Every victim of violence must have prompt access to the full range of essential services" — Executive Director

Speech by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the high-level launch of the Essential Services Package at the Ending Violence against Women: Building on Progress to Accelerate Change meeting in Istanbul on 10 December.


[Check against Delivery]

Thank you, Ms. Ghida Fakhry, Master of Ceremonies,
Ms. Sally Moyle, Assistant Secretary and Principal Gender Specialist, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia,
Mr. Pablo Martin Asuero, Representative of the Spanish Government,
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director UNFPA,
Excellencies, Colleagues, Partners and Friends,

I am very pleased to be here today with Babatunde, my colleague and friend, to launch this package of guidelines for the provision of quality essential services for women and girls who have experienced violence. This is the vital counterpart to the collaborative work that we are doing to prevent violence in the first place. Today’s focus is on how we can together ensure that women and girls have access to the support, protection and assistance that they need to recover from violence and to live safe and productive lives.

Along with UNFPA, I thank our key partners in this work: WHO, UNDP and UNODC, the experts, government representatives, academics and direct service providers who contributed to the development of this framework. And I also acknowledge with deep gratitude the Governments of Australia and Spain, who have substantially supported this programme. Their support is not only financial — they are active advocates and strong practitioners.

Action on violence against women is a key government priority

In September, immediately following the adoption of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, we held a Global leaders’ meeting on gender equality and women’s empowerment, in which 57 heads of State or Government named gender-based violence as a key area for action. In the context of that meeting, Australia noted its commitment of new funds for frontline services, support for women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who are experiencing violence, and primary prevention initiatives to change the attitudes of young people towards violence against women. And Spain emphasized the fight against gender violence as a "national priority” and “will continue to work for a comprehensive response to all forms of violence.”

I acknowledge and thank them for their leadership on eliminating violence against women, both in their own countries and beyond, through initiatives such as the one we launch today. And I would note that we are still looking for others to join them with funding to complete all the aspects of this programme.

The need for quality essential services

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development explicitly targets the end of discrimination against all women and girls, as well as the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls and harmful practices. Women’s lack of access to services for safety and protection is a serious form of discrimination. We call them essential services, because they are essential: health services, effective police and justice responses, emergency hotlines, safe accommodation and shelter, and counselling.

Unfortunately, even where such services are available, they often fall short of providing meaningful and relevant support to abused women and girls. They are typically underfunded, understaffed, and mostly available only in capital or district-level cities. They also offer limited accessibility to women and girls who suffer multiple forms of discrimination, including those with disabilities or living with HIV and AIDS, indigenous women, and older women. This group also includes migrants, whose access to essential services is limited for multiple reasons, yet whose circumstances have often generated intense need for care and support.

As we consider the need for these essential services, let us be clear: it is likely that demand will continue to grow. I have just come from Paris, and the COP21 UN Climate Change Conference. Although forecasts of environmental migrants vary, the International Organization for Migration gives 200 million by 2050 as the most widely cited estimate. 

Meeting our Agenda 2030 targets

Every victim of violence must have prompt access to the full range of essential services, including:

  • sexual and reproductive health services,
  • support to ensure mental and physical health, well-being, and safety,
  • and access to justice.

This means that survivors of physical and sexual violence must have rapid access to a health clinic that can and will administer emergency medical care and counselling; they must have access to the police to file a criminal report, and a respectful, informed reception; and they must have access to medical practitioners who can conduct a forensic examination within 72 hours of the attack, and who they are able to consult within their cultural requirements. The provision of these essential services will include a safe place for a woman and her children, if she is experiencing domestic violence, or a victim of trafficking.

In all cases, it is essential to place women’s full human rights at the centre of any response so that recovery and justice are supported and the cycle of violence is not perpetuated. These services not only provide immediate support and recovery, they will help us to stop impunity. That too is an essential service.

In closing

These guidelines will help to ensure that the range of services in the health, police, justice, and social services sectors can provide the necessary level of support and response. We look forward very much to working with governments, civil society, our UN partners, and the range of other stakeholders across communities, to implement these guidelines. Through this approach, and securing access to services, we can ensure a better life for the millions of women and girls around the world who are exposed to violence. And at the same time, working together, we will continue our efforts to stop violence in the first place.