Latin American and Caribbean Consultations on CSW57 in San Salvador: Opening Statement by Lakshmi Puri

Date: Monday, February 11, 2013

Opening Statement by Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director, UN Women, 11 February 2013 in San Salvador, El Salvador

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Your Excellency, Mr. Mauricio Funes Cartagena, President of the Republic of El Salvador,
Your Excellency, Ms. Vanda Pignato, First Lady of El Salvador, Secretary of Social Inclusion and President of the Salvadoran Institute for Women’s Development, ISDEMU
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Colleagues and Friends,

Buenos dias!

It is a great honour and pleasure to be with you today in beautiful San Salvador. We are three weeks away from the Commission on the Status of Women so this high-level meeting of Latin American and the Caribbean countries could not have been more momentous. Now is the time to come together and build consensus for a progressive and forward-looking CSW outcome on eliminating and preventing all forms of violence against women and girls.

I am delighted to see so many high-level participants attending these consultations. On behalf of our Executive Director, Ms Michelle Bachelet, I would like to convey UN Women’s gratitude for our strong collaboration, as we work collectively for the elimination of violence against women and the promotion of women’s rights and gender equality.

I would like to especially thank you, Your Excellency Mr. President, for hosting us today and tomorrow. Your leadership and personal engagement in the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment has made a huge difference for women in El Salvador, in the region, and globally.

I would also like to thank Your Excellency Ms Vanda Pignato, for your unwavering commitment to our agenda. You have participated in our High-Level Stakeholders’ Forum, which took place in December in New York, and your intervention highlighted that progress on preventing and responding to violence is indeed possible, when there is political commitment.

Over the years, we have learned that political commitment is a key ingredient for the elimination of violence against women. It must be the priority of every leader, every state and every community to confront this scourge.

And the upcoming session of the Commission on the Status of Women provides the prime political platform to do just that. The Commission’s outcome must send a strong message that all countries are united behind the call for zero tolerance to violence against women. Enough is enough! ¡Ya basta!

Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have been paving the way for greater progress.

We have seen remarkable mobilization in the region.

We have seen Governments and Parliaments adopt strong laws to prevent, punish and prosecute violence against women and provide services to survivors. Today, 32 countries in the region have laws on domestic violence and 21 countries specifically address sexual assault in their national legislation.

We have seen more countries adopt national action plans that outline a comprehensive, coherent, and sustained programme of activity.

And we have seen successful initiatives, such as one-stop centers and shelters, programmes for better access to justice, improved data collection, and efforts to reach out to the most vulnerable and marginalized women and girls, as well as to women with disability and indigenous women.

Many of these advances have been the result of the intensive advocacy of women’s groups and individuals, who relentlessly have put gender-based discrimination on the political agenda.

I pay tribute to the role of the vibrant civil society in advancing women’s rights on the continent. And I pay tribute to individuals who have devoted their lives to improving the status of women in their countries and abroad.

Some of them are survivors of violence themselves. They have used their tragic experience for positive change – to end impunity and injustice for all women.
I am thinking for example of Maria da Penha of Brazil, who fought for justice, not just for herself, but for all Brazilian women.

Together with them, we must be able to say ‘Ni Una Más’ (not even one more) because the best way to prevent violence is to stop it from happening in the first place. The mobilization of citizens and Governments in the region have contributed to the impressive normative regional framework on ending violence against women, expressed in human rights instruments and political declarations.

The Convention of Belém do Pará clearly establishes that violence against women is a violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Convention’s follow-up mechanisms, both in terms of examining progress and handling individual and collective complaints, represent a solid accountability framework.

This framework is complemented by numerous political declarations, including the Quito consensus, the Brasilia consensus, the Declaration of San José, the 2012 Declaration of the Union of South American Nations. All of these documents call for the political prioritization of efforts to end violence against women and the promotion of gender equality.

Yet despite these advances, today’s sad reality is that there is no country is free of violence against women and completely free of gender based-discrimination. This is not only true in Latin America and the Caribbean; it is true in every country around the world.

We are facing an enormous gap in implementation… a gap between commitment and action.

A recent study by the Pan American Health Organization found that between one-fourth and one-half of women in Latin America and the Caribbean reported ever experiencing intimate partner violence. The same study reported that large proportions of women in the region report sexual violence, mostly by men known to them.

Access to justice and impunity remains a problem. For example, it is estimated that impunity rates for cases of femicides range from 77 percent to more than 90 percent in some countries in the region. And while there has been improvement in provision of services, more needs to be done to make systems comprehensive, integrated and ensure access for all women, regardless of their geographical location, ethnicity or social status.

Now is the time to translate commitments into concrete national action.

UN Women is working alongside you to make sure that the right of every girl, every woman, to live free from fear of discrimination and violence in every aspect of her life is protected. Sexual assault, domestic violence, early marriage, unwanted pregnancies, femicide, trafficking and multiple other forms of abuse continue to deny girls the opportunities that should be theirs to build a bright future. We have been working tirelessly for the establishment of laws and policies, for an end to impunity and for access to justice.

