Magdy Martínez-Solimán: Statement delivered at the opening of the 'Expert Meeting on Gender-based Violence and the SDGs'

Mar 3, 2016

It is a pleasure to be here today to open this expert meeting.  I would like to thank the Government of the Republic of Korea, not only for co-hosting this important gathering, but for their ongoing support to the United Nations Development Programme and their partnership with us to prevent and respond to gender-based violence around the world. I would like to acknowledge Mr. Lee Yong-Soo, Director General of Development Cooperation for the Republic of Korea. Thank you very much, Sir, for your opening remarks.

The UN is working in every region of the world to tackle gender-based violence, and we will share some of our successes during the next two and half days. UNDP does this as a rights-based development organization and as the coordinator of the UN Development System. Yet we must acknowledge that we are not achieving enough and that we need to do better. This workshop provides a unique  opportunity for all of us to sit together as a diverse group of partners in order to take stock of our approaches to addressing gender-based violence, examine what is working and what is not, and start developing the most comprehensive, integrated and effective ways to address this pernicious issue. The goal of this workshop is at once ambitious and realistic: to pool and advance our efforts to prevent and reduce gender-based violence, fight impunity and ensure survivors have access to justice and the services they need to rebuild their lives.

The substantial support we have received from the Republic of Korea is vital to this effort – allow me to express heartfelt thanks. It takes some moral stature to place this issue among the priorities of international cooperation. I would also like to extend a warm welcome to all of the distinguished participants who are here today. Partnerships are critical to address the complex challenges related to gender-based violence that we will discuss over the coming days. They are also central to the achievement of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which gives us an important opportunity to reinvigorate and frame our efforts in tackling gender-based violence.  Member States have spoken: eradicating GBV is one of the universal development objectives we need to achieve. This is especially important for those of us who are not specialised gender equality organisations.

A Violation of Human Rights

Gender-based violence is a violation of fundamental human rights. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women in the world has experienced physical or sexual violence - mostly by an intimate partner.  In some locations, the prevalence rates are more than two times this global average. Gender-based violence is systemic in every country, occurring in every region, regardless of culture, religion or income group. Too many women and girls are victims and lack protection and redress; and too many perpetrators go unpunished. It is a silent, brutal and global crisis against women.

Countries from the North, South, East and West are all grappling with finding solutions to reduce and respond to gender-based violence. My own country is one of them. I have lived in 14 countries in my life. None is free from this pest. This is not only vital to the lives and well-being of women and girls and societies throughout the world, but to the achievement of the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals.  For example, in addition to the obvious links to health-related targets, gender-based violence also impacts women’s economic empowerment through lost wages, which in turn impedes progress of families toward ending poverty. In developing and developed countries alike, gender-based violence impacts economies. Its direct costs include health care, judicial and social services for survivors and costs related to the prosecution of perpetrators. Among a host of other benefits, reducing gender-based violence also means reducing risks of HIV, mental illness and crime.

Gender-based violence escalates during and after conflict, and is often used as a weapon of war - a tactic specifically used to intimidate, displace, hurt, and humiliate. Particularly cruel, brutal, and coward warriors, who are unsecure about their military capacity, use this weapon and disgrace their camp. In fragile settings, women are particularly vulnerable to violence due to weakened systems of protection, security and justice.  

I know that many of the participants here today come from countries that are either in protracted crises or post crises settings.  I am very pleased that we will be joined tomorrow by Ms. Louisa Vinton, the UN Resident Coordinator in Macedonia, who will share with us the experience of the Balkans in addressing gender-based violence and, in particular, in supporting survivors twenty years after the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. A very short period of GBV projects its scars and suffering for generations.

I would also like to welcome the other member of this opening panel, Dr Mohammad Musa, Executive Director of BRAC in Bangladesh. I commend the formidable work of BRAC which is at the forefront of global efforts to address Gender-based Violence.

UNDP’s Efforts to Respond to and Prevent GBV

Before we roll up our sleeves and start the serious work of determining the best ways forward, I’d like to give you a brief overview of how UNDP is supporting partners on the ground to address gender-based violence.

With more than a 100 projects in each and every region of the world, our gender-based violence portfolio is currently estimated at $346 million, much of it supported by Korea.  This includes engaging with formal and informal justice systems to promote women’s human rights; awareness-raising; ensuring the needed array of services for survivors; and reforming legal frameworks and institutions to tackle gender-based violence. In crisis and fragile countries, we focus, in particular, on tackling impunity, ensuring support for survivors and advocating for reparations, including through our Global Focal Point on Justice, Police and Corrections partnership and in support to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and her team of experts on sexual violence against women in conflict.

