It is time for action to end violence against women: a speech by Lakshmi Puri at the ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly


Speech by Acting Head of UN Women Lakshmi Puri on Ending Violence against Women and Children at the ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly on 18 June 2013, in Brussels

Good morning.

Honourable Co-Presidents of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly Ms. Joyce Laboso (congratulations on this new important role) and Mr. Louis Michel,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank you for inviting me to address you at this ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly on a matter that concerns all of us, all 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific nations and 27 European Union Member States represented in this forum, and ALL nations of the world.

It is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights in the world, one of the least prosecuted crimes, and one of the greatest threats to lasting peace and development.

I am talking about violence against women and children. I am honoured to be here, at your request, to address this urgent matter as you join together to advance human rights, democracy and the common values of humanity.

We all know that we have to do much more to respond to the cries for justice of women and children who have suffered violence. We have to do much more to end these horrible abuses and the impunity that allows these human rights violations to continue.

When we started UN Women two-and-a-half years ago, we made ending violence against women and girls one of our top priorities.

I think we can all agree that the time for complacency is long gone, has passed and belongs to another era. The silence on violence against women and children has been broken and now. Now is the time for stronger action.

It is time for action when up to 70 per cent of women in some countries face physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.

When one in three girls in developing countries is likely to be married as a child bride; when some 140 million girls and women have suffered female genital mutilation; when millions of women and girls are trafficked in modern-day slavery; and when women’s bodies are a battleground and rape is used as a tactic of war – it is time for action.

This violence against women and children has tremendous costs to communities, nations and societies—for public well-being, health and safety, and for school achievement, productivity, law enforcement, and public programmes and budgets.

If left unaddressed, these human rights violations pose serious consequences for current and future generations and for efforts to ensure peace and security, to reduce poverty and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and the next generation of development goals we are discussing .

The effects of violence can remain with women and children for a lifetime, and can pass from one generation to another. Studies show that children who have witnessed, or been subjected to, violence are more likely to become victims or abusers themselves.

Violence against women and girls is an extreme manifestation of gender inequality and systemic gender-based discrimination. The right of women and children to live free of violence depends on the protection of their human rights and a strong chain of justice.

Countries that enact and enforce laws on violence against women have less gender-based violence. Today 160 countries have laws to address violence against women. However, in too many cases enforcement is lacking.

For an effective response to this violence, different sectors in society must work together.

A rape survivor must have rapid access to a health clinic that can administer emergency medical care, including treatment to prevent HIV and unintended pregnancies and counseling.

A woman who is beaten by her husband must have someplace to go with her children to enjoy safety, sanity and shelter.

A victim of violence must have confidence that when she files a police report, she will receive justice and the perpetrator will be punished.

And an adolescent boy in school who learns about health and sexuality must be taught that coercion, violence and discrimination against girls are unacceptable.

As the Acting Head of UN Women, I have the opportunity to meet with representatives from around the world, with government officials, civil society groups and members of the business community.

I can tell you that momentum is gathering, awareness is rising and I truly believe that long-standing indifference to violence against women and children is declining.

A recent study published in the American Sociological Review finds that transformation in attitudes are happening around the world.

The study looked at women’s attitudes about intimate partner violence in 26 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. It found that during the first decade of the 2000s, in almost every one of these countries, women became more likely to reject intimate partner violence.

The surveys found growing female rejection of domestic violence in 23 of the 26 countries. It found that “women with greater access to global cultural scripts through urban living, education, or access to media were more likely to reject intimate partner violence.”

The study’s author concludes that domestic violence is increasingly viewed as unacceptable due to changes in global attitudes. Yet even with this rising rejection, in nearly half of the countries, 12 of the 26 – more than half of women surveyed – still believe that domestic violence is justified. So even though attitudes are changing, we still have a long way to go to achieve the changes in attitudes that are necessary to end violence against women and children.

I witnessed this myself at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women at United Nations Headquarters in New York this past March. The agreement reached at the Commission on preventing and ending violence against women and girls was hard-won and tensions ran high throughout the final week of the session.

There were many times when it was unclear whether the Commission would end in deadlock, as it did 10 years before on the same theme, or if Member States were going to decide on a groundbreaking agreement.

In the end, thanks to the tireless work of civil society advocates and negotiations into the wee hours of Government delegates and UN Women colleagues, agreement was reached on a historic document that embraces the call of women around the world to break the cycle of violence and to protect the rights of women and girls.

The landmark agreement provides an action plan for Governments. It breaks this down into the four P’s: Protection of human rights, Prosecution of offenders, Prevention of violence, and Provision of Services to survivors.

Protecting human rights

When it comes to protecting rights, Governments are called on to review national legislation, practices and customs and abolish those that discriminate against women. Laws, policies and programmes that explicitly prohibit and punish violence must be put into place, in line with international agreements, and you as Members of Parliament can play a key role.

Based on findings from UN Women’s 2011-2012 Progress of the World’s Women report «In Pursuit of Justice », out of all the ACP countries, 37 have legislation against domestic violence, 34 have legislation against sexual harassment, and just nine have legislation against marital rape.

Providing services

When it comes to providing services, the agreement calls for strong action to improve the quality and accessibility of services so that women have prompt access to services regardless of their location, race, age or income.

These include: health-care services including post-rape care, emergency contraception and abortion where legal; immediate and effective police responses, psychological support and counselling; legal advice and protection orders; shelter, telephone hotlines, and social assistance.

Responses must be timely and efficient to end a culture of hopelessness and impunity and foster a culture of justice and support. In almost all of the ACP countries comprehensive multisectoral services need to be put in place and made accessible to all.

Prosecuting offenders

When it comes to the prosecution of offenders, we know that ending impunity means that laws must be enforced.

Women must have access to the police to file a criminal report and receive legal advice and protection orders. The response to violence must be immediate, coordinated and effective so that crimes are punished and justice is secured. This is true for times of peace and conflict. There can be no lasting peace when women suffer sexual violence.

Courts and the justice system must be accessible and responsive to criminal and civil matters relating to violence against women. Women must be informed of their legal rights and supported to navigate the legal system.

And for this, we need more women police officers, prosecutors and judges, because we know that women serving on the frontlines of justice strengthen justice for women and children.

Preventing violence against women

When it comes to preventing violence, we must address the root causes of gender inequality and discrimination.

Evidence shows that where the “gender gap” is greater—in the status of women’s health, participation in the economy, education levels, and representation in politics— women are more likely to be subjected to violence. Especially important is economic empowerment as a prevention strategy

This means that we need to take a long-term, systemic and comprehensive approach that recognizes and protects women’s and children’s full and equal human rights.

We must promote a culture of equality between men and women through institutional and legal reform, education, awareness-raising and the full engagement of men and boys.

Honourable MPs,

Ending violence against women is one of UN Women’s key priorities and a critical part of UN Women’s mission to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Having said that, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about UN Women’s role in ending violence against women and some of our achievements.

A top priority right now is working with countries to implement the recent agreement from the Commission on the Status of Women.

I am very pleased that UN Women and the EU have agreed to work on this together. We hope, with your support, to collaborate with more regional and cross-regional bodies and groupings such as the African Union, the Latin American and Caribbean States and the Pacific Forum to follow up on the agreement from the Commission on the Status of Women to end violence against women and girls.

Today UN Women is working in 85 countries, including in many ACP countries, to prevent violence in the first place, to end impunity for these crimes, to increase access to justice and to expand essential services to survivors.

Through our global, regional and national programmes, we support the development of laws, national action plans and policies, and training programmes. We provide funding to NGOs and civil society, contribute to advocacy and awareness-raising efforts, and support local initiatives.

We work together with UNICEF and UN Habitat on the Safe Cities programme to promote the safety of women and girls in public spaces. We now work in over 20 cities around the world, and this number continues to rise. Let me share with you a few exciting examples.

In Kigali, Rwanda, a Safe City Campaign was launched by the mayor’s office and other partners. The city is advocating for reforms to an existing law on gender-based violence to include measures on sexual harassment and violence in public spaces.

In Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, bylaws on local markets now include articles which address women’s safety. Women vendors are returning to the markets following the first phase of physical and social infrastructure improvements, and a focused awareness campaign is underway on sexual harassment and sexual violence.

