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Statement to 76th Session of the UN General Assembly
Third Committee
Item 29(a-b): Advancement of women

​Statement by REEM ALSALEM

5 October 2021
New York


Distinguished delegates,

It is an honor and a privilege to address you in my capacity as UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences – having taken up my functions a little over two months ago.

To start, I want to pay homage to my predecessor, Dubravka Simonovic, the previous Special Rapporteur and the last report elaborated under her tenure. The report takes stock of two of the mandate's initiatives, namely the femicide watch initiative and the Platform of Independent Expert Mechanisms on the Elimination of Discrimination and Violence against Women (herafter the EDVAW Platform).

The EDVAW Platform was established by the Special Rapporteur to promote institutional links and thematic cooperation among the mechanisms, with a view to speaking with one voice, and improving the implementation of the existing international legal and policy framework on violence against women. The Platform consists of seven independent, regional and international expert mechanisms. The EDVAW Platform has demonstrated the benefits of joint and coordinated work among expert mechanisms, and the increased collective impact that the mechanisms can have by speaking in one voice. On the 8th of October, I am convening a first meeting of the Platform as the new mandate holder, to set a collective agenda of work for the future. I am thankful for the donors supporting this important work and hope to count on further support to solidify the progress made and expand the platform's membership.

The main part of the report takes stock of progress made in the implementation of the 'femicide watch initiative' and makes recommendations for further progress on the prevention of femicide, or gender-related killings of women. The initiative started as a call, in 2015, for all States to establish a femicide watch or observatory, which would be responsible for collecting and publishing the number of femicides for that year, disaggregated by the age and sex of the perpetrators, as well as the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. The call was for the data to be published on the 25th of November of each year, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The report accentuates developments both at international/regional and at national level, noting that many countries have made progress towards creating their own femicide watches or bodies, while sharing examples and good practices. The report also highlights studies on femicide and on evidence-based policy and legislative responses, as well as differences in data collection methodologies and definitions of femicide among countries.

It should be noted that collecting and disseminating data is not an end in itself, but a powerful tool to assess the level of gender-based violence against women and improve legislation and policy responses to all forms of violence against them. While much progress has been made in establishing violence against women observatories, or femicide watch bodies, dedicated to the issue of femicide or gender-related killings of women, the progress has been uneven. For example, in certain countries a significant amount of resources have been put into setting up femicide watches, while in others none. More data is being collected and disseminated, though often the data is not comparable or does not include information on the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. Some countries only collect data on intimate partner violence, while a comprehensive approach should include all types of femicide. The report presents recommendations in this regard for States, the United Nations system, and the EDVAW platform.

I also take this opportunity to briefly share with you my thematic priorities for the next three years. I have used the first two months of my tenure to hold broad consultations and conversations with a multitude of stakeholders to inform the setting of my agenda and priorities. I have, among others, spoken to ten State representatives, specifically their Ambassadors at the Permanent Missions in Geneva, and discussed with different independent expert mechanisms and mandate holders, relevant UN agencies, a multitude of NGOs and civil society organizations, researchers and practitioners. As part of this preparation, I have also held four small informal thematic consultations. I have listened intently, and I have integrated the results of these discussions into my vision. A statement summarizing my priorities which will be published in the next couple of weeks on my mandate's webpage. Essentially, I will be concentrating my efforts on the following topics:

As a first topic, I want to look at violence against indigenous women and girls. All over the world, indigenous women and girls are frequently overlooked and forgotten, while they often bear the brunt of violence and suffer impunity of the harm done to them. In fact, attacks against indigenous women have become increasingly violent, with many such acts linked to extractive industries. It is important that this reality is further understood and documented, and that concrete recommendations are made to protect them against these forms of violence.

Another theme is gender-based violence in the context of disaster risk reduction and response related to climate change. Climate change, or rather – climate emergency – is, as this Assembly knows well, already here. As with every pandemic and crisis we have seen, women and girls are disproportionally impacted by it. Climate change increases pre-existing vulnerabilities and gender inequalities, which can render women particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. If we want to tackle this crisis effectively, we will need to empower women and girls as equal participants in the search for solutions and protect them against harassment and violence. Concerns for their safety will also need to be factored into contingency plans and response strategies and policies.

Thirdly, I also want to focus on psychological violence against women, and the harm this violence causes. This type of violence, which is also mentioned in Human Rights Council resolution 41/17, which most recently renewed my mandate, is pervasive yet not sufficiently understood. There is a need to further unpack the different forms of psychological violence that women and girls are subjected to every day, often by those closest to them. Available data shows that between 12 and 58% of women reported experiencing psychological violence within intimate relationships in the 12 previous months. These realities have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, the psychological harm experienced by victims of gender-based violence, their families, and communities is also insufficiently acknowledged in transitional justice processes as well as insufficiently taken into consideration in the design of reparations and remedies for victims.

Fourth, I would like to examine more closely the relationship between the condition of statelessness, gender, and gender-based violence. Women and girls that are stateless can experience multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, and violence. Data on this situation is unsatisfactory – all the more reason to dedicate attention to it.

Finally, I want to look at the intersection between gender-based violence against women, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. For many women and girls, the fact that they live outside patriarchal norms related to heteronormativity and gender norms, puts them at increased risk of gender-based violence. Yet, the violence they face is still not taken as seriously as it should be. They require a more assertive response by Member States and others in fulfilment of their international human rights obligations.

To conclude, I look forward to working on these priorities and to fulfilling my functions more broadly to the best of my abilities. As someone who has worked in the world of multilateralism for many years, I believe in the value of working closely with all stakeholders – both State and non-State, and at all levels: Local, regional and global. The objective of ending violence against women and girls is too urgent, and too large of an objective that cannot be done by any party alone. I will therefore seek to strengthen synergies and leverage collective efforts by all those working on this issue, including other special procedures, UN Treaty bodies, States, the private sector, and others in service of this imperative. I hope I can count on your continued interest, engagement, and commitment along the way. I thank you.