Ending Violence against Women and Girls

Photo: UN Women/ Emad Karim

Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a grave violation of human rights. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 37% of ever-partnered women in the eastern Mediterranean region have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence at some point in their lives. Other forms of violence prevail in the region including “honour” related killing, early, forced and temporary marriage; sexual harassment in public spaces and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation.

The impact of violence ranges from immediate to long-term multiple physical, sexual and mental consequences for women and girls, including death. It negatively affects women’s general well-being and prevents women from fully participating in society. Violence not only has negative consequences for women but also for their families, the community and the country at large. Violence incurs tremendous costs, from greater health care and legal expenses to losses in productivity, impacting on national budgets and overall development. For example, in Morocco, it is estimated that intimate partner violence costs the justice system USD 6.7 million annually.  In Egypt, the cost of the violence that women and their families experienced was estimated to cost at least $208 million in 2015 and possibly as high as $780 million.

The occurrence of violence in the region is shaped by discrimination against women and the persistence of attitudes that perpetuate negative gender stereotypes. For example, in Morocco, 60% of men consider that wives should tolerate violence to keep the family together, and the number goes up to 90% in Egypt (IMAGES 2017). When it comes to Palestine, the number of men who agreed with the previous statement remains high at a 63%, while in Lebanon it goes down to a significantly lower- but hard to overlook 26%. Legislation often fails to comprehensively address all forms of violence against women and enforcement mechanisms are frequently inadequate. The lack of essential multi-sectoral and coordinated services to respond effectively to survivors of violence also adds to the magnitude of the problem in the region. The situation is further exacerbated by conflicts which expose thousands of women and girls in the region to sexual exploitation, trafficking and coerced child marriage. 

Our Solutions

The international legal framework to eliminate VAWG includes the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. While almost all countries in the region are party to CEDAW, each one has made general or specific reservations on either the entire Convention or selected articles, impacting on the Convention’s effective implementation in those countries. The optional protocol to CEDAW, which establishes additional means of communicating complaints to the international body of experts tasked with reviewing countries’ implementation of the Convention, has been ratified by only three countries in the region: Morocco, Tunisia and Libya. Guided by the relevant international frameworks, UN Women Regional Office for the Arab States (ROAS) works with its partners to address violence against women in accordance with its triple mandate:

Normative: UN Women ROAS advocates for the adoption of comprehensive legislative and policy frameworks to address VAWG. A comprehensive legislative approach would encompass the criminalization of all forms of VAWG, the effective prosecution and punishment of perpetrators, and the prevention, empowerment, support and protection of survivors.

Coordination: UN Women ROAS adopts an inclusive, multi-stakeholder approach, drawing on the complementary expertise of UN agencies, governments, women’s groups and other community groups; providing policy advice and enhancing the capacity of key stakeholders to develop interventions in line with international standards; and developing and disseminating guidance, implementation tools and resources.

Operational: UN Women ROAS works to change social norms and gender stereotypes and support service delivery for survivors of violence.  Violence is anchored in the persistent social acceptance of discrimination against women among both males and females in the region. UN Women works with civil society organizations, media, religious leaders and key actors to change attitudes to violence against women. 

Furthermore, the provision of services is a crucial piece in the puzzle of prevention and response to VAWG. In the region, there is still a gap between the agreements and obligations made at the interventional level for the provision of services for violence against women and country level implementation. Through the Essential Services Package for Women and Girls Subject to Violence programme, UN Women together with other UN agencies are working to address violence against women and girls in the Arab States countries.