Presentation to the Third Committee of the Secretary-General's in-depth study on violence against women
New York, 9 October 2006

I am very pleased to join the Third Committee for the second time during this session. In my opening statement last week, I urged you to give priority attention to the recommendations put forward in the Secretary-General’s in-depth study on all forms of violence against women. Today I have the honour of presenting this study to you, its rationale, scope, key findings and recommendations.

Violence against women is not confined to a specific culture, region, or country, or to a particular group of women within a society. Quite the reverse. Violence against women is truly a global phenomenon. Complex, pervasive, persistent, pernicious. It occurs in different settings, takes many different manifestations, and evolves and emerges in new forms. The way that women the world over experience it is influenced by a range of factors, such as age, class, disability, ethnicity, and economic status. On average, at least one in three women is subject to violence at some point in her lifetime. Let me repeat this: at least one in three.

Any and all violence against women is unacceptable, whether perpetrated by the State and its agents, by family members or strangers, in the public or private sphere, in peacetime or in times of conflict. Violence against women endangers women’s lives, violates their rights as citizens and human beings, harms their families and communities, and poses an affront to humanity itself. It tears at the fabric of all societies. And so all societies must take responsibility to deal and do away with it. And all States have a particular obligation to protect women from violence, to hold perpetrators accountable, and to provide justice and remedies to victims.

The toll taken by violence against women goes beyond the incalculable human costs. Violence undercuts the enormous potential of women to contribute to peace and development—so powerfully recognized at the Fourth World Conference on Women—by restricting their choices and limiting their ability to act. Indeed, it undermines and constrains the achievement of all the internationally agreed development goals, including the objectives on gender equality and the advancement of women set at Beijing, the Millennium Development Goals on poverty, education, child health, maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, and overall sustainable development. Unless attention to preventing and redressing violence against women is incorporated in programmes targeting the development goals, the health, social, and economic consequences of that violence will continue to limit progress.

The Secretary-General’s study serves to highlight the persistence, and unacceptability, of all forms of violence against women, in all parts of the world. It seeks to strengthen the political commitment and enhance joint efforts of all stakeholders to prevent and eliminate such violence. And it aims to identify ways to ensure more sustained and effective implementation of State obligations to address all forms of violence against women, and to strengthen accountability.

The study highlights and synthesizes issues and concerns within the parameters set by Member States in 2003, when the General Assembly called on the Secretary-General to initiate it. Preparation of the study was undertaken by the Division for the Advancement of Women in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and involved an extensive process of consultations and inputs by Member States, non-governmental organizations, UN entities, experts, and other stakeholders. It thus draws from existing research, knowledge, and experience at the national, regional, and global levels.

Let me turn now to the scope and content. The study begins by setting out the broad context within which violence against women occurs. It synthesizes the knowledge regarding the extent and prevalence of different forms, in the main settings: that is, within the family, the community, and perpetrated or condoned by the State, including in conflict settings. The study reviews the causes and consequences of violence against women, including its costs. It discusses the gaps and challenges in the availability of data, including in methodologies for assessing the prevalence of different forms of violence. It then highlights the particular responsibilities of States to address and prevent violence against women. And the study puts forward a blueprint for action by all stakeholders—by States, at the national level, and by intergovernmental bodies and UN entities—to make measurable progress in preventing and eliminating violence against women.

In the time I have with you, let me highlight just a few of the study’s main findings and recommendations.

The first point I wish to underscore is that violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of discrimination against women. In many countries, discriminatory customs and traditions that perpetuate or condone violence against women are allowed to persist, sometimes despite legislation outlawing such practices. And discriminatory attitudes and stereotypes that view violence against women, particularly domestic violence, as a private matter that is acceptable, remain common.

Efforts to prevent and ultimately end violence against women must therefore be systematically grounded in the work of all States and other actors to eliminate discrimination against women and promote women’s enjoyment of all their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Let me stress here the particularly important role of local communities—and families—in awareness-raising and education. Men have a role, especially in preventing violence, and this role needs to be further explored and strengthened. And our youth need to learn from their elders—from what we say and especially from what we do; from men as well as women; at home, at school, through our communications networks, and in the wider public domain—that women and men are equal and that violence against women is fundamentally wrong.

The most common of the forms of violence against women is intimate partner violence, sometimes leading to death. Certain harmful traditional practices are also widespread, including early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Gender-based murder of women, sexual violence, sexual harassment, and trafficking in women are receiving increasing attention. Violence perpetrated by States, through their agents, through omission or through the implications of public policies, spans physical, sexual, and psychological violence. And the high incidence of violence against women in armed conflict, particularly sexual violence including rape, has been clearly documented in several cases.

It is one of the great successes of grass-roots women’s organizations and movements around the world that the challenge of violence against women was drawn out of the private domain into public attention and the arena of State accountability. And these advocates continue to push for more “visibility” of the effects of policies and socio-economic practices on women.

