We are all here to launch the 16 Days Campaign of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. It starts from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day.

In this year’s message for the 25th of November, the Secretary General of the United Nations points out that violence against women and girls has become a global pandemic: “It is a moral affront to all women and girls, a mark of shame on all our societies and a major obstacle to inclusive, equitable and sustainable development. At its core, violence against women and girls is the manifestation of a profound lack of respect – a failure by men to recognize the inherent equality and dignity of women. It is an issue of fundamental human rights.”

193 countries of the world have resolved to address the issue by including a specific goal on achieving gender equality (#5) into the Sustainable Development Goals of the Agenda 2030. This goal Number 5 aims at eliminating discrimination and violence against women and girls and ensuring their equal participation and opportunities in all spheres of life.

Addressing this issue, like any other complex development problem, requires commitment and a pragmatic, evidence-based dialogue. This is why our round-table today focuses on facts and figures that depict the problem.

While experts can talk about the situation in Belarus, I want to stress that Belarus is not alone in facing this challenge – globally it is estimated that 35% of women on average have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives.

According to UN Women, the cost of violence against women could amount annually to around 2 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP). This is equivalent to 1.5 trillion dollars, approximately, the size of the economy of Canada.

Evidence suggests that certain characteristics of women, such as disability status or ethnicity, HIV status, age and some contextual factors, such as humanitarian crises, conflict and post-conflict situations, do increase women’s vulnerability to violence.

Belarus expressed its commitment to implementing the Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving the SDGs and therefore assumed the obligation to combat violence against women and domestic violence.

The country has made significant progress in addressing the issue of violence against women, in particular, domestic violence.

  • In recent years, with the participation of line ministries, local authorities, and civil society organizations, an multisectoral referral mechanism has been developed and institutionalized to assist domestic violence survivors.
  • Civil society organizations have now become actively involved in combating domestic violence along with government entities.
  • Capacity building of specialists on the issues of providing support to DV survivors and combating domestic violence is integrated into the curricula of specialized educational institutions for retraining and advanced training of specialists.
  • A model of comprehensive work with male aggressors in a family or intimate relationship has been developed and piloted in Kobryn, Borisov, Grodno and Minsk.
  • Large-scale information campaigns have been conducted to draw public attention to the issue of domestic violence.

These and other interventions confirm the progress in addressing domestic violence in Belarus and also the country’s commitment to fulfilling its international obligations.

At the same time, recent statistics suggest that there is still a need to continue implementing comprehensive approaches in this area.

According to the ministry of interior data from 2017, every 3rd murder is committed against family members and almost 78% of victims of domestic crimes are women. According to the national hotline for survivors of domestic violence, more than 90% of those who call are women.

32% of women from low-income families experienced physical violence compared to 5% in wealthier families.

Some of the comprehensive approaches that could be used to address the issue can include, in particular, 1) improving national legislation to ensure proper support to DV survivors, investigation of domestic violence cases and prosecution of offenders, 2) developing specialized services for survivors of domestic violence based on client-centered approach, 3) building capacity of key service providers for multi-sectoral response to domestic violence, and 4) raising awareness on the issue and shifting public opinion to zero tolerance towards domestic violence and violence against women.

Let me also share with you the theme of this year global advocacy campaign that will last for 16 days: It says #HearMeToo. I encourage you to use this # in your social media and media materials about the campaign.

As in the previous years, the orange color will be a key theme unifying all activities, with buildings and landmarks lit and decorated in orange to bring global attention to the initiative.

Names and contexts may differ across geographic locations, but women and girls everywhere are experiencing extensive abuse and their stories need to be brought to light.

Speaking out is powerful. Let’s appreciate and support the survivors or witnesses of violence who decided to risk something and act against violence.

Silence is also powerful. When we are silent in the face of violence, we allow it to happen and grow. We also get used to it. It becomes a normal fact of life.

So, hear me too: Violence is not normal. It is a criminal act that should be socially rejected and formally persecuted. Justice must be served to survivors and support should be provided to the women and children who suffer.