Violence against women is the most atrocious manifestation of the systematic discrimination and inequality that women around the world continue to face. It endangers women’s lives, violates their rights, harms their families and communities, and poses an affront to humanity itself. It also undercuts the enormous potential of women to contribute to peace and development, by restricting their choices and limiting their ability to act. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women serves to draw global attention to this scourge and intensify efforts to eliminate it.
The designation of this International Day is a tribute to the decades of effort by grassroots women’s organizations and women’s rights movements to pull the issue of violence against women out of the private domain into public attention and the arena of State accountability. So, too, is the report we have gathered here to discuss: the Secretary-General’s in-depth study on all forms of violence against women.
While there is no shortage of writing on this issue, few have attempted a comprehensive examination of the universality, breadth, and depth of the issue and of the gaps and challenges in the public response. This is precisely why the General Assembly requested this study, which was launched here at the UN in October.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the study’s content, let me give you a brief overview. 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 it puts forward a blueprint for action by all stakeholders—by States, at the national level, and by intergovernmental bodies and UN entities, at the regional and international levels—to make measurable progress in preventing and eliminating violence against women.
This study must receive the clear attention of governments who are (and should be) critical stakeholders in this effort. It seeks to strengthen both political commitment and accountability. And it aims to identify ways to ensure more sustained and effective implementation of State obligations to address all forms of violence against women, including through enhanced cooperation and coordination among governments and other stakeholders.
I would like to highlight just a few of the study’s main findings and recommendations.
First of all, the premise of the study is that violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of discrimination against women. Efforts to prevent and ultimately end violence against women must therefore be firmly and strategically 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. This requires not only making sure that laws and policies do not discriminate against women. It also requires that efforts be made to change stereotypical conceptions of gender roles, including through education and media. And all of us must be involved in such efforts.
Secondly, the study emphasizes the dearth of targeted research and data collection on all forms of violence against women. In order to devise appropriate strategies to address violence against women, we must have data about the scope and extent of the various forms of violence. We must also assess and evaluate what policies and practices have been most effective thus far, so we can deploy our present resources and energies in the smartest and most effective ways. 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.
Thirdly, the study highlights that, while global attention to the issue has resulted in a comprehensive international legal and policy framework for addressing violence against women, States are failing in their responsibility to implement this framework fully at the national level. An example is in 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, or there are serious gaps in implementation.
The study puts a high priority on the need fully to implement the international legal and policy framework so as to bring national laws, policies, and practices in line with international commitments. And it establishes a standard for action by all States to meet their commitments.
Fourthly, while the study mentions a range of promising practices developed by NGOs, governments, and other stakeholders in the fields of legislation, services, and prevention of violence, it underscores the need to scale up these efforts. Strong coordinated multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder strategies are needed to propel us beyond the important, but single-issue measures to prevent and address violence against women, towards the comprehensive, systematic, and sustained approach that this challenge demands.
Lastly, I wish to stress the importance of political will, commitment, and leadership in ending impunity for violence against women and strengthening prevention. As the study points out, 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. A pressing need also exists for considerable investment of resources.
Leadership is critical at all levels, from the local to the global, in public and in private arenas. The Third Committee of the General Assembly has taken steps in this regard by approving by consensus, last Wednesday, a comprehensive resolution on the “Intensification of Efforts to Eliminate All Forms of Violence against Women”—as a product of Member States’ extensive dialogue and negotiations on the study’s recommendations.
The resolution calls for action on a number of fronts. Member States are urged to exercise leadership; to allocate resources; to integrate a gender perspective into appropriately resourced national plans of action; to establish specific national plans of action for eliminating violence against women; to strengthen prevention efforts; to abolish all discriminatory laws; to criminalize all forms of violence against women; to end impunity; to ensure systematic collection and analysis of data on violence against women; to provide training on gender equality to relevant actors; to empower women through social and economic policies; and to provide support to victims.
UN-system organizations are called to enhance coordination and intensify their efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in a more systematic, comprehensive and sustained way. And relevant UN bodies are invited to set priorities for addressing the issue in their future efforts, bearing in mind the study’s recommendations. The Statistical Commission is requested to develop and propose a set of possible indicators on violence against women, in order to assist States to assess the scope, prevalence, and incidence of violence against women. And the Secretary-General is asked to establish a coordinated database on the extent, nature, and consequences of all forms of violence against women, and on the impact and effectiveness of policies and programmes for combating this violence.
The Third Committee of the General Assembly has paved the way forward by approving this comprehensive resolution. On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, I similarly urge all of you here today to join in the effort to eliminate all forms of violence against women by galvanizing action at all levels to implement the study’s recommendations.