Consign violence against women and girls, ‘to the history books’: UN chief

Women march in Uruguay to end violence against women.
UN Women/Sahand Minae
Women march in Uruguay to end violence against women.
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From the COVID-19 pandemic to economic turmoil, a range of stresses intensify physical and verbal abuse.  

Meanwhile, misogynistic hate speech and sexual harassment trigger rampant online exploitation against women and girls.  

“This discrimination, violence and abuse targeting half of humanity comes at a steep cost”, Secretary-General António Guterres underscored in his message for the day.  

“It limits women’s and girls’ participation in all walks of life, denies their basic rights and freedoms, and blocks the equal economic recovery and sustainable growth our world needs”.  

A woman leads a focus group in Mali, where she sensitizes girls and women against all forms of violence, including child marriage and female genital mutilation, in order to bring behavior change.
© UNICEF/Harandane Dicko
A woman leads a focus group in Mali, where she sensitizes girls and women against all forms of violence, including child marriage and female genital mutilation, in order to bring behavior change.

Behavior overhaul  

He upheld that it is time for “transformative action” that ends violence against women and girls – the most pervasive human rights violation in the world. 

The top UN official outlined what needed to be done, including that governments design, fund and implement national action plans to tackle this scourge.  

Moreover, grassroots and civil society groups must be involved at every stage of decision-making and all laws “implemented and respected”, so survivors can see their rights to justice and support upheld.  

He also urged everyone to support public campaigns that challenge patriarchal norms and promote different forms of masculinities that reject misogyny and violence.  

Call to action 

According to the UN chief, this year’s theme, “UNITE: Activism to End Violence Against Women and Girls”, reminds everyone to stand with activists around the world demanding change and support survivors of violence.  

“I call on governments to increase funding by 50 per cent to women’s rights organizations and movements by 2026”, he stated.  

In closing, the Secretary-General advocated for the world to “take a stand and raise our voices in support of women’s rights…[and] proudly declare: We are all feminists”. 

“Supporting and investing in strong, autonomous women’s rights organizations and feminist movements is key to ending violence against women and girls”, says the UN. 

Silence, stigma, and shame 

A woman participates in a march against gender violence in Quito, Ecuador.
© UN Women/Johis Alarcón
A woman participates in a march against gender violence in Quito, Ecuador.

Key to ending violence 

Five years ago, the #MeToo movement exploded, sparking global mobilization in preventing and responding to violence against women and girls. 

Since then, unprecedented awareness and momentum have been created. 

At the same time however, there has been a rise in anti-feminist groups – resulting in shrinking space for civil society, a backlash against women’s rights organizations and a rise in attacks against women human rights defenders and activists. 

Impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding violence against women and girls (VAWG) has kept the persistent and devastating human rights violation largely unreported.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

The adverse psychological, sexual and reproductive health consequences of VAWG affect women at all stages of life and can happen to anyone, anywhere.  

VAWG take many forms, such as 

  • Intimate partner violence, from battering to psychological abuse and marital rape to femicide. 
  • Sexual violence and harassment that can involve rape, forced sexual acts, unwanted sexual advances, stalking and cyber- harassment. 
  • Human trafficking, which encompasses slavery and sexual exploitation. 
  • Female genital mutilation.  
  • Child marriage. 

Additionally, this violence continues hamper equality, development, peace and the fulfillment of women and girls’ human rights – preventing the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to leave no one behind. 

16 days of activism 

The International Day also kicks off the UNiTE campaign, an initiative of 16 days of activism that runs from 25 November to 10 December and concludes on International Human Rights Day

This campaign aims to prevent and eliminate VAWG, calling for global action to increase awareness, promote advocacy and create opportunities to discuss challenges and solutions. 

This year, UNITE will mobilize all society globally to stand in solidarity with women’s rights activists and to support feminist movements to resist any rollback on women’s rights.

Assembly President visits abuse survivors’ centre

Meanwhile, General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi visited the Manhattan Family Justice Center, where local leaders and community-based organizations assisting survivors of domestic and gender-based violence told him that because every survivor is unique, judgement-free solutions must be too.

“These issues are complicated. There are families, children involved. People will reach out for help multiple times, they might want to understand their options, connect with family, because these are life-changing decisions,” said Commissioner Cecile Noel, from the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic Violence and Gender-Based Violence.  

She noted that on average, it takes seven attempts to leave a domestic violence relationship.

“Put what you own in a plastic bag and leave. That’s basically what we’re asking them to do”.

Partnering for good

The Manhattan Family Justice Center, one of five in New York City, connects survivors and their children with organizations that provide case management, economic empowerment, counseling, civil legal, and criminal legal assistance. 

To get a first-hand look at how services are provided and tease out how the Assembly could support those efforts, Mr. Kőrösi spoke with representatives of the Arab American Support Center, Safe Horizon, Sanctuary for Families, and the Urban Resource Institute.

“We are here to find out the good news from your work that can be brought to the UN and through the UN, to the entire world,” said Mr. Kőrösi, who was accompanied by his wife Edit Móra.

“There is no one size fits all solution”, reiterated Michael Polenberg, from Safe Horizon.

Lauren Schuster from the Urban Resource Institute highlighted the importance of including survivors in solutions, saying, “we cannot deicide for them what their journey looks like”.

The discussion also touched on trust building, domestic and gender-based violence education, and the emotional learning among children as well as helping youth think differently about their behaviors.

Inching forward

Earlier that day, two bills were signed – one focusing on low-barrier grant and supportive services to help survivors maintain housing.

NYC has 54 shelters for survivors of domestic or gender-based violence, which cater to some 4,000 families – separate from the city’s homeless population, which surpassed 60,200 in September.

“Many of the survivors are employed. They cannot continue to do that living off a mother’s couch or out of hosing. And often with children in tow”, said Commissioner Noel.

Mr. Kőrösi asked participants to share their experiences with Member States, adding that he would also like to invite a group of survivors and their children to the UN.

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News