unwavering and constitutes a core strategic priority. We look forward to working with you to make women's empowerment and gender equality a shared reality for all.

I thank you.