Leaving no one behind: Shining a spotlight to end violence against women

Addressing inequalities by confronting one of the most systematic and widespread human rights violations in world

Lab debate
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
10:45 to 12:00

Violence against women and girls occurs daily – at home, at work, at school, in the street or online. One-in-three women have experienced physical or sexual violence. This is a major obstacle for ending gender inequality and discrimination as it hinders the ability of women and girls to claim their rights. The EU-UN Spotlight Initiative aims to be transformative, evidence- and human-rights based, and inclusive in its goal to catalyse and strengthen a multisectoral response to end one of the most pervasive human rights violations. This is an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate that a significant, concerted and comprehensive investment in gender equality can make a transformative difference in the lives of women and girls, as well as contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Key points

  • Violence against women and girls is deeply rooted in cultural norms.
  • Abuse and violence often takes place behind closed doors; to fight it, campaigns must enter these private spaces.
  • Male attitudes to stereotyped gender roles must be challenged to end domestic violence, so must girls’ expectations that marriage is the limit of their life chances.
  • Strong legislation to protect women from violence is not enough; enforcement of existing laws is too often “disastrous”.
  • The Spotlight Initiative, a EUR 500m joint UN-EU programme, aims to persuade presidents and prime ministers to champion the end of gender-based violence in their countries.


Violence against women and girls is among the most systematic and widespread of human rights violations, with UN statistics showing that of 87,000 intentional killings of women in 2017, 30,000 were by committed by the woman’s current or former intimate partner. In total, partners and family members committed 58 % of homicides of women that year, up from 47 % in 2012, suggesting the problem of gender-based violence is growing. Murder is at the far end of a continuum of stereotyping, discrimination and abuse. Gender-based violence incorporates female genital mutilation, trafficking and child marriage as well as sexual harassment and rape. One-in-three women will experience gender-based violence at some point in her life, with the specifics likely to reflect the culture of her own country. In Mexico, the murder of a young woman by her husband was accepted by the police and judiciary as suicide until her female lawyer took the case to an international court. In the Middle East, rape victims can be forced into marriage with the rapist, perpetuating the original act of violence. In Brazil, a survey by Oxfam found gender-based violence was perceived as ‘normal’, with 56 % of 20 to 25 year-old males knowing a woman who had suffered violence from a man in the previous year. Campaigners say that to reverse these trends, it is essential to change the mentality of individuals who normalise violence against women, as well as the beliefs and values of communities that accept or condone it. They say youth must be mobilised to combat violence against women, and journalists and social media influencers bought on-side. They add that official programmes cannot be left to ministries for women alone, since these departments are often under-resourced, and pigeon-holing gender-based violence tends to marginalise the issue, allowing lip service to be paid to equality with little or no real action. The EUR 500 million Spotlight Initiative, a joint UN-EU programme, aims to raise the global profile of the campaign to end gender-based violence, and includes efforts to involved government leaders. In addition, it seeks to engage traditional community and religious leaders in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Pacific and Asia. So far Spotlight has launched programmes in 13 developing countries, with a final target of 26. Spotlight officials see gender-based violence as a cross-cutting development issue, one that prevents girls and women making their own life choices, often accepting marriage as their only option, rather than believing they can participate fully in society and work. Campaigners add that gender-based violence is more than a development issue; it affects all generations, nationalities and communities. Female homicide data, for example, released by the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime to coincide with the 2018 International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, illustrated regional patterns within the global total. At 20,000 murders, Asia saw the largest number of women killed by partners or family members in 2017, followed by Africa at 19,000 and the Americas at 8,000. In terms of risk, African women were most likely to be killed by a partner or family member, with a homicide rate of 3.1 per 100,000 female population. This was followed by the Americas at 1.6 deaths per 100,000.


The passion behind the campaign to end violence against women and girls was palpable in the room, despite the grimness of the statistics and the embedded discrimination which lies at the heart of this worldwide problem.

Organised by


Barbara Pesce-Monteiro
Director, Brussels Office
United Nations
Marjeta Jager
Deputy Director-General
European Commission - DG for International Cooperation and Development
Erin Kenny
Head of Technical Unit
United Nations
Henrique Banze
Assistant Secretary General
African Caribbean and Pacific Secretariat
Katia Maia
Executive Director