Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


Remarks of the UNODC Executive Director
Locked Down and Locked-in: Standing Against Gender-Based Violence and Human Trafficking during the COVID-19 Pandemic

  30 November 2020

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to have such champions with us today. Allow me to begin by thanking UN Women and my colleague Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, as well as our goodwill ambassador Nadia Murad, for co-organizing this event with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

I am very grateful to the distinguished panellists and goodwill ambassadors for your participation and commitment to strengthening responses to stop gender-based violence and human trafficking.

Action on both these fronts is more urgent and more needed than ever.

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed fragilities and inequalities and inadequacies of responses, within societies, and between regions and countries.

The many different problems we are experiencing during the pandemic have hit women hardest.

Women are the frontline workers, they are the unpaid care workers, they are the informal sector workers without social protection in the worst economic downturn in nearly a century.

Women and girls are leaving school and the workforce in the crisis, and if previous recessions are an indicator, they may not all be able to return.

At the same time, the problems and dangers of gender-based violence have been heightened in the pandemic.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres even called for a worldwide domestic violence ‘ceasefire’.

Already one in three women experience different forms of violence in their lifetime. The majority of female homicide victims die at the hands of their intimate partners or other family members.

More than 60 per cent of detected human trafficking victims are women and girls.

Now in the COVID-19 crisis, women are further exposed to violence and harassment, and increasingly at risk of being exploited by human traffickers.

The ability of law enforcement and criminal justice systems to act has also been challenged.

UNODC has conducted global rapid assessments of the impact of COVID-19 on responses to gender-based violence against women, as well as to human trafficking.

Consultations with governmental as well as non-governmental counterparts and frontline workers in different regions found that the crisis was leaving trafficking victims destitute and their plight less visible to authorities.

Crimes involving violence against women are already less likely to be reported and less likely to end in conviction. Now cases have been subject to delays as lockdown measures and other restrictions slow the course of justice.

Remedies to clear case backlogs, such as the use of “e-justice” mechanisms, may seek to enable women to access justice even in these challenging times. However, such measures may also unintentionally discriminate against the poor and marginalized who live on the wrong side of the digital divide, and lack access to the necessary technologies and information.

In every part of the world, we are seeing that COVID has worsened the plight of at-risk women and girls, while also hindering criminal justice responses and reducing support to victims.

To stop the backsliding and protect the vulnerable, we need to ensure that measures to address the pandemic take women into account, and that they work for women, to support their access to justice and essential services, and safeguard their rights.

Along with UN Women and our other UN partners, UNODC has backed the Secretary-General’s ceasefire call and we have worked together to promote four key pillars of action, namely: funding essential services, prevention, improving police and justice action, and collecting data.

UNODC’s support builds on our work in 44 countries to improve crime prevention and criminal justice responses through national action plans, referral systems and training for police officers, prosecutors, judges, emergency call operators and other frontline workers.

Last year, UNODC assisted nearly 80 countries to prevent and combat human trafficking, and we are supporting networks of women law enforcement officials to further strengthen responses.

Now we need to take this action forward, to ensure that COVID recovery strategies, both at the national and international levels, effectively address gender-based violence and promote the rule of law.

Most of all, we need to take the opportunity of recovery to recover better. Girls need to be able to go back to school and have equal opportunities. Women need decent jobs and social protection.

Empowerment through education and work is the most powerful catalyst for gender equality. If we invest in women and girls, they can be their own agents for sustainable change and for progress.

To do this, we need governments, the private sector and all parts of society to commit and contribute to this shared goal. Every one of us has a role to play in the fight for equal rights and the fight against gender-based violence.

I am inspired by the diversity of speakers at this event, representing Member States and international organizations, as well as celebrated artists, activists, thought leaders and concerned citizens.

I believe that together we can come up with more effective solutions, to emerge from the current global crisis with greater justice and equality. I look forward to our discussion, and thank you once again for joining us.