Violence against women and girls: Read the signals, engage and take action to prevent

December 8, 2023

In Europe and Central Asia, gender-based violence and sexual violence persist at an alarming rate.

Around the world, one in three women is a survivor of domestic violence.  In Europe and Central Asia, gender-based violence and sexual violence persist at an alarming rate. Legislation in the region often falls short, with many of the existing laws, procedures, and practices on sexual violence failing to comply with international human rights standards. Such institutional and legislative gaps in turn result in systems that regularly fail to prevent violence against women and girls and fall flat in supporting those who seek justice as survivors.


While some nations have criminalized domestic violence, including Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, others have regressed by decriminalizing certain categories of assault and battery, and still others prioritize reconciliation over justice and safety for survivors of domestic violence.


The recent spate of global crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other deadly conflicts, as well as the continued rise of online abuse and harassment have all increased and compounded the threats facing women, while simultaneously decreasing the amount of safe space, support, and opportunity for women and girls. With these worrying signals all around us, responding to violence is not enough anymore. We call for a stronger engagement in prevention, in order to reduce and ultimately bring to an end the violence against women and girls, with commitment at all levels of authority, from local communities all the way through governments and international institutions. We also call for  strengthening the systems that empower women and support women’s economic independence and access to resources and support systems, provide opportunities that enable women to dedicate time, energy, and resources to their personal and professional growth, business ideas or career trajectories.

Access to finance remains one of the biggest barriers still facing women, with women in ECA 15 percent less likely than men to have any savings at all, and 28 percent less likely to have enough savings to start a business. Crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated these gaps, pushing women to more care work and domestic duties, further away from  career paths and plans outside the home. Since the pandemic began in 2021, 45 percent of women reported themselves or a woman they know as having experienced a form of violence. Additionally, seven out of 10 women said they think that verbal or physical abuse by a partner has become more common, and six in 10 noted feeling that sexual harassment in public spaces has worsened. While 162 countries worldwide have passed laws on domestic violence, and 147 have laws on sexual harassment in the workplace, the existence of legislation does not always translate to effective implementation and enforcement. 

Policies developed predominantly by men-dominated legislatures and executive branches of power often generate  indirect violence against women and girls. For example, legal constraints in family law, inheritance, and property rights can greatly restrict women’s ability to gain independence, save money, and hold assets in their own name. Accordingly, investing in women as leaders, policy makers, and decision makers is crucial in order to make policies more inclusive of the needs of women and more equal for both men and women. 


Investing in women’s potential and safeguarding their rights to freely define themselves is investing in a future that is diverse, inclusive and sustainable.
~ Steliana Nedera, Manager, UNDP Istanbul Regional Hub

For UNDP, preventing and responding to gender based violence is one of our six priority areas. We take a holistic and whole-of-society approach to integrate, prevent, and respond to gender based violence across all the sectors we work in, such as economic recovery, livelihoods, climate change, elections as well as rising rates of violence against women politicians.

We also bring professional women, young women students and girls together, to collaborate on the prevention of gender based violence including in online spaces through the STEM4ALL platform, and support women’s participation in politics and public administration through the Equal Future platform.

In Moldova, UNDP provided space to women-led organizations to empower those left behind, including women and men with disabilities, elderly, Roma, and transgender individuals, focusing on improving access to services and reducing gender-based violence while advocating for policy changes to increase protections.  

In Kazakhstan, UNDP is supporting awareness raising  to shed light on often hidden and untold stories of violence and discrimination against women and girls. The interactive art installation "Untold" at the Nurly Zhol railway station in Astana aims to reiterate global commitments to ending gender based violence alongside reinforcing the importance of zero tolerance to violence. 

In the Kyrgyz Republic, efforts to pilot innovative practices to support survivors of sexual and gender based violence include providing multi-disciplinary services – medical treatments, counselling, legal support, police investigations in a single location. Another approach seeks to address a critical gap in services by identifying women at risk of particular types of violence, motivating their psycho-emotional states and social integration, enabling them to develop safety planning skills to reduce their risks, and redirecting them to appropriate services.

In Ukraine, UNDP supported local partners to help find safe shelters for women, providing both basic necessities as well as psychological and legal help, and advice on how to avoid human trafficking.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the dignity and worth of the human person and the equal rights of men and women. Every human being is unique, men and women, boys and girls  – we all lend unique perspectives and approaches that enable more inclusive and sustainable solutions to issues we face every day.

We stand for recognizing and affirming that women and girls can and should realize their human potentials in every sphere of life - from designing safety features in transportation and machinery, to researching new alternative energy sources or sustainable methods of farming, to developing education policies that encourage both boys and girls to follow their dreams.