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Vienna (Austria), 22 March 2021 – The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) and UN Women hosted an online side event at the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, exploring the key role of the police and justice sector in providing comprehensive and multi-sectoral services for women and girls subject to violence. Speakers from the UN, police and prosecution services, and the judiciary shared new tools and practical experiences in responding to gender-based violence while mitigating the impact of COVID-19.
Using technologies to improve women's access to justice in the COVID-19 context
"The restrictions imposed by COVID-19 have pushed forward a number of initiatives to increase the use of technology in all areas of the criminal justice system”, said Patsilí Toledo, a professor at the University Pompeu Fabra of Barcelona (Spain) who led UNODC’s global assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on criminal justice system responses to gender-based violence against women. “Such initiatives must be gender-responsive and used to address obstacles for women's access to justice, bearing in mind the needs of the most marginalised groups of women."
Engaging with the police
A positive initial contact experience with police is critical for survivors of gender-based violence. "Attitudes and behaviour towards women in the police may be carried over into the way the police engage with their local community. Cultural changes within policing have been shown to have an impact on the way they interact with the public”, said Jane Townsley, International Policing and Gender Consultant and co-author of a new Handbook on Gender-Responsive Police Services for Women and Girls Subject to Violence, published by UN Women, UNODC and IAWP.
Women in human trafficking, offenders and victims
Addressing the complexities of trafficking in persons, Marcelo Colombo, Head of the Unit against Human Trafficking and Exploitation at the Public Prosecutors Office in Argentina, highlighted that women prosecuted for trafficking are often victims themselves but seldom treated accordingly. A recent UNODC study on female victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation as defendants revealed their specific situation and the importance of early identification, essential services and the principle of non-punishment.
Engaging with the judiciary
Jakkie Wessels, Judge and Regional Court President in Limpopo (South Africa) stressed that “[j]udges come to the bench with their built-in and often strongly-held set of values and therefore have a duty to ensure that possible prejudices and harmful gender stereotypes do not influence proceedings”. She underlined the importance of the new UNODC Handbook for the Judiciary on Effective Criminal Justice Responses to Gender-based Violence against Women and Girls, to raise awareness promote the application of relevant international standards and norms by judges and courts.
Promoting access to justice and comprehensive essential services
About 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced gender-based violence and are much more likely than men to be killed by their intimate partners or family members. Such crimes remain under-reported and perpetrators are unlikely to be convicted. Survivors often face gaps in criminal law and procedure, gender stereotypes, victim blaming and inadequate police and justice responses. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further reduced access to justice and essential services, creating additional obstacles for ending all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls by 2030, as required by the Sustainable Development Goal 5.2.
UN representatives reaffirmed the Inter-Agency Statement on Violence against Women and Girls in the Context of COVID-19. Kristian Hölge, Representative of UNODC in Mexico, stressed that “transforming mindsets should be done from inside the institutions”. “UNODC will continue to promote crime prevention and criminal justice responses as a key element of a comprehensive and multi-sectoral approach to empower survivors and hold perpetrators accountable”, said Valerie Lebaux, Chief of the Justice Section of UNODC. Kalliopi Mingeirou, Chief of the Ending Violence against Women and Girls Section of UN Women, stressed that “We need to make a real difference where it matters. A gender-responsive and survivor-centred police and justice system is crucial to ensuring that women and girls remain safe and that those who perpetrate violence will be held accountable.”
Watch the recording of the event: