Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,
More than five women or girls are killed every hour by a family member or intimate partner.
Here in Europe, femicide claimed the lives of an estimated 2,500 women and girls last year. This is the brutal reality of femicide. It impacts women and girls in all societies. It is a crime that knows no border. Not only in my part of the world, or in Latin America, it happens here.
I want to thank our co-host, the government of the Dominican Republic, and our partners the Vienna-based Friends of Gender Group, and the International Gender Champions Initiative, for inviting me to join you today to discuss this very important and timely subject.
I would especially like to thank Ambassador Laura Faxas of the Dominican Republic for her efforts to raise awareness of gender-based violence, as well as our host country Austria.
On November 25th, we celebrated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls. It also marked the start of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.
On this same day in 1960, three sisters from the Dominican Republic – Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa Mirabal – were murdered for their political activism.
More than sixty years later, women around the world still face the threat of violence every day.
The numbers are staggering. One in three women worldwide have suffered sexual or other types of violence at least once, often many times more.
The threat of gender-based violence is a threat to lives.
It also keeps so many women and girls from reaching their full potential, by limiting their fundamental freedoms and rights, their education, and their livelihoods.
And these crimes too often go unpunished.
In fact, violent crimes against women and girls are among the most under-reported, and the least likely to end in a conviction.
Less than 40 percent of female survivors even report violations or seek help of any kind.
Victims often face significant obstacles due to serious gaps in legislation and procedure, as well as gender stereotypes, victim blaming, fear of retaliation, and inadequate responses from criminal justice institutions and professionals.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened this crisis, as isolation has led to increased gender-based violence and limited women’s access to police and justice services.
And in countries facing political instability and collapsing rule of law, women often pay the greatest price. In Haiti, women and girls are more vulnerable than ever, suffering widespread gang violence and sexual assaults with no recourse. In Afghanistan, women and girls have been stripped of their rights and are under constant threat of violence.
Ladies and gentlemen, these ongoing realities are unacceptable. We are failing the world’s women and girls.
At the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, we work to end violence against women by supporting victim-centred criminal justice responses in countries around the world.
Our work includes providing legislative support to better protect the rights of women and to increase women’s representation throughout law and justice institutions.
We believe that with more female police officers, prosecutors, and judges, all women and girls are safer, are more likely to report crimes, and more likely to improve access to justice.
But women remain severely under-represented in these careers, especially in leadership positions, and effective responses are lacking.
To better address this gap, this year, UNODC launched the Women in Justice for Justice initiative advocating for more female judges and other justice leadership positions worldwide.
To increase the rate of convictions for violent crimes against women, including sexual assaults, UNODC provides technical and forensic support at all levels of the criminal justice response.
In my home country Egypt, for example, UNODC trained 145 police officers, 175 prosecutors and 100 forensic doctors. This training, along with specialized clinics, improved the credibility of evidence and prosecution of rape cases as well as support services for victims.
In Palestine, UNODC implemented a long-term project to increase the reliability and management of forensic evidence. This included a training programme in forensic nursing and five forensic clinics.
Because gender-related killings of women and girls are particularly hard to quantify and to address, especially within the home, UNODC is working to enhance regional and global data on the issue.
Towards this goal, UNODC and UN Women developed a statistical framework for femicide. The framework empowers governments to identify, count and more fully report these crimes. Last week we launched our Femicide Report, together with UN Women, which clearly shows that better data and evidence should be an urgent priority for policymakers.
UNODC is also one of six UN agencies implementing the Spotlight Initiative, which enhances investigation and prosecution of gender-related killings. As part of this initiative in Mexico, UNODC provided specialised equipment and training for 123 state police officers to prevent and investigate gender-related killings. To increase prosecution and close legal gaps, we supported the 32 Mexican states in standardising their criminal code definitions of femicide.
Of course, violence against women goes beyond physical assault. With the growth of digital technology, there has been an increase of online harassment, intimidation and exploitation of women and girls of all ages and across sectors.
I am keenly aware that across all cultures, female leaders and women in politics receive an overwhelming amount of sexist, and gendered abuse, particularly online and via social media platforms.
Ladies and gentlemen, UNODC also helps countries to address the overlapping issues of human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Most trafficking victims are women and girls. And more than 75 percent of these victims are sexually exploited.
For example, UNODC has supported policewomen, prosecutors and judges in Costa Rica, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic to better identify and help trafficking and smuggling victims.
To address gender-related issues in human trafficking and migrant smuggling in Asia and the Middle East, UNODC launched the GLO.ACT Women’s Network of Gender Champions, in partnership with the European Union.
And in Africa, a joint UNODC/UN Women project in Liberia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone has enabled civil society and local stakeholders to provide legal aid services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, in response to increased demand during COVID-19.
Finally, I would like to address the link between sexual gender-based violence and terrorism. Some terrorist groups use sexual and other forms of violence against women to increase their power and destroy communities.
UNODC, together with the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, have developed guidance to ensure that these victims are recognized and that they receive gender-sensitive support.
Ladies and gentlemen, if we are to achieve justice, women must have more power.
We must start with girls, ensuring they have secure access to the education and life skills needed to be tomorrow's leaders.
Policy responses to gender-related killings of women and girls must also include stronger prevention through early intervention and risk assessment.
Today is an opportunity to listen and exchange experiences and share good practices.
I also encourage you to view the artwork of Iris Perez Romero, from the Dominican Republic, exhibited here today. Her paintings speak for the women and girls who have experienced violence. They remind us of their courage and inspire us to believe that a better world is possible.
We are also honoured to hear from Minerva (Minou) Mirabal, the daughter of one of the Mirabal sisters, and a political leader and champion for women’s rights.
There is much work to be done to end violence against women and girls. And for that work to be successful, women must be empowered to participate fully at every level of society.