Opinion: Reaffirming our promise to end violence against women

A group photograph of signatories of the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative for the elimination of violence against women and girls. Photo by: Rick Bajornas / U.N.

Think about this when you close the door of your home to go to work today. You have just left the most dangerous place in the world for women.

Now have a look around as you walk down the street, or get on the train or bus.

The chances are that every third woman you see has survived or is being subjected to physical or sexual violence, or both.

The chances are that every fourth child you see lives in a house where their mother is beaten or abused, and that the boys among them, who witness their father’s violence, are more likely to hit their own partners when they grow up.

Violence against women and girls is not something for “other” people out there to worry about. It is all around us. It is in our communities and neighbourhoods, in our trains, in the places we work. It is online and in social media, which have opened the door to a wealth of information — as well as exploitation and bullying.

So what are we going to do about it?

For more than two years now, women’s movements have dominated global conversations — building solidarity through campaigns aided by access to information and social media.

From #MeToo and #TimesUp highlighting sexual harassment and abuse to #NiUnaMenos — the “not one less” movement — protesting femicide, women and girls are raising their voices to demand equality and an end to abuse and impunity.

This is a powerful start. And it is just the start.

Violence against women and girls has so permeated homes and society that it is one of the most widespread human rights violations in the world.

Breaking the harmful social norms and attitudes that perpetuate violence and that have continued unabated for generations will require determination, creative ideas, and investment.

This is where the Spotlight Initiative comes in. The €500 million (569 million), multiyear partnership between the European Union and the United Nations is designed to help put an end to violence against women and girls.

Co-led by the EU and the U.N. Development Programme, U.N. Population Fund, and UN Women, and in collaboration with the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and other partners — including governments, civil society, the private sector, and regional and international bodies — the Spotlight Initiative is creating a consortium for change.

With it comes an injection of financial and technical support at a scale necessary to tackle this blight.

It will assist communities to take action to develop and implement laws and policies to combat sexual and gender-based violence.

It will help those, young and old, who build awareness and work to change the behaviour of boys and men. When violence does happen, the Spotlight Initiative will support those who ensure women and girls have the services they need.

It will collaborate with those who work to improve access to justice for survivors, and end impunity for perpetrators.

It will stay the course, building on grassroots, government, and global momentum, until violence against women and girls is a thing of the past.

At the 63rd session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women being held in New York this week, women and men from grassroots movements, nonprofit organizations, as well as private sector actors, governments, and international organizations, will deliberate upon and affirm their plans to drive transformative change on women’s empowerment and gender equality.

A first step is to end violence — to make home feel like the safe haven it should be.

Along with our EU partners, we reaffirm our promise to work to end violence and other harmful practices against women and girls around the world by 2030. Together, we shall bring peace to our homes, communities, and countries and to the hearts and minds of women and girls everywhere.

About the authors

  • Natalia kanem

    Natalia Kanem

    Natalia Kanem was appointed executive director of the United Nations Population Fund in October 2017, becoming the fund's fifth executive director since it became operational in 1969. She has more than 30 years of strategic leadership experience in the fields of medicine, public and reproductive health, peace, social justice, and philanthropy.
  • Achim steiner

    Achim Steiner

    Achim Steiner became United Nations Development Program administrator on June 19, 2017 and will serve for a term of four years. He is also the vice-chair of the U.N. Development Group, which unites the 32 U.N. funds, programs, specialized agencies and other bodies that work to support sustainable development. Over nearly three decades, Steiner has been a global leader on sustainable development, climate resilience and international cooperation. He has worked tirelessly to champion sustainability, economic growth and equality for the vulnerable, and has been a vocal advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Phumzile devex 2

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the United Nations undersecretary-general and executive director of U.N. Women since August 2013. Mlambo-Ngcuka has worked in government, private sector and civil society and was actively involved in the struggle to end apartheid in her home country of South Africa. Since 2005, she served as deputy president of South Africa, overseeing programs to combat poverty and bring the advantages of a growing economy to the poor, with a particular focus on women.