UN Commission on the Status of Women

Here’s a blog about my trip to New York for the annual meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. You can also read the blog on the Huffington Post here.

I’ve finally arrived in New York for the annual meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – one of the big annual events in my diary and one that Justine Greening and I have been working hard on for months.

So far I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of women (and men!) here from across the world, not only representing various countries but countless NGOs as well, all fighting for women’s rights and equality internationally.

This year’s CSW theme is eliminating violence against women: an issue everyone knows I care passionately about – not least because of my ministerial champion role exactly on this topic – and raise at every opportunity.

Britain taking a lead

The UK has a good story to tell.

The Coalition Government has provided nearly £40 million of ring-fenced funding for specialist domestic and sexual violence services, and national helplines.

We’ve invested in changing attitudes and behaviours. You may have seen the UK television adverts we’ve launched to tackle rape and relationship abuse amongst teenagers.

We’ve reformed our legislation, introducing two new stalking offences to better protect victims and better support the police and prosecutors who bring about justice.

And the Coalition Government has also announced plans to criminalise forced marriage.

But we can and must do more. Just last year around 400,000 women were sexually assaulted in the UK. Sharing best practice and learning from other countries’ successes is a great place to start.

Tackling the root causes of violence against women and girls

The root causes of violence against women and girls are gender inequality and related social norms – or, traditional ‘rules’ of societies.

In short, to end violence against women, we have to change minds.

I’ve just been on a discussion panel with Finland, South Africa and the OECD to discuss the best ways to do just this.

The evidence shows, for example, that you cannot change unequal social norms, and gender-based violence, without working with men and boys. This may seem obvious to some, but when it comes to experiences of violence and abuse it’s common for women only to talk to women!

Watch this video showing how UK aid is helping to tackle violence against women and girls in South Africa:

Violence must be seen as a community issue that needs solving at the community level – rather than a private matter or a ‘women’s issue’ only.

DFID is investing £25 million in a new Violence Against Women and Girls Research and Innovation Fund. This ground-breaking work will test new approaches and rigorously evaluate existing programmes, so we can help build up global evidence of what works (and what simply doesn’t).

Ultimately this evidence base will need contributions from across the world and I hope other countries will join in on our efforts. No one country can tackle this alone, but the UK is committed to doing our bit.