"Now is the time to act" — Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the “Domestic Violence Against Women and Girls: A Major Obstacle to Women's Empowerment” event on 18 March.

Date: Friday, March 18, 2016

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Your Excellency, Dr. Amrith Rohan Perera, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN;
Madame Co-Chair, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney;
Distinguished Colleagues from Civil Society and the United Nations;
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to be here with you this afternoon, at the end of the first week of this year’s session of the Commission on the Status of Women, where we have held a review of the extent to which the historic agreed conclusions on the elimination and the prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls from its 57th session in 2013 have been implemented by Member States.

We have heard during this week how these agreed conclusions have further strengthened the normative framework on ending violence against women and girls, and have generated renewed momentum for States and other stakeholders to take action.

For example, according to the latest data from 2015, 119 countries have passed laws on domestic violence resulting in greater State accountability for an effective access to justice and ending impunity.

There is also a greater understanding of preventing violence against women and girls, especially domestic violence, through social norms change.

However, despite these advancements, it clear that more work, as a matter of urgency, needs to be done. 

Apart from physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated in intimate partner relationships, we know also that too many women and girls experience sexual violence and harassment in schools, the workplace and the public space.

The factors associated with increased risk of experiencing intimate partner and sexual violence include exposure to violence between parents, abuse suffered during childhood, and discriminatory practices, beliefs and attitudes tolerating violence and gender inequality. In addition, situations of conflict, post-conflict and displacement can exacerbate and compound existing violence by intimate partners and present additional forms of violence against women.

At the very core of the cause of violence against women, in any and all of its forms, is the patriarchal assertion of power and control by men over women.

In all its forms, violence against women and girls has severe negative consequences for women’s and girls’ physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health, including increasing their risk of contracting HIV. This violence can also reduce educational attainment and productivity, carries high economic costs for societies and effectively stops women and girls from fulfilling their true potential. It is also an impediment to sustainable development. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the inclusion of SDG 5, Target 5.2, as well as other ending violence against women and gender-related SDG targets, reaffirms this.

Removing the root causes, such as systemic, gender-based discrimination and the inequality of violence, as well as ending impunity for perpetrators and increasing the political, economic and social empowerment of women and girls are key to eliminating such violations. They are also crucial to realizing many of the other Sustainable Development Goals, including targets on health and well-being, quality education, decent work and economic growth.

We need comprehensive, multisectoral and holistic approaches that include strengthening and accelerating implementation of laws, policies and programmes; prosecution and punishment of offenders; just and prompt reparations for survivors; improved availability and accessibility of quality services for survivors; and improved data collection to develop an evidence base for programmes and policies and to monitor their impact.

Effective prevention measures which address these existing discriminatory social norms that perpetuate unequal power relations between men and women, are essential to ending this violence and empowering women. States can and must promote social norm change through the use of the school system to transmit the messages of zero tolerance for violence. Also faith-based organizations have an important role to play.

I am pleased that States are already engaged in these efforts and are developing and implementing some very promising strategies to end violence against women and girls.

For example, in South Africa, the Intervention with Microfinance for AIDs and Gender Equality (IMAGE) project has demonstrated a 55 per cent reduction in partner violence over a two-year period by combining microfinance projects with gender equality training.

In Uganda, a programme mobilizing communities to prevent HIV and violence against women has reduced actual rates of physical violence by men against their women partners by 52 per cent in the 12 months following the programme intervention.

UN Women, too, is focusing on women’s empowerment—through education, economic empowerment and enhanced participation in decision-making. We are working together with a wide range of stakeholders, including men and boys, to change social norms, discriminatory attitudes and behaviours that tolerate gender inequality and condone violence against women and girls.

At the end of 2015, UN Women launched the first ever UN Framework for Preventing Violence against Women, in partnership with ILO, OHCHR, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA and WHO. This framework aims to promote a common understanding of preventing violence against women for the UN System, policymakers and other stakeholders and provides a theory of change to support action.

Also last year, we developed and launched the “Essential Services Package for Women and Girls Subject to Violence – Core Elements and Quality Guidelines”, as part of a UN Joint Global Programme involving UN Women, UNFPA, WHO, UNDP and UNODC. Through this programme, we are helping to develop global standards and guidelines, and tools for implementation, for quality service provision for survivors of violence, including domestic violence, across the health, police, justice and social services sectors.

Earlier this week, UN Women launched the Global Database on Violence against Women. This database is an essential tool to review measures taken by Member States to address violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, in the areas of laws and policies, prevention, services, and statistical data, as well as to monitor the implementation of the SDGs and its target areas on violence against women and girls.

Violence against women and girls is a complex issue that requires a long-term and sustainable approach. However, it is clear that now is the time to act.

I urge Governments, with a sense of urgency, to implement and build on existing commitments already made to end violence against women and girls, including those made at the September 2015 Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: “A Commitment to Action.”

There is unprecedented political and normative commitment to the elimination of violence against women and to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

We must not continue to tolerate any form of violence against women and girls—be it domestic violence, a harmful practice such as female genital mutilation, or sexual harassment—as inevitable. Rather we must strive to make real a world without such violence. The targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are not optional or aspirational—it will take all of us—governments, international organizations, civil society, women and men, and youth—working collectively to seize this unique opportunity to galvanize our efforts towards successful achievement of these targets, and eliminate violence against women and girls for good.

Thank you!