On International Day, UN chief says ‘violence against women is not inevitable’

The United Nations

In a virtual event to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, commemorated annually on 25 November, UN Women chief Sima Bahous described gender-based violence (GBV) as “a global crisis”.

“In all of our own neighbourhoods, there are women and girls living in danger. Around the world, conflict, climate-related natural disasters, food insecurity and human rights violations are exacerbating violence against women”, she said.

And according to UN Women, more than 70 per cent have experienced GBV in some crisis settings.

Hidden violence

In both rich and poor countries alike, gender prejudice has fuelled acts of violence towards women and girls.

The top UN Women official explained that this type of violence “often goes unreported, silenced by stigma, shame, fear of the perpetrators and fear of a justice system that does not work for women”.

Moreover, COVID-19 has triggered a shadow pandemic, which enables unseen violence. She cited an increase in reports on helplines for violence against women and girls (VAWG) in all corners of the world.

Hope on the horizon

Despite this, Ms. Bahous said that there is hope and new opportunities are opening.

Last summer, as part of a $40 billion commitment to the women and girls of the world, the Generation Equality Forum launched the Action Coalition on Gender-based Violence to spark collective action, drive investment and deliver concrete results.

“There will be concrete financial and policy commitments, and scaled-up initiatives in critical areas: survivor support services, legal frameworks and more resources for grass-roots organizations”, the UN Women chief assured.

‘Change is possible’

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said that “violence against women is not inevitable”.

“The right policies and programmes bring results”, including long-term strategies that tackle the root causes of violence, protecting the rights of women and girls, and promoting strong and autonomous women’s rights movements.

The UN has built this model through its partnership with the European Union in the Spotlight Initiative.

Partner countries last year witnessed a 22 per cent increase in prosecution of perpetrators; 84 laws and policies were passed or strengthened; and more than 650,000 women and girls were able to access GBV services – despite pandemic-related restrictions.

“Change is possible, and now is the time to redouble our efforts so that together, we can eliminate violence against women and girls by 2030”, he said.

GBV knows no boundaries

General Assembly President, Abdulla Shahid, said that one characteristic of gender-based violence is that it knows no social or economic boundaries and affects women and girls of all socio-economic backgrounds.

“This issue needs to be addressed in both developing and developed countries”, he argued.

Community focal points attend a training session on Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Juba, South Sudan.
Community focal points attend a training session on Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Juba, South Sudan.

Violence abounds

According to the latest global estimates, nearly one-in-three women aged 15 and older have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate or non-sexual partner or both at least once in their lifetime.

These numbers have remained largely unchanged over the last decade, and do not reflect the impact of COVID-19.

Since the pandemic outbreak however, emerging data has revealed that all types of VAWG, particularly domestic violence, have intensified – with the world unprepared to respond to its rapid escalation.

And this does not include the full continuum of violence, including sexual harassment, violence in digital contexts, harmful practices and sexual exploitation across different contexts and geographic locations.

Pandemic

Since the beginning of the pandemic, feelings of safety have also been eroding among women, significantly impacting their mental and emotional well-being, according to a new report released by UN Women.

Published a day prior to the International Day and kicking off the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, it revealed that across 13 countries, almost half of all women reported that they or a woman they know experienced gender-based violence during the pandemic.

And almost a quarter reported more frequent household conflicts with a similar proportion saying they felt less safe at home.

This year, the UNiTE campaign set “Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now!” as the official theme.

A case worker at a camp for internally displaced people in Somalia helps abused women get medical care.
A case worker at a camp for internally displaced people in Somalia helps abused women get medical care.

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