Violence against women and girls is not only a fundamental human rights issue but also a “moral affront” against them and a “mark of shame” on all societies, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has said, calling greater action by everyone around the world to root out the scourge.
In a message on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Mr. Guterres also underscored that such violence and abuse is a major obstacle to inclusive, equitable and sustainable development.
“Not until the half of our population represented by women and girls can live free from fear, violence and everyday insecurity, can we truly say we live in a fair and equal world,” said the Secretary-General.
The UN chief also noted that at its core, violence against women and girls is the manifestation of a profound lack of respect – a failure by men to recognize the inherent equality and dignity of women – and that it is tied to the broader issues of power and control in societies.
“We live in a male-dominated society,” he said, adding that women are made vulnerable to violence through the multiple ways in which they are kept unequal, harming the individual and has far-reaching consequences for families and society.
The violence, he said, can take many forms: domestic attacks to trafficking, from sexual violence in conflict to child marriage, genital mutilation and femicide.
Violence against women and girls is also a deeply political issue – Secretary-General Guterres
In his message, the Secretary-General said that increasing public disclosure by women from all regions and all walks of life of the sexual harassment they faced is galvanizing power of women’s movements to drive action to eliminate harassment and violence everywhere.
This year, the global United Nations UNiTE campaign to end violence against women and girls is highlighting our support for survivors and advocates under the theme ‘Orange the World: #HearMeToo’.
“With orange as the unifying colour of solidarity, the #HearMeToo hashtag is designed to send a clear message: violence against women and girls must end now, and we all have a role to play,” said Mr. Guterres.
‘End the culture of silencing’ – head of UN Women
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women, the Organization’s entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, also highlighted that the theme is a call “to listen to and believe survivors”, to end the culture of silencing, and to put the survivors at the centre of the response.
“The focus must change from questioning the credibility of the victim, to pursuing the accountability of the perpetrator,” she said, underscoring that #HearMeToo is “therefore also a strong call to law enforcement.”
According to UN Women, the vast majority of perpetrators of violence against women and girls face no consequences; and only a minority of cases are ever reported to the police, an even smaller percentage result in charges, and in only a fraction of those cases is there a conviction.
“Police and judicial institutions must take reports seriously, and prioritize the safety and wellbeing of survivors, for example by making more female officers available for women reporting violence,” said Ms. Phumzile.
Laws must recognize that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination against women and a human rights violation, she added, calling for legal protections for both formal and informal places of work to ensure that the most vulnerable workers, like those dependent on tips from customers for their income, will have a better chance to speak out against abuse, and be heard.
Employers also have an important role, added Ms. Phumzile,
“In every country [they] can make vital impacts by independently enforcing standards of behaviour that reinforce gender equality and zero tolerance for any form of abuse.”
The International Day
In December 1999, the UN General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, inviting governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations to hold activities designed to raise public awareness on the issue.
The Day also commemorates the brutal assassination in 1960, of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, on orders of Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961).