Killing women means society pays the ultimate price

Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women


UN Women is profoundly concerned by the brutal sexual violence and murder of women and girls that has been recently highlighted by women in Argentina, and which reverberates across Latin America and beyond. This is a form of intimate terror that has become normalized through its sheer scale and acceptance of its inevitability in some places. Yet it is not normal, and it cannot continue. Beyond the appalling personal cost, it reveals deep and damaging failures of society that ultimately have a high price in lost progress for each country.

We join our voice with all those who say “Ni una menos” and call for urgent action at all levels, from government policy-makers to individual change-makers, to prevent any more killing. Violence against women and girls must stop.

First of all, the recent case of femicide of a teenager in Argentina and the killing of a nine-year old girl in Chile must not go unpunished. Globally, impunity from punishment is a key element in perpetuating violence and discrimination against women. If men can treat women as badly as they choose with little or no consequence, it negates all efforts to build a world that is safe for women and girls and in which they can flourish.

Globally, some 60,000 women and girls are killed every year, often as an escalation of domestic violence. National studies in South Africa and Brazil estimate that a woman is killed by her intimate partner every six hours. Home is not a refuge and it is risky for women to report their attackers. Travel outside also carries dangers. Recent studies in Brazil indicate that 85 per cent of women are afraid to go out onto the streets. In Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, over 90 per cent of women and girls have experienced some form of sexual violence when accessing public transport.

As an international community we have strongly articulated the essential place for a thriving population of women and girls, and the multiple ways in which this is best for us all. From the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted in September 2015 to the New Urban Agenda adopted this week, it is clear that we must both end violence and prevent its recurrence. This takes appropriate laws and policies, safe cities, public transportation, better services and the engagement of men and boys in building a new culture that ends all forms of discrimination against women and girls, and leads to the end of femicide.

Change has to happen at many levels, in both the cultural and physical structures of our societies. We work closely with civil society and the feminist movement, which have been key actors in denouncing violence, driving policy change and proposing solutions. To gather more information and support the ending of impunity, together with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), we have developed a model protocol that reveals service gaps. We will use it initially for the investigation of femicide in Latin America, where the number of countries with high rates of femicide is growing. We are aligned with the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, who has called for the establishment of a global femicide observatory with an interdisciplinary panel of experts to collect and analyse data on femicides.

There is some encouraging progress: in Latin America, 16 countries—almost half of the countries in the region—have adopted legislation to ensure that femicide is properly investigated and punished.

This needs to be a global trend. It is not one sector’s responsibility, but a collective and concerted effort. We call for recognition by governments of the scale and implications of violence against women and girls, commitment to collect the data with which to quantify it, the provision, not only of services for survivors and victims, but a radical increase in strong judicial action to sustain and achieve case closure and conviction, and creative and constructive efforts to prevent and to punish all violent crimes against women and girls.

As a world last year we signed up to the goal of gender equality and the elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls. To achieve this is not only the end of a terrible violation of human rights, it is the key to the building of a better, more equal world—a 50-50 Planet.