Good evening everyone, thank you for your presence here today on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
In the era of #metoo, everyone tuned in to social media is aware of the campaign and the need to address this issue, crucial for society and humanity. But do you realise how widespread is violence against women ? Not only in Europe or in Sri Lanka, but in the world?
It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence, from partner or non-partner. And this has consequences in the long run: men who witnessed their fathers using violence against their mothers, and men who experienced some form of violence at home as children, were significantly more likely to perpetrate partner violence in their adult relationships.
It is estimated that of the 87,000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017 globally, more than half (50,000- 58 per cent) were killed by intimate partners or family members, meaning that 137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day. This is close to the 131 women who were killed by their partner so far this year in one big country in Europe.
It is estimated that there are 650 million women and girls in the world today who were married before age 18. During the past decade, the global rate of child marriage has declined. Here, South Asia had the largest decline during this time, from 49 per cent to 30 per cent. Still!
Gender-based violence harms women, families, communities, and societies. It is a violation of human rights that imposes severe costs on society and the economy. Few violations are reported, and even fewer still go to trial, much less receive justice. These are painful truths.
I want to spend a few minutes talking about this idea of cost: what does it mean to say that gender-based violence imposes costs? By making the economic cost of gender-based violence explicit and visible, we delineate the sheer scale of its societal impact, in a way that invites comparison with other costs.
Keeping that in mind, consider that the European Institute for Gender Equality, an autonomous body of the European Union, estimated in 2014 that the total annual cost of gender-based violence to the EU was 258 billion euros—more than three times the entire GDP of Sri Lanka.
This is a staggering cost. And even more telling was in the breakdown of that cost. Its single biggest component by far, accounting for 50% of the total, is the estimate of the physical and emotional impact that violence causes. The other half, which is rather precise and based on case studies, shows consistently that 30% of this cost is linked to the justice system, and 12% to direct economic losses.
Meanwhile, specialised services covering the most directly victim-centred interpersonal interventions, such as helplines, support centres, shelters and refuges, counselling and advocacy, all collectively accounted for only 3% of that total cost.
These numbers reiterate not only that gender-based violence including intimate partner violence imposes tremendous costs on people, on society, and on the economy, but they also tell us that our societies’ collective spending on prevention and mitigation is still very low relative to the recurring costs of inaction or insufficient action.
Today’s panel discussion grew out of the work the EU and the Asia Foundation are doing to support justice sector accountability to redress sexual and gender based violence against women and girls in Sri Lanka. This project monitors justice sector responses, facilitate civil society action and advocacy, and facilitate access to legal justice for survivors.
One of the encouraging findings from this project’s baseline survey was that there are many positive practices and responses from the judiciary including hearing sensitive cases in chambers, helping women victims during court proceedings, and referring survivors to service providers. At the same time, the survey also found that the nature of sexual violence against women is changing while the available knowledge, laws, olicies, and responses remain static, especially related to online harassment.
This is in line with the EU's approach, which has focused on protecting women from gender-based violence through legislation and practical measures on victims' rights. Victims' rights are reinforced at all stages of the criminal process through an EU law establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime.
EU countries are, for example, required to provide appropriate access to shelters for domestic violence victims and emergency support for victims of sexual violence. It also establishes an individual assessment mechanism to determine if special measures are required to protect particularly vulnerable victims during criminal proceedings.
And the EU is not only all about the talk, but it is also about the walk: Out of a general decision to spend 600 Mio EUR worldwide for gender issues, the EU will provide 18 million euro to support Sri Lanka’s justice sector, to improve access to justice for all, particularly for women, and to support an independent judiciary and a more responsive justice system. This project will be implemented by our partners UNICEF and UNDP.
I look forward to today’s discussion. Thank you to our panelists and speakers for being here and sharing your expertise. Finally, thank you to The Asia Foundation for working with the EU Delegation to help raise awareness on this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.