Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
8 June 2021
I thank the Permanent Mission of Egypt for this opportunity to discuss a crucial and urgent issue.
Violence against women exists in every society. An estimated one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. In some countries, the figure rises to 70%. This violence, which may be severe, pervasive and habitual, can take place in the family, the workplace, schools or public spaces. And in many situations, it occurs with impunity – because the State either condones these forms of violence against women and girls, or is indifferent to their abuse.
Let us be very clear: violence against women is a human rights violation, potentially touching on the rights to life; to equality; to liberty and security of person; to equal protection under the law; to be free from all forms of discrimination and violence; to the highest standard attainable of physical and mental health; to just and favourable conditions of work; as well as the right not to be subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
However, over the past year and a half, all available data indicates that violence against women and girls is rising.
Stay-at-home orders, severe economic distress and other issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic have meant girls and women have been essentially locked indoors with their tormentors – exposed to increased control, increased violence and fewer opportunities to seek help, if they dare to do so.
Tragically, UNWomen estimates that over 60% of women who experience violence never report these crimes, or ask for protection and support. They fear stigma and reprisal. Many are convinced – perhaps rightly – that they will never receive effective protection from the police; that courts will not take timely or effective action against the perpetrator; and that their community will shun them for reporting the perpetrator to the authorities.
The minority of girls and women who do come forward often encounter mistrust from the authorities; impediments to accessing justice; economic barriers, including the need to pay for legal assistance, in many cases; and attacks from the perpetrators and their family members.
Egypt's efforts to tackle these and related issues are timely. I note the adoption of new measures to strengthen the prohibition of female genital mutilation. The national strategy to combat violence against women, adopted in 2015, seeks to coordinate efforts by the Government, the National Council for Women, the National Committee on the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation, and civil society. I look forward to learning more about what has been achieved, in terms of the lived realities of women and girls' lives.
Clearly, there must be sustained efforts by the State, primarily – as well as by many other stakeholders – to change mindsets, including within key institutions.
In terms of legislation, I, like CEDAW, urge adoption of a comprehensive law criminalizing all forms of violence against girls and women. Specifically, this needs to include domestic violence, marital rape, all forms of sexual violence, sexual harassment, institutional violence, so-called virginity testing, and crimes committed in the name of so-called "honour".
The lives of many generations of Egyptian women and girls have been profoundly harmed by such practises, which should be clearly made illegal, with the laws against them properly upheld.
There should be decisive and concerted efforts to combat impunity for violence against girls and women across the country, involving every police station and every court. As in every other country, Egypt must ensure that perpetrators are investigated, prosecuted and punished in line with international human rights standards. Witnesses should be protected, and survivors should not be re-victimised during the legal process.
Civil society groups and women human rights defenders play a crucial role of advocacy, awareness-raising and support – sometimes braving great risks to themselves. I commend their efforts and emphasise that it is vital for the space in which they work to be broad and free. It is vital that survivors and advocates be protected against any form of reprisals or attacks once they voice concern about cases of violence against women and girls.
The UN and international human rights mechanisms can also contribute to mobilizing forces to tackle violence against girls and women. I look forward to hearing more from the panellists on this today.
Above all, I urge all of us – including the authorities – to meaningfully consult and work with Egyptian girls and women, of every social class, every political opinion, every religious belief and every age. They have exactly the same rights as Egypt's boys and men, including an equal right to be heard.
Facts and Figures | UN Women – Arab States