The study shows that international attention to violence against women has grown significantly in the last twenty years—and particularly since 1995, when the Beijing Platform for Action called for improved research and data collection on different forms of violence against women. In some areas, notable progress has been made in this regard. Intimate partner violence is an example. We now have 71 countries in which at least one survey has been conducted on the subject. And a national survey has been conducted in at least 41 countries. These are complemented by research studies on specific issues or aspects that provide evidence on the scope of particular forms of violence, as well as its consequences and costs, for women, their families, communities, and countries. In general, occurrences of acts of violence against women are well documented, including by advocacy organizations and service providers.

Nonetheless, the available evidence remains uneven and, in many cases, non-existent. As also underscored by our report, The World’s Women 2005: Progress in Statistics, we continue to face serious research and data gaps, particularly on forms other than intimate partner violence, including trafficking in women and girls and violence against women by agents of the State. As the Secretary-General’s study before you shows, information to assess and evaluate what policies and practices are most effective in addressing violence against women is particularly scarce. The study presents a range of information on specific countries, but this is not to suggest that countries going unmentioned are free from violence against women. It simply means that the information is not available, which should itself be seen as a major cause for concern. Ensuring adequate data collection is part of every State’s obligation to address violence against women, yet inadequate data does not diminish that responsibility.

Now is the time to strengthen the knowledge base about the scope and extent of violence against women, as well as the impact of policies and practices that are in place so that resources to address this scourge can be used most effectively. This must include efforts to collect data systematically on the most common forms of violence. We also need to strengthen data collection and knowledge on forms that affect relatively few women overall but have a devastating effect on those concerned, or on new or emerging forms of violence, including economic violence and abuse, stalking, and violence through use of the Internet or cell phones.

The study makes a number of recommendations for action in this area, including developing a set of international indicators for assessing the prevalence of violence against women and the impact of different interventions. As in many other areas of work, this will not be possible unless the international community seriously steps up its support—technical, material, and financial—for strengthening national statistical systems in developing countries, as part of their broader capacity to monitor and evaluate progress in meeting their development goals.

The global attention to violence against women has also resulted in a comprehensive international legal and policy framework for addressing violence against women. Yet, States are failing in their responsibility to implement this framework fully at the national level. An example is the field of legislation. Only about half of Member States have some legislative provisions that specifically address domestic violence. Fewer than half have legislation on sexual harassment or on trafficking. And even where such legislation exists, there are often inadequacies in scope and coverage, such as definitions of domestic violence limited to physical violence or penal laws that discriminate against women. Or there are serious gaps in implementation, shown, for example, in the lack of regulations to implement legislation, the lack of clear procedures for law enforcement and health-care professionals, or the lack of legal aid, especially for indigent women.

Human rights treaty bodies, and in particular the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, have regularly voiced their concerns about gaps in legislation and its implementation, in the provision of services to victims, and the lack of systematic data collection on all forms of violence against women. The study thus puts a high priority on the need fully to implement the international legal and policy framework so as to close the gap between international commitments and national laws, policies, and practices. This framework establishes a standard for action by all States to meet their commitments. Strong multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder strategies are needed so that we move beyond the important, but single-issue or ad hoc measures to prevent and address violence against women, to a comprehensive, systematic, and sustained approach.

The study identifies an array of promising practices for tackling this challenge. Innovative work has been done by women’s NGOs in many countries, often in collaboration with States. These cover critical sectors, such as the law, the provision of services, and prevention. Advocacy and awareness-raising campaigns are now a regular feature in many countries. And I am pleased to draw your attention to the exhibit organized by the Division for the Advancement of Women in the corridor area, showcasing posters and other materials from Member States and the UN system. Still, successful interventions need to be scaled up, they need to be part of a comprehensive strategy, and they need to be targeted and specific so as to address the forms of violence that particular women and groups of women experience.

Decisive progress in ending impunity for violence against women and strengthening prevention will require a number of other essential ingredients. Violence against women will not be eradicated without political will and commitment at the highest levels to make this a priority locally, nationally, regionally and internationally. Such political will can be expressed in a variety of ways, including legislation, national action plans, adequate resource allocation, visible condemnation of violence, and sustained support by political leaders and opinion makers for action to address it. While much can be achieved with political will, a pressing need also exists for considerable investment of resources. Systematic and sustained support from the international community should enhance national and local efforts.

The provision of both of these in turn requires leadership. As the study sets out, leadership is critical at all levels, from the local to the global, in public and in private arenas. I have already suggested to you, in my opening statement, how the Third Committee could consider its own leadership role in this area, including by providing guidance and encouragement to other intergovernmental bodies and assessing current levels of institutional support, resources, and coordination. I can only add today that this Assembly has a critical role to play in providing the necessary leadership in our common responsibility to prevent and redress all forms and manifestations of violence against women. And I am convinced that, as a policy document, this study should significantly enhance the capacity of all States and all societies, individually and collectively, to move forward on this most critical human front.