UN Women also administers the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. This is a leading global fund exclusively dedicated to addressing violence against women and girls. To date, the UN Trust Fund has delivered more than USD 86 million to 351 initiatives in 128 countries and territories, often directly to women’s organizations. The results have demonstrated many good practices that can, and should be, expanded.

Another global programme administered by UN Women is the Secretary-General’s UNiTE Campaign to End Violence against Women. Through strong advocacy, the campaign is mobilizing communities across the globe.

In Africa, the UNiTE Campaign organized the Kilimanjaro Climb hosted by Tanzania under the auspices of the President. This raised awareness of violence against women to the highest levels resulting in strengthened national commitments throughout Africa.

In the Pacific Region, the campaign succeeded in securing the “Pacific Members of Parliament UNiTE statement” – the first of its kind in the region, tabled at the Pacific Island Forum Leaders meeting in the Cook Islands.

In the Caribbean, 15 high-profile local artists produced a series of creative materials as part of the “Caribbean Artists, united to end violence against women” initiative, developed in the framework of the UNiTE Campaign. These materials were officially presented by the Secretary-General of CARICOM, Irwin LaRocque, last year during the gathering of CARICOM Heads of Government. This has contributed to give high visibility and strategically position the issue of violence against women in the region.

And UN Women’s COMMIT initiative has garnered new commitments by 58 Governments to prevent and end violence against women and girls. I applaud the ACP and EU member countries, and the European Union itself, for making commitments and encourage other countries to join them.

We must work together to seize the moment and move quickly so that the momentum is not lost. UN Women stands ready to assist Member States with other UN partners. We have already identified the key priorities and strategies we will be focusing:

First, Getting the Evidence: Data on Violence against Women
Despite some progress in this area, there is still an urgent need to strengthen the evidence base as many countries still lack reliable and meaningful data. Actually, earlier this morning the European Women’s Lobby Centre on Violence against Women presented the findings from the 2013 Barometer focusing on rape in the EU.

In cooperation with our UN partners, we plan to build capacity in regions and countries to increase skills in data collection, analysis, dissemination and use, using the UN Statistical Commission Guidelines for obtaining data for the nine core indicators for violence against women.

Second, Strengthening Multi-sectoral Services for Survivors
To this end, UN Women is working to devise globally agreed standards and guidelines on the essential services and responses that are required to meet the immediate and mid-term safety, health, and other needs of women and girls subjected to violence. I am very pleased that we are now working in partnership with UNFPA and other UN agencies to deliver this initiative.

Third, Preventing Violence against Women and Girls
To this end, we will advocate for and work towards a shared understanding at the global level about what works, and provide guidance to States and other stakeholders on how to develop an holistic framework to prevent violence against women and girls; including by working systematically and consistently with male leaders and men and boys at all levels and by further strengthening women’s economic and political participation.

Fourth, Strengthening Partnerships
We will continue to engage civil society and the private sector in ending violence against women and girls, working with survivors to empower them, making sure their experiences are taken into consideration in the development of responses; and working with those women and girls who suffer multiple and intersecting forms of violence who are particularly vulnerable.

Fifth and finally, we will continue to improve the knowledge base for ending violence against women by developing additional modules and updating our virtual knowledge centre.

Honourable Members of Parliament,

I would now like to take a brief moment to discuss the post-2015 development agenda, especially its role in addressing the issue of violence against women. I also had the occasion to deliver a video statement on this in your Women’s Forum which took place past Saturday and which concentrated on the post-2015 framework. I applaud the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly for regularly organizing such a Women’s Forum and strengthening this network.

UN Women is calling for a stand-alone goal on gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment and separately and concurrently gender equality mainstreamed across all goals. This is needed to address the structural foundations of gender-based inequality. To this effect, we are calling for the new framework to tackle three core areas: safety, access and voice, so women can live free of violence, enjoy equal access of opportunities and resources; and exercise their voice in leadership and participation.

In developing the post-2015 agenda and the 11th European Development Fund, we seek your support to ensure a strong focus on gender equality, women’s rights and empowerment and ending violence.

I thank you. All of us at UN Women look forward to strengthened collaboration with you and your countries through this forum to end violence against women and children.