“We must put women and their rights at the centre of the response to violence against women” – Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Speech by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the launch of the UN Women/UNFPA Joint Global Programme on Essential Services for Women and Girls subject to Violence, at the Australian Mission to the UN, New York, 3 December 2013.


Your Excellences, colleagues, partners and friends:

Let me begin by thanking the Australian Government and Ambassador Quinlan for graciously hosting us here at the Australian Mission and for all your support for this joint programme.

Also, let me thank my UN colleagues, especially Dr. Osotimehin.

You and your staff at UNFPA have worked so closely with UN Women, and your commitment to ending violence against women and girls and supporting survivors is an inspiration.

I am pleased to join you today for the launch of the Joint Global Programme on Essential Services for Women and Girls subject to Violence. I welcome everyone who has joined us today and look forward to working closely in partnership as we take this programme forward.

Reaching agreement on global standards and guidelines to improve services for women and girls who have survived violence is vital. It is a step in the right direction.

In March this year, at the 57th Session of the Commission for the Status of Women, we again saw unanimous support for the provision of such services.  

But this has not been matched with action on the ground.  

Many women and girls still lack access to the most basic services for their health, safety, and recovery.

Where services are available, they are often of poor quality, do not address the needs of survivors and aren’t coordinated.

They are typically underfunded, understaffed, and only available in capital cities.

Given a lack of real commitment from governments, services are often provided by local women’s organizations under extremely challenging circumstances.

Those groups and their brave, compassionate staff are the ones who truly understand the scale and nature of the violence we confront.

We must reiterate our calls for their involvement and engagement in leadership and decision-making.

But a lack of support from official authorities means that they fall short of providing the standard of services needed by abused women and girls.

Even in wealthier countries, access to services and support is often insufficient.

This is especially true for women and girls who suffer multiple forms of discrimination – those with disabilities, living with HIV, migrants, indigenous, and older women.

It is time now for governments to step up their efforts. This is an issue of basic human rights.

Today, far too many women are violated twice – first when they are subjected to violence, and again when they are denied the support and justice that should be their right.

We must protect the rights of women and girls, including the right to sexual and reproductive health, and to live free from the physical and mental scars of violence.

It is essential, for instance, for rape survivors to have rapid access to emergency medical care, including treatment to prevent HIV, STIs, and unwanted pregnancies.

The same goes for psychological support and for justice.

Women who have been raped must be able to see police to file a criminal report and to see nurses or doctors who can conduct a forensic examination within 72 hours of the attack.

It is also essential for a woman who is beaten by her husband to have somewhere to go with her children for safety, sanity and shelter.

Human rights must be at the centre of the response so that recovery and justice are supported and the cycle of violence is not perpetuated. We must put women and their rights at the centre of the response to violence against women.

Together with the World Health Organization, the Joint Programme has already held the first global technical consultation in relation to the health sector’s response to violence against women.

We look forward to doing the same with the police and justice response, for social services and for coordination of all the essential services to ensure they work for women and girls.

UN Women is pleased to join UNFPA to lead this Joint Global Programme on Essential Services for Women and Girls subject to Violence. And we look forward to working with all of you to take this forward.

As I say quite often these days, alone you can go quickly, but together we can go far.

In this programme, by working together – governments, academia, practitioners in the field and UN partners – we can bridge the gap between agreement and implementation, between words and actions.

UN Women is committed to these goals, to protecting the rights of women, and we look forward to their realization.