Opening remarks by Lakshmi Puri at a discussion on the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls

Date: 01 Nov 2012

Opening Remarks by Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women at a discussion on “The Prevention and Elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls convened by Ms. Rashida Manjoo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. The event was co-sponsored by OHCHR, UNFPA and UN Women 25 October 2012.

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It is a real pleasure to be here today, on behalf of UN Women. I would like, first, to thank the Special Rapporteur for convening this important event and for her last report, which has placed a thematic emphasis on violence against women and girls with disabilities - an area of particular concern.

The elimination of violence against women is one of the main focuses of UN Women's assistance and will be the priority theme of the Commission on the Status of Women 57th session, which will be held in March 2013.

Violence against women is the most severe expression of discrimination and disempowerment of women and girls. As many as 7 in 10 women around the world report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. This universal phenomenon is a threat to democracy, peace and security, an obstacle to sustainable development and an appalling human rights violation. It not only weakens social cohesion but also foregoes social justice and constitutes a heavy burden on national economies, with some countries estimating the annual cost of such violence to $33 billion United States dollars.

From sexual harassment to rape, from honour killings to child marriage, many forms of violence against women exist. But the most pervasive form of violence is intimate partner violence. In the form of domestic violence, it leads to serious physical injuries and psychological consequences, and sometimes even results in death. It happens behind the walls of the home, in the kitchen and in the bedroom, and it is hidden under a cloak of silence and impunity.

Violence against women is complex, deeply rooted in structural inequalities and requires a holistic approach in the areas of legislation, policies, prevention, responses and protection, research and data collection.

There are clear inter-linkages between prevention of violence against women and responses and protection of victims. Comprehensive legal frameworks and multi-sectoral services should be available and accessible in every country to protect women and girls and to send a clear message to society that such violence is not acceptable.

Effective prevention strategies usually lead to more women and girls seeking protection and support and are necessary to stop violence at its roots, but also to raise awareness amongst the community. Prevention must address the root causes of discrimination and gender inequality.

Although this is an emerging area, there are many promising practices, in both developed and developing countries, which extend beyond awareness-raising to include educational programmes and the engagement of men and boys, as well as traditional and religious leaders. The next session of the Commission on the Status of Women will be a good opportunity to collect those practices.

Efforts have mainly focused so far on responses to the needs of victims/survivors in the aftermath of violence. However, many gaps and challenge remain, such as availability of services and access of women and girls to protection. It is therefore essential to carry on the efforts to meet the needs of victims/survivors to immediate protection after violence, including shelters, health, legal and social services, but also to ensure their longer-term protection and empowerment to avoid re-victimization.

Violence against women perpetuates the vicious cycle of inequality, exclusion, and marginalization. Instead, we must create a virtuous cycle by changing mindsets and stereotypes that are at the root of violence. We must provide women with access to economic opportunities, ensure their equal participation in public and political life, repel laws and practices that continue to discriminate against women, and ensure that environments are safe for women and girls, including schools and streets.

UN Women supports States to develop holistic approaches to addressing violence against women. Over the past two years, UN Women supported the development, revision and implementation of laws, national action plans and improved service-delivery standards in more than 30 countries. Our entity coordinates the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women which, by the end of 2011, was supporting 96 active projects valued at over $US 61 million dollars.

Together with UNICEF and UN-Habitat, UN Women also supports the Safe Cities programme in 14 cities to prevent and reduce violence in urban public spaces. Through the Secretary-General's campaign UNITE to End Violence against Women and our online platform “Say NO-UNiTE, we have mobilized and obtained the commitment of Heads of States, Ministers and parliamentarians from over 70 countries to do more to eliminate violence against women.

Today, I seized the opportunity to introduce the new Handbook for National Action Plans on Violence against Women which complements a series of handbooks, such as the Handbook for legislation on violence against women and its supplement on “harmful traditional practices. Their aim is to provide States and other stakeholders with guidance on the development of legislation and national action plans addressing violence against women. They include promising practices and examples of such legislation and plans from different countries around the globe.

In conclusion, I would like to stress the importance of intergovernmental processes, such as the General Assembly and the Commission on the Status of Women, in setting global norms and standards for the prevention and protection of women and girls from violence.

Ongoing negotiations on the General Assembly resolution on intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women are critical to strengthen the international normative basis. Also, the agreed conclusions of the CSW next year hold the potential to have greater international standards for the elimination of violence against women.

I call on all Member States to give their full support to these intergovernmental processes and reassure them that UN Women will stand ready to support them. Thank you for your attention.