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Preventing and ending violence against women is at the heart of UN Women’s mission: John Hendra

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Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director John Hendra at a High-level Panel discussion on Taking Action against the Gender-related Killings of Women and Girls, on 18 October, 2013, in New York

Date: 18 October 2013

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Your Royal Highness, 

Mrs Ban Soon-Taek,

Fellow Panelists,

Permanent Missions to New York,

Colleagues from Civil Society, Women’s Rights Activists, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’d very much like to thank the co-hosts for inviting UN Women to participate in this very important panel discussion on a critical human rights issue, the gender-related killing of women and girls. I’d also like to warmly congratulate you for yesterday’s adoption of the Resolution by the Third Committee, on a very important day for women at the UN, with a key resolution on Women, Peace and Security also approved today at the UN Security Council.

There can be no doubt that gender-related killing of women and girls, or femicide as it is known in some countries, is the most extreme manifestation of violence against women and a gross violation of their human rights. It is the most heinous symptom of the pervasiveness and tolerance in our societies of violence against women, gender-based discrimination and inequality between women and men.

As we know, femicide exists in all countries and cultures of the world and  takes many forms – including murder by women’s intimate partners, so-called honour killings and ‘crimes of passion’, dowry-related killings, witchcraft-related killings and armed conflict-related killings. In many societies, gender-related killing of women is the result of prolonged years of domestic abuse and torture by husbands or intimate partners. 

Women who are especially marginalized and who experience multiple forms of discrimination - whether it is based on race, ethnicity, sexual identity or other factors - are at higher risk of violence against women, including femicide. This is especially true for many indigenous women around the world. In Canada, where I come from, a young indigenous woman is five times more likely to die as a result of violence than other Canadian women of the same age. In Australia, indigenous women are seven times more likely to be victims of homicide than are non-indigenous women. This must stop. 

It is especially egregious that very often perpetrators of femicide are not held to account by the criminal justice system. In part this is due to limited reporting of violence against women and girls in all forms as a result of cultural barriers, social norms and taboos, customary practices and religious beliefs, and discrimination. Yet, even when such violence and death is reported, the response of the formal justice system is often inadequate.

This impunity reinforces the message that violence against women by men is not only tolerated, but is accepted. I would like to commend the leadership of Thailand, Austria and Argentina, among other Member States, and ACUNS, for ensuring that the resolution on Taking action against gender-related killing of women and girls focuses on ending impunity and strengthening the criminal justice system’s response to violence.

Ending violence against women is at the heart of UN Women’s mission to empower women and advance women’s rights, freedom and equality. We work to support development of laws and policies to prevent and end violence, to improve availability and quality of services and responses for women who are subject to violence, and to change the underpinning attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that continue to condone, tolerate and perpetuate all forms of violence against women.

As part of this effort, UN Women is supporting specific initiatives to address the heinous crime of gender-related killing. For example, in Latin America, UN Women has assisted efforts to put an end to impunity, through legal reforms to identify femicide as a specific crime. In Guatemala, this led to the development of dedicated prosecutor units and tribunals, while in El Salvador and Nicaragua, there are now policies and procedures in place to address the crime of femicide.

In Mexico, UN Women, working with the Mexican Parliament and academic institutions, developed an innovative methodology for analyzing femicide, its characteristics, trends and new manifestations over a 25 year period. This has been instrumental in better understanding femicide, and this methodology for improved data collection and analysis is now being replicated in other countries.

And together with the OCHHR, UN Women is developing a “Model Protocol” for the effective criminal investigation of femicide for police, prosecutors and other criminal justice system professionals in the LAC region to end impunity.

In Afghanistan, where there has been a recent spate of totally unacceptable specific attacks on high-level women government officials and activists, UN Women supports the Afghan Government and its partners to expand life-saving protection services. In line with this, we have supported the establishment of an integrated multi-sectoral Gender Based Violence referral system, where protection, health and justice services are institutionally interconnected and high quality shelter services are provided to women and girls who have experienced violence.

And in Papua New Guinea, UN Women is working on ending violence against women, with a specific focus on gender-related killing of women and girls - in particular sorcery related killings. We have also supported research and provided technical assistance to support the Repeal of the 1971 Sorcery Act in July 2013. As a result, now sorcery-related violence and killings are tried under common criminal law. This is critically important, because women are six times as likely to suffer torture and killings as a result of sorcery and witchcraft allegations.

In addition, UN Women aims to ensure the safety and freedom from violence for women throughout the world, in both public and private spaces, in part through the Safe Cities Programme developed in partnership with UNICEF and UN Habitat. 

What’s more, UN Women is strongly advocating that the scourge of violence against women must this time be robustly addressed in the post-2015 development agenda. The formulation of a new development agenda is a key opportunity for all of us to take action to end the abuse of women and girls once and for all, including gender-related killings, the most serious and heinous human rights abuse against women and girls.

All of us – governments, civil society and the international community must accelerate our efforts to prevent and end all forms of violence against women, to ensure services are available for victims and survivors of violence, and to accelerate prevention. Because the most effective way to eliminate violence against women is to stop it from happening in the first place.

Thank you.