Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls: An Urgent Priority

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women -- a day which reminds us that violence against women continues to be destructive and pervasive. Ranging from domestic violence and child marriages to the use of rape as a tactic of war, violence against women kills as many women between the ages of 15 and 44 as cancer, is a grave assault on many more women and girls and imposes high economic and social costs on societies.

In responding to gender-based violence, the financial costs to health systems, social services, the justice sector and indirect costs, such as those of lost productivity, burden countries around the world. From Chile, where intimate partner violence is estimated to drain as much as two percent of the country's GDP, to the United States, where the cost of domestic violence is estimated to exceed $12.6 billion per year, violence against women imposes high costs on both its victims and society.

Yet, when women are able to live in a safe and secure environment, they can participate effectively in the economy and society. This helps overcome poverty, reduces inequalities and is beneficial for children's nutrition, health and school attendance. Every woman and girl has the right to live in safety in her home and community.

At UNDP, we address the problem of gender-based violence in partnership with other organizations, including NGOs and civil society. We aim to contribute to reducing violence and to promote women's economic, legal, social and political empowerment. Through our programs, we provide legal and psychological support to victims, and we target the underlying causes of violence.

Improving women's access to the justice system and to legal aid is vital. In conflict and post-conflict countries where justice systems, security and the rule of law have broken down, women are particularly at risk. To counter this, in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we are helping to strengthen the justice sector so that the many cases of rape and violence committed by combatants can be addressed. Impunity for perpetrators must end.

In addressing sexual and gender-based violence, it is important to know more about the entrenched attitudes and values which perpetrate it. A recent joint report by UNDP, UN Women, UN Population Fund and UN Volunteers surveyed 10,000 men in Asia and the Pacific. It found that 80 percent of men who admitted to committing rape in rural Bangladesh and China cited a sense of sexual entitlement as their motivation. Of those who perpetrated the violence in those countries, the vast majority never faced any legal consequences.

In addition to having more research and better data on violence and inequality, governments should also assume a stronger role in designing and implementing policies to protect women. Political will and funding are required. In Thailand, the government has developed a set of indicators to monitor the development and effects of a new law to protect victims of domestic violence. Understanding these factors will be invaluable in preventing future violence against women.

Having more women parliamentarians committed to addressing the issues helps too. In Togo, one of many countries where UNDP has worked to boost the political participation of women, the Women Parliamentarians Caucus is campaigning for a new law to improve the protection of women and children from violence.

There is no single way of addressing the complex, interwoven causes and symptoms of violence against women. As violence breeds more violence, children who experience or are exposed to violence at home are much more likely to perpetuate the cycle of violence as adults. Breaking that cycle must be a top priority for action by governments and their partners so that women the world over can have their rights to safety and security upheld.