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16 Days of Activism: Women in Power – Women for Justice

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As part of the UN Secretary-General’s campaign for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence 2022, entitled “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”, UNODC is showcasing its activities around the world that help to accelerate efforts to end violence against women and girls through a series of web stories.

Yesterday, the international community gathered in Vienna to commemorate the campaign, discuss good practice in tackling gender-based violence, and highlight the role of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in ending impunity for perpetrators of this crime. 

Painting by Iris Perez Romero from the Dominican Republic, depicting the Mirabal sisters who were brutally murdered in 1960.

Vienna (Austria), 1 December 2022 – Since 1981, the international community has observed 25 November as a day against gender-based violence. In February 2000, the UN General Assembly designated that day as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, in part to honour the Mirabal sisters from the Dominican Republic who were brutally murdered in 1960 by orders of the then ruler for their political activism. 

The painting to the left, depicting the Mirabal sisters, is by artist Iris Perez Romero from the Dominican Republic. It illustrates that arts have the power to challenge inequalities, find common ground, and facilitate crucial conversations that lead to reflection and positive change in societies. Art has been a tool long used by victims, gender rights advocates and other practitioners to tackle gender-based violence. 

Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said Perez’s paintings “speak for the women and girls who have experienced violence. They remind us of their courage and inspire us to believe that a better world is possible”, one in which women and girls can live without fear of experiencing violence just because of who they are. 

Ms. Waly, as well as Perez’s paintings, were present at a high-level event held yesterday in Vienna to commemorate the UN campaign ‘UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls.’ Ambassador Laura Faxas of the Dominican Republic, who hosted the event, encouraged the international community to “speak and act against domestic violence, political violence, and all types of violence against women” stressing “the need to continue to draw attention to all the inequalities to which we women are subjected”. 

At this event, which was entitled ‘Women in Power – Women for Justice’, a panel of national representatives shared regional and national-level challenges they face in preventing impunity to this crime. Some gave examples of complex scenarios where instability reigns and societies are threatened by criminals’ intimidation, whereupon sexual violence is often used as a weapon. Speakers also deliberated ways to improve the implementation of laws and hold governments to account so that laws can have a greater impact on ending gender-based violence.  

“Violent crimes against women and girls are among the most under-reported, and the least likely to end in a conviction,” said Waly at the event. “Less than 40 per cent of female survivors even report violations or seek help of any kind.” She pointed out that, despite the commitments laid out in laws, “victims often face significant obstacles due to serious gaps in legislation and procedure, as well as gender stereotypes, victim blaming, fear of retaliation, and inadequate responses from criminal justice institutions and professionals.” 

The composition of the law enforcement and criminal justice workforce impacts the treatment of individuals within the justice system, and the quality of investigations, prosecutions and adjudications. Achieving justice, and improving access to justice, for women and girls requires more women in the system, including at policymaking and leadership levels. Increasing the representation of women will also ensure that criminal justice institutions fully respond to the needs of all groups in society.  

Amongst other speakers at the event, Austrian minister for women Susanne Raab pledged the host country’s financial support for “measures to counter gender-based violence”, including more safe-houses and temporary homes as well as “a centre where women from migrant backgrounds can inform themselves about their rights and their options in Austria. It is my great intention that every woman who settles in Austria knows the rights and freedoms she has. This is of utmost importance for her integration into Austrian society,” Raab emphasized. 

Ambassador Miguel Camilo Ruiz Blanco of Colombia reinforced the important role and responsibility that men have in eliminating violence against women and girls. He stressed that without male participation, the process will be slower and possibly even unattainable, and that men and boys are agents and beneficiaries of this change. Ruiz Blanco is a permanent representative in Austria and the co-chair of the Friends of Gender group. 

UNODC supports Member States to ensure gender-responsive policies that address gender-based violence in a victim-centred way. UNODC takes an active role in closing legal loopholes and eliminating discriminatory rules and procedures by providing States with legislative and legal advice. 

Further information

The event ‘Women in Power – Women for Justice’ was held in a hybrid (in-person and online) format and organized by UNODC in partnership with the Dominican Republic, the Vienna-based Friends of Gender Group, and the International Gender Champions initiative. Participants included the permanent representatives in Austria for Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Norway and the United Kingdom, as well as expert officials representing Cameroon, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Iraq and Spain

This year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign kicked off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day. The yearly campaign sparks hundreds of events around the world designed to accelerate efforts to end violence against women and girls. The global theme for this year’s UN Secretary-General-led campaign is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”, calling upon governments and partners to show their solidarity with women’s rights movements and activists, and inviting everyone to join the global movement to end violence against women once and for all. 

Comprehensive and multi-sectoral solutions are required to end all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls by 2030, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 5.2. Crime prevention and criminal justice responses are a key part of this approach. Learn more about UNODC’s work on gender-based violence here and how the office is advancing gender equality and women´s empowerment here.  

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