Opening remarks of Michelle Bachelet in her presentation of the Critical Services Initiative


Opening remarks of Michelle Bachelet, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, in her presentation of the Critical Services Initiative. 7 March 2013, New York.

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Colleagues and Friends,
Good evening.

I thank AusAID for co-hosting this important meeting with UN Women and I thank Ambassador Penny Williams. I extend a warm welcome to Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, and Claudia Garcia Moreno of the World Health Organization.

I am delighted to be here with all of you to advance an important and exciting initiative to develop global standards to improve services for women and girls subject to violence.

As we meet today, we are deep into the 57th session on the Commission on the Status of Women. Dialogue is underway that we hope will strengthen international norms and standards, and result in a plan of action to prevent and end all forms of violence against women and girls.

We look to the international agreements that have paved the way, and that point the way forward: ICPD, the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action; the ICPD+5 Key Actions; the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women Platform for Action; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; Security Council resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions, and all international human rights treaties.

We must not move backwards; we must move forward; this is what women and girls all over the world expect from us.

To move forward, we must protect the human rights of women. We must protect their reproductive rights and the right to sexual and reproductive health. We must improve the quality, consistency and availability of the full range of services delivered to the millions of survivors of violence.

Today, far too many women are violated twice – the first time when they are subjected to violence, and the second time when they seek, and do not find, the services and justice to which they are entitled.

To move forward, every victim of violence must have prompt access to the full range of services, including sexual and reproductive health services, and support to ensure mental and physical health and well-being, safety and other needs.

In response to the forms that violence against women takes, from intimate partner violence; to sexual violence, including rape; to trafficking, female genital mutilation; and early and forced marriage, women need critical services to survive and recover.

The effects of this violence– unintended pregnancy, HIV infection and other STDs, physical injury and other dangers to women’s overall mental and physical health– can remain with women for a lifetime, and can remain with their children, passing from one generation to another.

The impact of violence can lead to long-term depression and suicide. Violence during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage and stillbirth. And studies show that children who have witnessed or been subject to violence are more likely to become victims or abusers. Research finds that boys exposed to violence were three times more likely to use violence against their partners in the future.

It is critical, for instance, for rape survivors to have rapid access to a health clinic that can administer emergency medical care, including treatment to prevent HIV and unintended pregnancies, and counselling; to the police to file a criminal report; and to a doctor who can conduct a forensic examination within 72 hours of the attack.

It is critical for a woman who is being beaten by her husband to have someplace to go with her children to enjoy safety, sanity and shelter.

In all cases, it is critical to place the full human rights of a woman at the centre of any response so that recovery and justice are supported and the cycle of violence is not perpetuated.

Today in many communities, services for survivors of gender-based violence are weak and fragmented, or lacking altogether. This fragmentation of services and the lack of effective referral systems expose survivors to further risk of violence, if her safety and protection are not ensured, and to traumatization every time she has to tell and “live” her story again. Even when services are available, they are often located in different physical locations, inhibiting a timely and efficient response.

Furthermore, evidence shows certain groups, such as rural women and girls, adolescent girls, and women from indigenous or migrant communities are at a distinct disadvantage. And service providers can be ill-informed, insensitive or dismissive towards survivor’s grievances, which fosters a culture of hopelessness and impunity.

We are here tonight because we can and must do better. And there is much goodwill and good work underway that we can build on.

In El Salvador, a programme called Ciudad Mujer is focusing not only on responding to violence against women, but in offering services that can empower women in all spheres of life. This includes services for childcare, financial support, health services -including sexual and reproductive health, shelter, legal aid, and long-term support, among others.

In countries around the world, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women is supporting initiatives that expand survivor access to critical services.

In Mozambique, the first one-stop centre has been established, bringing together health, psychosocial, law enforcement, paralegal and community social services under one roof, allowing the police force to ensure that support is available as soon as a case of violence is identified.

In Ukraine, the first system was established to provide services and referral to women and girls living with HIV and in at-risk areas of Kiev who have experienced violence.

In Iraq, thanks to a training curriculum across multiple sectors, primary healthcare providers in Baghdad are now better able to identify instances of violence, provide adequate support and referrals, and ensure the confidentiality of survivors.

There are many, many more innovative examples of cooperation between governments, NGOs, UN agencies and service providers.

These examples show that when sectors work together and provide comprehensive services, when women are treated in an appropriate and just manner, each step helps break the cycle of violence. And we know that women serving on the frontlines of justice strengthen justice for women.

That is why UN Women and UNFPA established this joint critical services initiative and encourage other UN agencies to join forces with us. Ending violence against women is a priority throughout the UN system, and agencies work together to make a greater impact in countries by taking advantage of their respective strengths and resources. These global standards and guidelines for critical services should also be a product of inter-agency cooperation and complementarity.

The objective is to reach a shared understanding and global consensus on the essential services and responses, and standards of service delivery, that are required to meet the immediate and mid-term safety, health, support, and other needs of women and girls subjected to violence.

By way of example, these may include: health-care services including post-rape care; immediate and effective police responses, psychological support and counselling; legal advice and protection orders; and social assistance.

The quality and consistency of services, which now vary widely, can be vastly improved through globally agreed standards and guidelines, as recommended by the UN Secretary-General in his report on the provision of multi-sectoral services and responses.

Our goal is to create a participatory process that takes into account the experiences of Member States, UN agencies and civil society and builds on existing initiatives specific to the situation in each country.

Today I submit to you that there is no better time to initiate this work than now.

Working together, we can improve not only access, but quality and consistency of services and responses throughout the world. The Australian Government (AusAID) has provided funding to further develop this initiative and we thank you, Ambassador Williams, for this vital support.

We are also encouraged by rising commitments by governments. So far 50 Governments have announced concrete actions and commitments to prevent and end violence against women, and many of these commitments are to provide critical services to survivors.

With each day of this Commission, the number of countries announcing commitments continues to rise. And I salute each and every one of them.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Tonight I challenge you to come to next year’s session of this Commission to officially launch the global standards that you have devised. I am positive that together we can break the cycle of violence that diminishes each and every one of us and build a more secure, a more equal, and a more peaceful world for all.

Thank you.