The Secretary-General’s campaign UNITE to End Violence against Women has galvanized support in the region. We are supporting the development of a protocol for the investigation of femicide. We have also supported diverse educational and mobilization strategies to prevent violence against women and girls, including through creating safe spaces in schools.

We are working with a wide range of partners, from youth to faith-based organization, to indigenous leaders, to artists and sportspersons. We also support the Safe Cities programme in 15 cities around the world to prevent violence in urban public spaces and we have been making great progress in the City of Quito.

We launched the COMMIT initiative, urging Heads of State and Government to announce initiatives to end violence against girls. As of today, 16 countries have made commitments, including Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. I encourage more of your Governments to come forward and commit to action.

Your support for a progressive outcome at the Commission on the Status of Women must be part of this commitment. The agreed conclusions represent the collective commitment of countries from all continents to close the implementation gap. The first draft, which was circulated on Friday, outlines the major ingredients of what is needed to finally make progress.

We need stronger legal and policy frameworks, well-funded national action plans, and clear accountability mechanisms. And these frameworks must address both prevention and response in a holistic way.

This means addressing structural causes of violence, especially unequal power relations between men and women and systemic and structural discrimination. The promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment represents the centerpiece of an effective prevention strategy.

A whole ecosystem of policies must be in place and connections made with other gender policies in areas such as economic empowerment, political participation, public health, and education.

We have seen progress for gender equality overall in Latin America and the Caribbean. Successful policies have strengthened social protection, increased women’s participation in the economy and in public life, and improved education and health outcomes.

Among low-income and middle-income countries, Latin America and the Caribbean is the leading region in achieving parity in secondary and tertiary education, equal access to the labour market, and in equal representation in parliament.

Ending violence against women must be embedded in broader programmes that promote women’s rights.

Here in El Salvador, such a comprehensive programme can be found in ‘Ciudad Mujer’. The focus is not only on responding to violence against women, but on offering services that can empower women in all spheres of life. These include childcare, financial support, access to health services, including sexual and reproductive health, as well as the promotion and defense of women’s rights.

This type of initiative is key for prevention and it is key for response. Every country needs to ensure universal access to multi-sectoral services, including police and the justice sector, shelters, legal aid, health-care, psycho-social counseling and support, 24-hour hotlines, and long-term support.

Such efforts must be combined with initiatives to change attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that perpetuate gender stereotypes. Violence against women remains a psycho-social phenomenon, linked to multiple and differing discriminations and crimes. Addressing these discriminations is an essential part of prevention efforts.

This also implies that no customs, traditions or practices can be invoked to justify any form of violence against women. We are all responsible for shaping our cultures in a way that is respectful of women’s rights.

Specific prevention strategies include community mobilization, awareness-raising campaigns, addressing the role of the media, and promoting educational programmes, including sexuality education.

Efforts must engage men and boys, not just in having them speak up against and stop violence, but also in enabling them to change the social norms and stereotypes that perpetuate discriminatory practices and certain views of masculinity that do not respect women’s integrity.

This is especially true of those who are responsible to respond to violence. Police and judges, health and social workers, teachers and even employers should be sensitized through mandatory training to respond effectively and in a way that respects and protects the survivor.

Clear provisions and systems must also be in place to prosecute perpetrators and provide services to survivors. And at the center of prevention and response should be the protection and promotion of the human rights of women, including their reproductive rights. I am aware of the sensitivities around this topic. However, evidence shows that the protection and promotion of reproductive rights is intrinsic to eliminating violence against women and girls.

Here in Latin America and the Caribbean, we have seen how intimate partner violence is closely linked to reproductive health indicators. The prevalence of physical and sexual intimate partner violence is significantly higher among women who reported a younger age at first birth, among women who had higher numbers of children, and among women with unintended or unwanted pregnancies.

Similarly, unwanted pregnancy is more common among women who report violence. Violence during pregnancy is another pervasive issue. Reproductive rights include the right of individuals to choose freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so.

They also include the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health and the right to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence. Such rights should not be controversial. They are just a basic requirement for all women to live in dignity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ending violence against women and girls is not an option but must be a priority.

It is an imperative for human rights, peace and security, and sustainable development. It is essential to economic growth, public health and social cohesion. This is why ending violence against women must be reflected in the post-2015 development framework.

The Latin American Parliament recently adopted a resolution in support of a progressive outcome at this year’s Commission on the Status of Women. We strongly welcome this support.

Now we need your support and I call on you to be bold and forward-looking in your deliberations in three weeks at the Commission on the Status of Women. You are the political leaders, practitioners and advocates from the region. You are our champions. We need you to be mobilized and mobilize others to sustain and accelerate progress for women and progress for all.

Thank you.