Inés Alberdi: A Life Free of Violence for Women and Girls

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By Inés Alberdi, UNIFEM Executive Director

Date: 27 March 2010

Occasion: Fifth Meeting of Women for a Better World, Valencia, Spain, 27–28 March 2010.

Good morning. It is a pleasure to join my distinguished colleagues in this dialogue on women’s health and rights. My remarks will take up the issue of violence against women and girls and UNIFEM strategy to end this pandemic.

National surveys show that as many as 17 to 76 percent of women experience physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime, most often by husbands and intimate partners. It takes place in the home, on the streets, in schools, the workplace, in fields, refugee camps, during conflicts and crises. As such, it strips countries of the human capital and productivity needed in the struggle to end poverty, improve education and health and propel development. Violence against women has also been a silent but potent culprit in the feminization and spread of HIV It is now recognized as a public health issue in many countries, one that undermines the health of individuals and the strength of communities and societies.

Despite its harmful effects, violence against women has long been regarded as essentially a private issue. Today, after decades of struggle by women’s rights activists, ending violence against women is positioned high on policy-making agendas. A record number of countries have adopted laws, policies and action plans to end violence against women, and a growing number are ensuring budgets for their implementation. Landmark agreements since the 1993 UN Declaration on Violence against Women and the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action include the world summits in 2000 and 2005, recognizing the importance of ending violence against women to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

More recent developments include annual General Assembly Resolutions to end gender-based violence and Security Council Resolutions 1820 and 1888 on sexual violence as a tactic of warfare, placing the issue as a security threat and a crime against humanity. The crowning moment came with the launch of the Secretary-General’s campaign, UNiTE to End Violence against Women 2008–2015, calling on governments, civil society, the private sector, the media, donors and the UN System, to address this global scourge decisively by the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals.

UNIFEM has spearheaded efforts within the UN System to end violence against women, a core part of our mandate to advance women’s human rights. Our strategy, A Life Free of Violence, centres on four key areas:

  • Stepping up prevention efforts to stop violence from occurring in the first place;
  • Placing the human rights of women and girls at the forefront of all efforts;
  • Supporting countries in turning their policies and laws into reality; and
  • Addressing sexual violence in conflict situations as a tactic of warfare.

1. Stepping up investments in prevention
Stopping gender-based violence from occurring altogether, by stepping up investments in primary prevention, is a strategic (and cost-effective) priority. Decades of political neglect and underfunding, however, has meant that most efforts have centred on responding to the emergency needs and rights of already-abused women, most of them led by women’s and other civil society organizations operating on shoe-string budgets. As such, limited attention has been paid to prevention. For UNIFEM, moving the agenda forward on this neglected area of work represents a top priority in the coming years.

Of urgent concern is sexual violence against girls and young women As many as 3 out of 10 women report forced first sexual experiences, while up to 45 percent of girls who are under 15 at the time of their first sexual experience have been forced. Working with adolescents (10–19 years) of both sexes is vital in order to instill zero tolerance for violence against women and girls. This includes engaging young people as champions of change — through schools, popular entertainment and youth culture media.

Ending violence against women and girls ultimately requires that men of all ages stand up against it, both publicly and in their private lives. To this end, UNIFEM is building partnerships with men’s groups and networks and intensifying advocacy and social mobilization efforts, particularly through Say NO–UNiTE, an interactive web-based platform for advocacy and action to end violence against women and girls.

In addition, building on its pioneer work on Safe Cities in Latin America, UNIFEM is “going global” on making cities safer and free of violence against women through a flagship programme intent on developing a model for worldwide uptake by local government authorities so that sexual harassment and violence in public spaces is no longer accepted as a “normal” aspect of women’s urban experience.

2. Aligning Policies and Laws with Human Rights
Efforts to align policies and laws with human rights include supporting comprehensive legal reforms that combat all forms of violence against women and that eliminate provisions that perpetuate impunity; promoting national follow-up on human rights recommendations, including those of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and the CEDAW Committee; and safeguarding women’s human rights in both formal and informal justice systems, by working with judges and lawyers, as well as traditional leaders and village elders — the gatekeepers of access to justice for women and girl survivors of violence, particularly in poor, rural and remote areas.

We place particular emphasis on reinforcing monitoring and accountability mechanisms to track and enhance policy and legal responses to gender-based violence — such as observatories, ombudsperson’s offices, parliamentary commissions, independent civil society analyses and other oversight mechanisms — that can regularly assess performance and introduce measures to end impunity.

3. Implementing National Commitments
Affirming gender-based violence as the emergency situation that it is, UNIFEM advocates for minimal standards that all countries should have in place, such as ready access to emergency hotlines, shelter and protection, post-rape care and free legal aid. We strengthen this “frontline” response by working with the police, health care professionals, legal aid workers and the judiciary; and by supporting the development of effective multi-sectoral referral systems for the victims/survivors of violence.

UNIFEM supports national and local action plans to end violence against women and girls that can bring together government and civil society partners for sustained progress. We are also pioneering the application of gender-responsive budgeting as a powerful tool to secure and track the needed resources for their implementation. Strengthening key institutions — such as women’s machineries, key sectors and parliamentarians — is integral to our efforts, as is contributing to data collection and analysis, the basis for effective advocacy, policy and legal reforms, service delivery and outreach.

To bolster countries’ implementation efforts, UNIFEM is making available the first programming support site on ending violence against women and girls. Intended as an on-line resource for policy makers and practitioners, and developed by leading experts in the field, UNIFEM’s Virtual Knowledge Centre provides one-stop access to ‘how to’ guidance, good practices and implementation tools.

We also focus attention on strategic areas that can catalyse and accelerate progress. This includes efforts to secure institutional responses and adequate resources within leading development and funding frameworks, such as national plans for poverty reduction, development, peace-building and reconstruction, HIV and AIDS, and sector-wide reforms in education, health, and the security sector. A key concern is promoting women’s economic security, critical supports for women and girls to escape abusive relationships and to avoid situations of exploitation and violence in the first place.

4. Sexual Violence in Conflict and Post-conflict Situations
Sexual violence is increasingly deployed in conflicts to force population flight, undermine community cohesion and demoralize the enemy. Our focus is on assisting violence survivors and promoting women’s engagement in peace negotiations and post-conflict recovery in order to secure justice and necessary resources for these survivors. We also support efforts to strengthen the role of the security sector in prevention, protection and investigation, including by training military and police officers, commanders, peacekeepers and other uniformed personnel, and instituting new performance standards and accountability measures designed to reinforce the rule of law.

In closing I want to congratulate the Spanish government, through its Ministry for Equality and Justice, on its work to secure a European Protection Order offering full coverage for women that are victims of gender-based violence across the whole of the EU.

Violence against women and girls is not inevitable; it persists because it is allowed to persist, and it can be stopped. We have the momentum provided by the Secretary-General's UNiTE campaign; we have the global political support for gender equality and women’s empowerment behind us as we lead up to the 2010 marker and beyond for achievement of the MDGs. Together, we have the will, the conviction and the means to make the dream of violence-free future generations of women and girls a reality.

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