OECD High-Level Conference on Ending Violence Against Women: Taking Public Action to End Violence at Home

For the first time, the OECD held a conference to address violence against women and fight against harmful masculinities, giving a voice to survivor advocates and a platform for ministers and policy analysts to exchange best practices to inform policy recommendations going forward. The sessions focused on latest evidence of the scale of the problem, how to define, measure and tackle harmful masculinities, reporting and measurement best practices, integrated service delivery, and making VAW a whole-of-government priority.

On the final day of the conference, I was proud to present the OECD Call to Action with Icelandic Ambassador Kristjan Andri Stefansson, Swedish Ambassador Anna Brandt, Mexican Ambassador Sybel Galván Gómez, and Spanish Ambassador Manuel Escudero, signed by 18 champion ambassadors calling on our organization to act on this important issue and provide women the safety and dignity they are entitled to.

We have come a long way to understand the most fundamental aspects of gender equality. Before we think about women’s economic empowerment, we need to ensure they feel safe and protected.  

First, let me say how grateful I am of Charlotte Kneer and Luke Hart for sharing their private stories with us. What we heard from these survivor advocates was emotional, strong, powerful and inspiring. But the reason why these strong women and men are sharing their stories, and why we are all here, is to make concrete progress towards preventing and eradicating intimate-partner violence. It is our responsibility to ensure that the voices of survivors are not only heard, but translated into action. People like them will be saving millions of women. I especially want to commend Ms. Kneer for the work she does to “save” women who are fleeing from their abusive partners by setting up an organization [Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid refuge in Surrey, UK] to house vulnerable women and children who would have been lost and maybe even killed themselves without the shelter.

We see too many loopholes in judicial systems. We see too many silo approaches (criminal law and family law) in the legal system. We find that too many women and men accept and justify violence. As a result, many vulnerable women cannot trust the system. Perpetrators are set free so easily after committing violence against their partners that women fear revenge. Thus, many women do not report the violence they suffer. Some are forced into marriage so that violence is “justified”. Then, women feel isolated and helpless, making them even more vulnerable. Ultimately, they lose their voices.

We need to give women and children back their basic human rights. We need to build an eco-system of prevention and support.  This conference is filled with energetic, conscientious, and dedicated advocates for gender equality. But we need to do more than talk. We need to take concrete steps to end Violence Against Women (VAW). Therefore, I am proud that Ambassadors are calling on the OECD to “act”.

We are asked to focus on areas where we have strong expertise – that is, improving data collection and analysis (of masculinities – that boys need to be aggressive and competitive), ensuring good-quality service delivery, promoting equal access to justice, targeting harmful gender stereotypes through education, and ensuring a “whole of government” approach to ending VAW.

I am very proud that this call is led by the OECD Friends of Gender Equality Plus. The OECD stands ready to respond to this call. I am also counting on media and social media to play their part in preventing toxic masculinity from spreading further. Let’s remember that we all have a part to play.

While I wish we had more male voices here drawing attention to violence against women, I am very glad to see so many female leaders in government, business, and the non-profit sector committed to ending this crisis.  I am honoured to participate in this panel with all the Champions of this good cause, to drive important changes in our societies, policy-making and at home.

Prioritizing the issue of Intimate partner violence (IPV)

The frequency and intensity of violence against women is – quite simply – horrifying. Globally, one third of all women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetuated by intimate partners, who also commit 38% of all murders of women. And these statistics are probably underestimated, as we have good reason to believe that many more actually experience abuse but do not report it. We see alarming rates across all OECD countries, even the ones that have good gender equality outcomes in other measures.

It is a mark of shame on all of us that women – and the persons around them – continue to experience violence day-to-day in their homes, in public, at work and online. It just shocked me that so much of this happens between intimate partners. For example, the former CEO of Amazon Mexico shot his wife dead. And did he face any consequences? No. He was let out just because it happened at home between partners!

Even more shocking is how we come to accept this unforgivable behavior. Public attitudes continue to reflect a disturbing acceptance of domestic violence. According to SIGI, one in three women agrees that domestic violence is justified; almost one in three men worldwide justify beating their wives under certain circumstances, such as accidentally burning a meal.

Stronger laws, regulations and institutional support will of course help. But what we need is to go deeper than that –to find the root causes of this problem. Our SIGI findings shows that gender-based expectations and stereotypes influences and reinforces negative patriarchal structures. We can see this reflected in our legal systems, cultural norms, including within families and in classrooms. This is why we have seen a surprising widespread acceptance of unequal treatment.

