We must focus on changing attitudes and realizing women’s human rights" — Executive Director on ending violence against women

Speech by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Ending Violence against Women: Building on Progress to Accelerate Change meeting in Istanbul, Turkey on 9 December.


[As delivered]

Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu,
Turkey’s Minister of Family and Social Policies, Dr. Sema Ramazanoğlu,
Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin,
UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative for the Republic of Turkey, Kamal Malhotra,
Representatives of civil society,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a real pleasure to be with you all today. I thank the Government of Turkey and UNFPA for co-organizing this important event with us.

Violence against women and girls

We are here today because violence against women and girls remains one of the most widespread and tolerated violations of human rights. We are here today to call a halt to that.

We know that gender-based violence is deeply rooted in gender inequality and discrimination. It is enabled by unequal power relations between men and women, and by pervasive social norms, attitudes, beliefs and stereotypes. These attitudes start at a very young age, and have an impact on girls and boys, and on women and men. Violence against women and girls occurs in every country in the world — but it is not inevitable. It can be ended. Together we are working to eliminate it for good.

Progress and gaps

This meeting is part of a series commemorating the 20th anniversary of the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. In the 20 years of implementing this agreement we know that some progress has been made, but we also know that much more needs to be done.

For instance, we are seeing that many countries in the last 20 years adopted legislation that addressed gender inequality. They passed laws that address violence against women and promote girls’ and women’s empowerment. At least 119 countries have passed laws that criminalize domestic violence, and 125 countries have laws on sexual harassment. Turkey can be proud of being one of the leading countries that ensured that the Istanbul Convention was adopted, and for that we have the Prime Minister to thank.

Laws on their own obviously take us a step forward, but all of us need to do something about the implementation of these laws. According to recent data, less than half of existing domestic violence laws are being enforced around the world.

We have seen increased prevention efforts through public awareness campaigns, education interventions and community mobilization, and in that space civil society has played a significant role. But we also know that a change in norms and beliefs is something that is much deeper and that requires all of us to be active.

We have seen an increase in multi-sectoral services for survivors. These are a response to a crime that has already been committed — and that is why we emphasize prevention. The services provided are not effective enough when less than 40 per cent of the women who experience violence seek help. And in part, this is because sometimes even the people who are providing services are themselves prejudiced against women and girls.

Many countries simply do not have enough accurate data to inform their policies and interventions. Reliable data is needed in order for us to make a sustained difference.

To truly eliminate violence against women and girls, we must focus on adequate resourcing for the implementation of laws, and long-term prevention strategies that address unequal power relations, and prevent the recurrence of violence. We must focus on changing attitudes and realizing women’s human rights. We must ensure accessible and high-quality services for survivors. We need zero tolerance of violence from leaders. We also need to make sure that our leaders never give mixed messages.

Girls, and adolescent girls in particular, need our special attention, for they are our bridge to the future. Right now they are bearing the brunt of the violence that is perpetrated against women and girls around the world.

In order to engage the comprehensive response need for the resolution of this problem we have adopted a framework that addresses, in particular, prevention. 

The need for a comprehensive approach

The UN Framework to Underpin Action to Prevent Violence against Women, has been jointly developed by UN Women, ILO, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, OHCHR, and WHO. That on its own demonstrates the strong collaboration on this issue. We launched it last week in New York and it is available to you on our website. In addition, there is the UN Joint Global Programme on Essential Services for Women and Girls Subject to Violence, which the result of the collaborative efforts of UN Women, UNFPA, WHO, UNODC and UNDP, which will be launched in Istanbul tomorrow.

Violence against women and girls in the context of the 2030 agenda

With your help, we have been able to position gender equality and women’s empowerment at the centre of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is also a key part of Goal 5, which is the goal in the Sustainable Development Goal that is focused on women and girls.

This Goal 5 firstly focuses on ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls — this is the essential pre-requisite for tackling the deep roots of gender-based violence. It also focuses on the elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls, including harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage. This new Agenda clearly and strongly demonstrates the multiple linkages between gender inequality and violence against women and girls. It recognizes that violence against women and girls is an obstacle to fully achieving sustainable development.

For the first time, it also calls for men and boys to take part and to be active in advancing gender equality. Yesterday evening I had the joy of meeting fathers here in Istanbul who are active in addressing the end of violence against children and against women. Father with father, they spent 13 weeks together shaping a programme aimed at making fathers active role players in advancing institutions for gender equality. I was truly moved by what they have gone through in their commitment to gender equality.

Expectation for this meeting

I hope these next two days will allow us to reflect on the progress we have made, what still needs to be done, what needs to change, the opportunities that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offers us, the lessons we have learned and the extensive work that we have done, as well as the big challenges that remain ahead. Now is the moment to demand accountability for the commitments that our leaders have made, and the commitments that we have made, so that we are able to take the world forward.

During the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, in which Turkey has participated, we have seen many people who have participated in diverse activities for “Oranging our world”. All of these have also taken root in this country. This meeting will be another step to take the struggle forward.

I wish all of us a very successful meeting and a way forward that is real.

Thank you.