Remarks by John Hendra at a side event on Combating Violence against Women – Regional Perspectives

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Policy and Programme John Hendra at a side event on Combating Violence against Women – Regional Perspectives, New York, 10 March 2014


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It’s very timely that we take this opportunity to reflect on the progress made towards ending violence against women and girls. Just one year ago, at the 57th session of the CSW, Member States adopted strong agreed conclusions on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.

Since then we have seen both signs of hope and also significant cause for concern. We’ve seen countries and regions take strong steps to prevent and end violence – for example in its new constitution Tunisia has obliged the state to act through public authorities to take measures to eliminate all forms of violence. And Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked for changes to the draft criminal prosecution code which would have banned relatives from giving evidence in cases of domestic violence. These are welcome developments.

But we’ve also seen extremely high incidence of sexual harassment and violence in Egypt, and escalating targeted violence against women human rights defenders and female officials in Afghanistan. We’ve seen a series of brutal gang rape cases reported in India. And here in the US we’ve seen reports on the high levels of sexual assault on campuses and in the armed forces, most of which goes unreported.

We’ve also seen many instances of harassment and threats against women, in particular women activists, on social media and the internet. In the EU alone, 11 per cent of women have experienced some form of cyber-harassment, especially younger women. And the economic crisis and austerity measures put in place have had a severe impact on access to services for victims and survivors in Europe, with cuts to these services in a number of countries.

Let us then be very clear. We cannot afford to lose any momentum when it comes to ending violence against women and girls.

As we know, violence against women is rooted in gender inequality, unequal power relations and social norms, attitudes, beliefs and stereotypes that underpin and perpetuate gender inequality and violence against women and girls. It’s a pervasive and universal problem and a serious human rights violation, with huge social and economic costs.

Regrettably, violence against women and girls was not included in the MDGs, partly due to lack of available, comparable data. It’s imperative then, that as we accelerate progress towards achieving the MDGs, we also build on the lessons learned, by addressing the structural inequalities and gender-based discrimination that impede progress, including violence against women.

We now have much better global and regional data available on the prevalence of violence, together with a globally agreed set of nine standard indicators for measuring the prevalence and incidence of violence. It’s really imperative that every country around the world rolls out and then uses these indicators, so as to ensure there are baselines in place as we reach 1 January 2016. Many voices are calling for a data revolution to support the new development agenda, and if we really want to ensure accountability for ending violence, we need to ensure we can measure it.

In addition to the commitments made globally, including at last year’s CSW meeting, the adoption of the Istanbul Convention represents significant progress. Regional normative agreements such as these are critically important to accelerate action, and UN Women strongly encourages relevant Member States to sign and ratify the Convention and fast-track its implementation.

Yet despite strong normative progress and commitment among Member States, we continue to see very high rates of violence globally. As we know, one in three women has experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most often at the hands of an intimate partner.

At the EU level the picture is also similarly alarming, as Joanna highlighted – 33 per cent of women have experienced physical or sexual violence – corresponding to a staggering 62 million women.

A study supported by UN Women, UNV, UNFPA and UNDP, and conducted by Partners for Prevention in nine sites in six countries in the Asia-Pacific region; found that rape was most commonly motivated by a sense of sexual entitlement – the belief that men have the right to sex regardless of consent. Rape perpetration also begins early in life; of those men who reported having committed rape, half – that is 50 per cent – had done so for the first time as a teenager. Most men who reported committing rape experienced no legal consequences for their actions.

As these two studies in Europe and Asia-Pacific so clearly demonstrate, we must intensify our efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence. It’s critical that such studies on the prevalence of violence against women, and on men’s attitudes towards and use of violence be conducted in every region in the world. UN Women stands ready to support this. In addition, we need to really accelerate prevention, including through community mobilization, education programmes to promote respectful relationships, and early intervention with children who have been exposed to violence.

In UN Women’s experience, in order to address violence effectively, we have to act on several fronts at once. We need to ensure laws and policies are in place to prevent and end violence, that services for and protection of survivors are available, that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished, and that reparations and redress are available for survivors. As we’ve heard, we also need to invest more in prevention efforts, and data and research on the incidence of violence and underpinning causes. Also critical is political will, together with adequate resources and monitoring, and evaluation of the impact of interventions, to ensure effective implementation of laws, policies and programmes.

Just as vital is to engage a wide range of actors, including civil society organizations, the media, and community and religious leaders. I can’t stress enough how important it is that we really engage men and boys in efforts to end violence against women and girls. This means “rethinking masculinity” and changing very deeply held attitudes and beliefs about men’s sexual entitlement and dominance over women and children. And it also means engaging men and boys in promoting gender equality more broadly, and clearly articulating what’s in it for them –including better, happier relationships with their partners and children.

Only by taking a holistic approach that encompasses effective prevention, proper prosecution and punishment of perpetrators, and comprehensive support to victims and survivors, will we really be able to tackle the scourge of violence.

To give just one example from UN Women’s work, the Global Safe Cities Programme, which we partner on with UN-Habitat, UNICEF, local governments and women’s organizations, takes such a holistic approach to preventing and responding to violence against women. In Quito, Ecuador and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, the programme has resulted in new policies, improved infrastructure, increased awareness, better services and greater engagement of civil society in preventing and responding to violence in public spaces.  The Safe Cities programme is expanding to developed countries including Dublin, Ireland, and most recently Winnipeg, Canada.

Looking forward, what’s evident is that while the efforts being made are important and are making a difference, it’s clearly not enough. Over the past 12 months we’ve seen an unprecedented level of awareness, as well as widespread public outrage around the world about the level and severity of violence against women in all its forms. But the bottom line is that the violence continues, as the new EU survey so clearly illustrates.

It’s time to take our work on ending violence to the next level. Only by taking a concerted, comprehensive approach on all fronts, tackling underpinning gender inequality and discrimination, drawing on best practice, learning from countries and contexts that have successfully tackled violence, ensuring we have a robust evidence base and data to track progress, and engaging men and boys everywhere, can we begin to reverse this global epidemic, and realize the right of women and girls everywhere to live free of violence.

If there’s one priority that must be included in the post-2015 development agenda to make a real difference, then this is it.

Thank you.