Together, we can ensure gender-based violence has an expiry date

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says political commitments can and must be made for a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women and girls

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 December, 2015, 1:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 December, 2015, 1:59pm

Violence against women and girls is a global epidemic. One in three women worldwide experience physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives. This is not acceptable or inevitable. It can be prevented. We must, now, take a zero-tolerance approach at the highest levels of leadership.

Men and boys must challenge unequal power relations, police must respond to signs of abuse ... schools must teach both boys and girls to aim high

Just imagine how different the world would be if we could prevent female genital mutilation, rape, the enslavement or trafficking of women, domestic violence, child brides, abuse on the internet, or the hostility of police to women in search of protection and justice.

This week, more than 150 global leaders, experts and influencers have come together in Istanbul to assess progress made in the past two decades and reaffirm, as an immediate priority, political commitments to end the persistence of violence against women and girls.

More and more laws exist to prevent and punish different forms of violence against women and girls. Some 125 countries now have laws against sexual harassment, and 119 have laws against domestic violence. But while laws are an important foundation, they need to be fully enforced.

In our work, we must leave no woman behind. In the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we now have, for the first time, explicit international targets to eliminate all forms of violence against women.

READ MORE: How data can strengthen the fight to end violence against women

As an immediate priority, under the recently launched UN Framework to Underpin Action to Prevent Violence against Women, governments should develop and fund comprehensive prevention strategies. We also need integrated multisectoral services that respond to the legal, medical and psychological needs of survivors.

It is time to take a stand, recognising that we must unite our efforts to achieve coherent preventative action. Men and boys must challenge unequal power relations, police must respond to signs of abuse, humanitarian actors must prioritise prevention and response to gender-based violence, the media must support positive images of girls and women as equal achievers, schools must teach both boys and girls to aim high, and employers must pay men and women equally for the same work.

We can already see the positive effects of building equality in practice. In Uganda, for instance, engaging communities in discussion of unequal power relations between men and women has reduced by half rates of physical violence by men against their partners.

If we all work together, we can make 2030 the endpoint for all forms of violence against women, and the expiry date for gender inequality. We can, and will, be the generation that achieves a safer, more just and equal world.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is executive director of UN Women