We are also working in post-crises countries to rebuild justice systems and help survivors gain access to justice. I see participants here today from countries such as Somalia, South Sudan, Kenya and Colombia, which are just a few of the places where we are working with national authorities and civil society on such initiatives as training security sector actors, the judiciary and lawyers and providing legal aid services to survivors, clearing backlogs of gender-based violence cases, and supporting victims to gain redress and improve their livelihoods.

For example, in Kenya, as part of a joint project with the Republic of Korea, UNDP has supported the judiciary and other service providers to reach out to women refugees from neighbouring countries who are survivors of gender-based violence and affected by HIV/AIDS. In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, we have helped authorities to investigate hundreds of sexual and gender-based violence cases and transfer them to the formal judicial system.  We have supported hearings in mobile courts, which are more accessible to survivors located in remote villages.

Ensuring access to justice is important not only for survivors, but to send a clear message that there is never impunity for violence against women. Gender-based violent people belong behind bars –and there is where civilised nations will put them.

Opportunities of the SDG Framework

Despite progress achieved by such efforts, gender-based violence remains a critical development challenge. We recognize a need for greater investments in preventative efforts and in integrated approaches that tackle the challenges from multiple fronts and sectors at once.

Fortunately, with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we are better poised than ever to tackle gender inequalities, including gender-based violence. Not only is gender equality both the focus of a particular goal (Sustainable Development Goal 5) and integrated in the other goals, but specific “violence-related targets” -- including violence against women, violence and trafficking of children, homicide and sexual violence in the general population, and conflict-related violence -- are also included in the Sustainable Development Goals. One of the targets under SDG 5 on Gender Equality is ending gender-based violence by 2030. It literally states: “Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.”  Success in reducing gender-based violence, therefore, will be part of the measurement of overall progress toward achieving sustainable development.

This represents a significant advancement, as it indisputably connects reducing violence to achieving gender equality and sustainable development.

The indicators that the Member States are discussing these days at the UN will allow us to keep track of the progress made. National surveys will provide information about the proportion of women and girls affected by gender-based violence.  The information will be complemented by indicators such as “Number of victims of human trafficking per 100,000 people,” which is being discussed to keep track of one of the targets under SDG 16 on “Peaceful and Inclusive Societies.” Self-reporting to the HLPF, chaired by the Korean Ambassador in New York, will be a first step towards self-assessment and international comparative review.

UNDP has already begun supporting countries to track progress toward meeting the SDG targets. In Bangladesh, UNDP –also in the framework of the global project funded by Korea- is working with national and local authorities to put in place a data system that will allow the government to better measure, and give visibility to progress against all forms of violence against women, and hence to respond more effectively to the problem.

To achieve the ambitious SDG targets by 2030, we need efforts that go beyond a single government ministry or a few departments with limited budgets. The scale and scope of gender-based violence and the responsibility for reducing it go beyond any one ministry or one sector. It requires such integrated efforts as the joint UN endeavour that UNDP is leading in Armenia, to provide technical support to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs towards including gender-based Violence as a critical dimension of a new national framework on gender equality.

With gender equality and violence against women better integrated into the Sustainable Development Goals than any prior development framework, we have a great opportunity and imperative to strengthen efforts to address and reduce gender-based violence. Through our interactions in the coming days, we hope to “break the silos” and find the common ground to move forward collectively.

Throughout, we must keep in mind the foundations of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: human rights, non-discrimination and the commitment to leave no one behind. This last point – the commitment to reach those further away from protection– cannot be achieved unless we tackle and bring an end to the violence that leaves women and girls behind, on every continent, and in every country of the world. 

UNDP and its partners, especially the SG’s Unite Campaign and UNWomen’s efforts, as part of the overall UN response to gender-based violence, will continue to amplify the voice of civil society, including women’s and human rights organizations, and to work with groups who are most vulnerable to violence.  Here I would like to acknowledge the presence of civil society activists from Korea, Colombia and Kyrgyzstan including those from such prestigious organizations as Raising Voices and BRAC. The United Nations is already working with many of you, in particular the women’s organizations doing heroic work at grassroots and policy levels, in preventing violence before it happens; in preventing its recurrence, and in limiting its impacts through short and long-term care and support.  

I believe that together we can seize the momentum created by the recent adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and address the scourge of gender-based violence with renewed vigor and commitment.

Imagine a world without violence against women and girls. Imagine a world without violence. This is the world we want for our mothers, our sisters, our wives and our daughters, and for the dignity of our societies.

Thank you very much for your attention, and I wish you a productive few days.