Joint Statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

As delivered by Ambassador Christophe Kamp, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the OSCE, at the 1452th meeting of the Permanent Council, Vienna, 23 November 2023.

Thank you Chair,

I have the honour of delivering this statement on behalf of the following 43 participating States: Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

We participating States underscore the importance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November, marking the start of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which concludes with International Human Rights Day on 10 December.

The global theme for the 16 Days of Activism in 2023 is “Unite! Invest to Prevent Violence against Women & Girls.” This theme reminds us of the need for governments to actively invest in policies, initiatives and movements to prevent and respond to all forms of gender-based violence and to bravely resist any attempts to weaken women’s and girls’ exercise of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. In this work men and boys must take on a role and participate in the process of change. We must also prioritize a survivor-centered approach to supporting survivors and victims.

Gender-based violence pervasively and persistently undermines women’s and girls’ exercise of their human rights and the achievement of gender equality. The World Health Organization estimates that globally, one in every three women and girls will experience violence during their lifetime. Both online and offline, from homes to conflict zones, violence and threats of violence against women and girls are truly a global crisis. There is no country in the world where women are free from violence.

Gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, in Russia’s illegal and unjustified war against Ukraine has resulted in harrowing attacks on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women, men, and children. We are gravely concerned about the credible evidence of pervasive rape and other forms of sexual violence committed by members of Russia’s armed forces in Ukraine and the devastating loss of life and suffering for millions of civilians that Russia’s aggression has caused.

We strongly condemn such violence and stress that conflict-related sexual violence may constitute war crimes under international humanitarian law. Further investigation is needed to ensure that Russia’s armed forces are held to account. We, as participating States, need to do more to invest – politically and financially – in efforts to hold the perpetrators to account and to protect persons in vulnerable situations.

We know from past conflicts in the OSCE area, as well as from around the world, that the use of sexual and gender-based violence in war creates long-lasting trauma for the victims and survivors, their families, communities, and societies, that continues long after the conflict is over. The use of sexual violence also reduces the chances for peace and contributes to continued cycles of violence. To address these consequences, we encourage our governments to invest in trauma-informed programs and support for the survivors of gender-based violence in conflicts.

Russia’s war has also caused mass displacement, predominantly of women and children as they seek shelter and safety far from their homes and communities, heightening the risk of gender-based violence and trafficking in human beings.

The evidence is clear: our democracies are stronger when women can participate fully, meaningfully and equally in all spheres of public and private life. Greater gender equality contributes to increased peace, stability, and prosperity. Gender-based violence against women and girls in all their diversity is a barrier to achieving gender equality. The set of behaviors known as “toxic masculinity,” gender-based discrimination, and discriminatory structures, social norms and practices often contribute to violations and abuses of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls. While we have made tremendous progress towards greater gender equality, we must redouble our efforts and do more to prevent and address sexual harassment and gender-based violence, and to advance gender equality.

As OSCE participating States, we have a comprehensive set of commitments that should guide our efforts to end all forms of gender-based violence, including sexual violence.

In the 1999 Charter for European Security, the Istanbul Document, we committed to make gender equality an integral part of our policies, both nationally and within the OSCE.

The 2004 Sofia Action Plan for the Promotion of Gender Equality set out a plan to ensure the monitoring and implementation of this commitment, as well as to promote and strengthen the Women, Peace, and Security agenda. The Ljubljana (2005), Basel (2014) and Milan (2018) Ministerial Council Decisions set forth our strong commitments to address the alarming prevalence of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, against women and girls in our region.

The Milan Ministerial Decision (2018) also recognised the importance of engaging men and boys in addressing the root causes of gender inequality and violence, as well as raising awareness about the impact of negative attitudes, behaviours, and gender stereotypes. Advancing gender equality is everyone’s responsibility.

The OSCE Secretariat’s 16 Days campaign reminds us of the urgency with which the OSCE and its participating States, in partnership with civil society and especially women’s movements and organizations, must eliminate impediments to invest in efforts to ensure women’s and girls’ safety from violence, including in areas of conflict and crisis. Victims and survivors, their families and communities, should have access to comprehensive, gender-transformative, and trauma-informed care, support, and protection that recognizes and respects human rights. Victims and survivors should also be meaningfully included in discussions involving their needs and priorities, alongside local women-led organizations who often serve as first responders and know their communities best.

The global 16 Days campaign is a call to action. The OSCE is well placed to heed this call. Our organization is working comprehensively with actors best equipped to identify, combat and end gender-based violence: police, border authorities, armed forces, but also NGOs, service providers and first responders. Through better coordination, data collection and more funding, our organization can make even more of a difference.

The OSCE’s commitment to gender mainstreaming and advancing the Women, Peace and Security agenda is key to achieve our goal of gender equality. The Secretariat’s WIN project, and ODIHR’s Change project, demonstrate the impact we can make when we put our tools to work. We applaud the Field Missions, the autonomous institutions, and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly for their vital role in advancing and facilitating progress towards our goal of achieving gender equality, promoting the WPS agenda, and eliminating gender-based violence. We encourage all participating States to invest in programs and projects aimed at achieving these goals.

We all have a role to play in the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence, essential to ensuring lasting peace and security, and to building strong, resilient, and democratic societies. Today is an opportunity to stand united and reaffirm our commitment to end gender-based violence, including sexual violence, empower women and girls in all their diversity and move towards accountability and justice. And it is a day to reflect how we can do more, starting now, to translate those commitments into action.

Thank you