As many as 12 women are killed by their partners or family members every day in Europe alone.
In 2008, more than one-third of all murders of women in Europe were carried out by the victim’s spouse or former spouse, and an additional 17 per cent by a relative. (In the same year, only 5 per cent of male homicides were committed by the victim’s spouse or former spouse.) These figures represent only a tiny fraction of the relentless assault on women occurring worldwide – one that is not confined by boundaries of wealth, culture, age, race, or geography.
United Nations estimates that up to seven in ten women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence – or both – during their lifetime. But violence against women can be difficult to detect. Even those who are aware of it may choose to ignore it, believing that it does not concern them or it is too widespread for them to make a difference. A global shift is needed in gender-related attitudes.
National governments have a responsibility to develop policies that are sensitive to gender – policies that discourage gender-based discrimination, while preventing violence, including by punishing its perpetrators. A shift in how governments address gender-based crimes could go a long way toward overcoming deep-rooted discrimination.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is working to improve the situation for women worldwide, approaching gender-based violence from the vantage point of crime prevention and criminal justice. In South Africa, for example, the UNODC has established three centres (in Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape, and the Northern Cape) that offer legal counsel and medical care to women, and that work with men to help break the cycle of domestic violence.
UNODC is working with the international community to develop a more detailed and accurate picture of the problem. This includes examining the causes of male-on-female violence and assessing the associated risk factors, such as the incidence of drug and alcohol use. But gathering information is only one step toward closing loopholes in criminal laws and overcoming gaps in prevention policies. Decisive policy action, supported by more rigorous enforcement of relevant laws, is needed to improve reporting and prosecution rates, which remain low in many countries.
Furthermore, victims must be informed of their rights and, if needed, protected during high-risk periods. This means offering victims protection, compensation, free legal aid, and, where appropriate, interpretation services. Ultimately, however, genuine progress depends on our collective determination to change patterns of behaviour and attitudes toward gender-based crime. To achieve this, all men and women must work constantly to instil respect and advance equality for women and girls. Silence is not an option.
Yury Fedotov is Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (Project Syndicate)