Unfortunately, perpetrators rarely face consequences because women do not always report such violence. They fear possible consequences. For example, in developing countries, more than 40% of survivors never sought help of any sort and less than 20% of women who sought help appealed to formal institutions such as the police, medical personnel or lawyers.[1] Women hence face a “double penalty” when they cannot trust that they will be protected by the law or public authorities when they seek help.

Many countries face similar governance challenges. For instance, one of the issues is the lack of good evidence on intimate partner violence and violence against women more generally. Countries do not collect data or measure violence well or frequently enough. We have to get better in data collection and analysis if we want to be effective in ending violence against women.

We also see major challenges around the provision of good-quality care and services to survivors of violence. What makes me sad is that many survivors have to make multiple stops to re-share traumatic experiences in order to access basic social protection like housing, medical care, and income support. This only causes flash-backs in survivors’ minds, which stresses the necessity of integrated services. The justice system can be so fragmented that victims often have to face multiple litigation processes when seeking justice for themselves and their families,[2]often without being able to afford a lawyer.

All of these factors should force us to think carefully about how governments can mainstream the issue of VAW across Ministries and at all levels of government. We need to make sure that everyone has a stake in this fight.

The OECD is engaged in helping governments foster change to fight against IPV through capacity building. As of today, two thirds of governments adhering to the OECD Gender Recommendations listed violence against women as one of the three most urgent issues facing their countries. We take this as a promising sign that most countries are committed to ending this pandemic of violence. And this is why I am delighted to see that many Ambassadors are making a collective Call to Action.

In terms of public policies addressing intimate partner violence, there is a lot of room for improvement even in OECD countries – although these countries have some of the best gender equality outcomes in the world. Firstly, laws criminalizing violence against women are a first step to eradicating this harmful and pervasive practice. In fact, despite all countries around the world having ratified an international and/or regional convention addressing VAW, only 74% (i.e. 133) of the 180 countries examined by the OECD’s SIGI criminalise domestic violence.

The OECD, as part of its efforts to support progress towards the SDG target 5.1, is working with the World Bank and UN Women to develop a rigorous assessment process to evaluate the extent to which countries have laws and legal frameworks to protect women in all spheres of life, using the SIGI as data source. Secondly, the OECD’s contribution to the global campaign to end violence against women is to really focus on specific policy areas where we have a lot of institutional knowledge and expertise. This means better data collection, integrated service delivery, access to justice, gender mainstreaming, and addressing masculine stereotypes. The latter workstream is critical, as any discussion of addressing and ending domestic violence must start with the fundamental question of what leads men to harm women – and how to stop it. In this vein, we must include both men and women in the conversation.

Our contribution also builds on the good work done by the Council of Europe in its evaluation of countries’ adherence to the Istanbul Convention, and it complements the experience of other international organisations working on this issue, like UN Women and the WHO.

In addition to analysing VAW data, we are also evaluating where there are gaps in governments’ collection of these types of data. Most governments do not run VAW surveys frequently enough, and many do not ask how survivors are faring in the social protection system. These are important gaps that we think the OECD can help governments address. We are also strongly committed to improving and integrating service delivery, which we know is problematic around the world. We have worked on how to co-locate service provision for different types of vulnerable groups, for example, and we know that this has important implications for survivors of IPV. We also want to use our expertise in justice and legal institutions to improve survivors’ access to justice.

The OECD Global Roundtables on Access to Justice, for instance, can offer many lessons on developing survivor-centred justice pathways. These pathways focus on meeting the needs of victims and minimize the experiences of revictimisation that survivors can face when they navigate through the justice system.

We also need to strengthen coordination and ensure that all public institutions act together coherently and systematically to prevent and address IPV. At the OECD, a newly launched Working Party on Gender Mainstreaming and Governance plays a key role in ensuring that VAW issues and policies are embedded in all Ministries and at all levels.

In addition, we want to use public policy to target toxic male stereotypes that lead men to abuse women, and enable other women to condone it. These harmful masculinities are perhaps the hardest issue to address, but we are already at the forefront of this.

Last but not least, the OECD has also created the first international legal standard to end physical abuse and sexual exploitation in the aid and humanitarian sectors. In July 2019, the OECD Development Assistance Committee, adopted the DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Harassment in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance. This will serve as a powerful tool to guiding DAC members in developing policies to foster organizational change and leadership on SEAH, including Codes of Conduct or Ethical Standards.

We here at the OECD stand ready to help governments and other stakeholders end VAW.

[1] Data source: Demographic and Health Survey and FRA survey (several years).

[2] E.g. criminal procedures, civil procedures, and family procedures such as child custody or divorce –

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