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Remarks by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović at “Preventing and eliminating violence against women”, Stakeholders’ Forum, New York, 13 – 14 December 2012

18 December 2012

Madam Executive Director,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Violence against women is a human rights violation and a manifestation of deep rooted discrimination against women. States’ have a legal obligation to fulfil women’s right to a life free from violence, including by acting with due diligence to prevent violence against women, whether committed by public or private individuals.
To achieve this, a holistic approach to prevention is needed, which includes legislative, policy and operational measures which are framed in the larger context of combating gender-inequality and discrimination. These must be developed with the participation of all relevant stakeholders, particularly civil society organizations and survivors of violence.
So, what can States do, more concretely, to fulfil their legal obligation to protect women from violence? I will briefly raise the following action points:
  1. An important first step is to ensure adequate legislative framework which is in line with international standards. Discriminatory provisions must be repealed – as CEDAW has stressed in repeated recommendations to many countries. The majority of States have enacted national legal framework to protect women from several forms of violence. However, such frameworks are not always comprehensive and do not address all forms of violence, nor prevent all risks. They also often lack necessary resources and institutional frameworks for their implementation, as well as adequate protection measures, such as restraining orders and shelters. 
  2. In addition to appropriate legislative measures, policy measures are required to efficiently address discrimination and protect women from violence. I therefore strongly support the elaboration of a global plan of action as a model to be used when elaborating national action plans.
  3. Underlying socio-economic causes of violence must be addressed. As highlighted in a 2009 report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, underlying socio-economic causes have huge impact - economic and social rights are critical for allowing women to effectively avoid the risk of violence. Measures that integrate gender-equality in financing for development initiatives can have far reaching effects.
  4. Awareness-raising campaigns can contribute to changing attitudes and challenging stereotypes by informing the public about violence and measures of protection and redress; by clearly condemning violence; and by challenging attitudes that support violence. The struggle to eliminate violence against women cannot be successful without involving men and boys. When campaigns engage men and boys they are more effective – and help shaping respectful attitudes and behaviours.
  5. Policy measures to prevent violence against women are more effective when the contents of the education curricula at all levels promotes women’s human rights and gender equality, and condemns violence against women. Education and training initiatives carried out in formal school settings along with capacity-building activities conducted in the wider community for men and boys, law-enforcement officials, the judiciary and other State officials, health and other service providers, and religious leaders can further contribute to the prevention of violence against women.
  6. An important effective approach to preventing violence is accountability for perpetrators. This includes the obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish acts of violence against women; provide adequate and non-discriminatory sentences for perpetrators, as well as gender-sensitive reparations for victims.
  7. Women must have access to justice. Common challenges to access range from financial costs associated with proceedings, lack of legal aid, gender-insensitive and discriminatory attitudes of law enforcement and the judiciary, and inadequate protection against fear from retaliation or stigma. Also, more women should be recruited as police and judicial officers. It is important for both symbolic and practical reasons.
  8. Reparations, finally, should not be just about returning women to the situation in which they were found before the individual instance of violence, but should strive to have a transformative potential and try to reverse prior gender inequalities that may be the root causes of the violence. Meaningful employment, education, skill training and access to land titles can for instance help enhance victims’ autonomy and create opportunities.

Let me conclude. This Stakeholders’ Forum has clearly shown that we know what needs to be done to protect women from violence. Civil society and the UN stand ready to support Member States in meeting their legal obligations. The 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women should focus on implementation. Let us join our efforts and let’s do it!

Thank you.