Justine Greening: Eliminating violence against women and girls

Marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls at an event hosted by the Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security and the Gender and Development Network.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Justine Greening

Marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls at an event hosted by the Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security and the Gender and Development Network.

I am delighted to be with you all today to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls.

I know that many of the organizations represented in this room today are doing amazing work to help women and girls. I want to start by thanking you for your work.

Since my appointment as International Development Secretary, I have been clear about the importance of putting women and girls at the heart of our work. DFID’s Strategic Vision for Girls and Women sets out four priority areas for action which we see as ‘game-changers’ for girls and women:

  • Delay first pregnancy and support safe child birth
  • Improve economic opportunities for girls and women
  • Get girls through primary and secondary school; and
  • Prevent violence against women and girls.

The Strategic Vision also sets out the UK’s commitment more widely to working to improve the everyday lives of girls and women, for example to challenge social norms and behaviours which perpetuate violence and inequality, to support girls’ and women’s ability to speak out safely and to strengthen legal frameworks which protect women’s rights. These are all critical to both preventing, and responding to, violence against girls and women.

Preventing violence against women and girls is a top priority for the Coalition, my Ministerial team and me.  I’m delighted that Lynne Featherstone, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, continues to provide leadership on this issue in her role as international champion. 

Today, I want to talk to you about three things:

  • First, why addressing violence against women and girls is so important. 
  • Second, why 2013 could be a game changer internationally on tackling violence against women and girls.
  • And third, what DFID is doing to accelerate work in this area.

1. Why addressing violence against women is so important

The statistics on violence against women and girls are shocking. Globally, one in three women is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. Usually, the abuser is a member of her own family or someone she knows; and up to 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16.

Violence against women and girls reduces progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and violates women and girls’ human rights. Girls who experience violence are less likely to complete their education. It reduces women’s ability to earn a living. And it significantly increases the risk of maternal death and vulnerability to HIV and AIDS.

During conflict and humanitarian crises, the incidence of physical and sexual violence can dramatically increase - women and girls face increased risk from armed groups, from strangers, from neighbours, and from family. In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence have been documented since 1996. 

Despite increasing attention to violence against women and girls in crisis situations, it is still rarely prioritised in humanitarian responses. For example, out of $1.4 billion funding requested for the emergency in Haiti in 2010, only $5 million - that’s less than one percent - was earmarked for addressing violence against women and girls.

Tackling impunity in Somaliland

When I visited Kenya and Somalia recently, I saw how efforts to tackle violence against women and girls can make a real difference.  I saw how women and girls bear the brunt of poverty, the limited opportunities they have, and the limits this puts on development for their countries as a whole. 

But I was also humbled by the strength and courage of women and girls who are willing to overcome the enormous stigma of physical and sexual violence to bring perpetrators to justice.

Women like 20 year old Shukri, who was brutally raped by seven men. Shukri lives in a village in Somaliland where women and girls have very limited access to justice and little knowledge of their legal rights. Even where cases are brought to court there is a very poor verdict rate for survivors of violence. 

But a new Sexual Assault and Referral Centre, supported by DFID, enabled Shukri to take her case to court. Her attackers were eventually sentenced to 5 years in prison each.

It wasn’t easy. Shukri had to challenge family elders who wanted the case settled out of court. The process was emotionally and mentally exhausting. The Sexual Assault and Referral Centre provided Shukri with access to counselling, medical and legal services all under one roof.  A ‘one-stop shop’. Despite her ordeal, Shukri has been adamant that she “wanted to get justice and would knock on every door to get it”.

But we have to do more. As all of us here know, too few women and girls across the world have the same opportunity to seek redress in the way that Shukri did.

We need to see protecting women and girls from violence as lifesaving during emergencies, not optional. And crucially, we have to do far more to prevent violence against women and girls happening in the first place. 

2. International opportunities for change in 2013

Next year will shine an international spotlight on efforts to tackle violence against women and girls. 

The focus of the 2013 Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March 2013 - the key global policy body for the advancement of women - is the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. 

The UK is working hard with other international partners and UK NGOs to ensure that CSW is a success. Our goal for CSW is to agree a common set of global standards to protect women and girls from discrimination and violence. 

This is all the more critical in a climate where there is a risk of losing hard won gains in progress on women’s rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. We saw this all too clearly at this year’s CSW which frustratingly failed to reach any agreed conclusions.

2013 is also the year when the UK takes the Presidency of the G8. The Foreign Secretary’s initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict is a concrete example of the commitment we are showing in this area. 

The UK will use its Presidency of the G8 to ask some of the world’s most powerful nations to make new commitments to help shatter the culture of impunity for those who rape in warzones, to increase the number of successful prosecutions and to help other nations build stronger national capabilities to end this scourge.

Next summer, the Prime Minister, along with UN High Level Panel co-chairs President Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and President Yudhoyono of Indonesia, will publish recommendations for a new international framework for development when the current MDGs expire in 2015. 

Women and girls must be at the heart of the new MDG framework if we are to achieve our goal of ending extreme poverty.

As the Prime Minster has said, “where the potential and perspective of women are locked out of the decisions that shape a society, that society remains stunted and underachieving”. 

That is why, at event hosted by Action Aid to mark the launch of the London High Level Panel meetings on 30 October, I spoke about the importance of ensuring that gender is central to the post MDG framework.

I reiterated this same commitment made by the Prime Minister at the London Family Planning Summit in July. 

It is critical we make use of international momentum to work together to make a difference for women and girls around the world.
3. DFID’s commitment to delivering real change on the ground

Since the publication of the Strategic Vision in March 2011, DFID has increased its work in this area. We are now working in 20 countries to directly address violence against women and girls. 

For example, in Nepal we are improving access to justice for women and girls through local level paralegal committees.  Paralegals are important members of the legal team, playing key roles in the legal process. This has enabled over 18,000 cases to be heard in the past two years. 

In South Africa, we are strengthening national state institutions to promote social change to prevent violence against women and girls.

But to do this well, we need to address the real lack of evidence of what works to prevent violence against women and girls, including in conflict and humanitarian emergencies.  We need to do this so programmes can be taken to scale, with strong assurance of value for money and impact.

We owe this to the one in three women around the globe who suffer this hateful abuse.

New DFID investment in eliminating violence against women and girls

This is why I am proud to announce that DFID is investing up to £25 million over five years in a new Violence Against Women and Girls Research and Innovation Fund.

This pioneering Fund will drive innovation, generate ground-breaking new evidence, and support new prevention programmes. 

By testing out new approaches and the rigorous evaluation of existing programmes, we can better understand what works in tackling the root causes of violence against women and girls in some of the poorest countries of the world.

The Fund will also support innovation and research in humanitarian settings and conflict states so that we can ensure women and girls at risk of violence are best protected. 

It will help us and the international community work better with communities and national governments to help transform discriminatory attitudes and behaviours.

Women and girls at the heart of our work

In conclusion, the UK will be doing everything in its power over the coming years to work with international partners, drive innovation and deliver robust evidence of what works, to significantly scale up our impact on reducing violence against women and girls.

Only by working together to tackle the root causes and by putting woman and girls at the heart of our work, will we be able to make the elimination of violence against women and girls a reality around the globe.

Updates to this page

Published 28 November 2012