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Global leaders back calls to end violence against women, children


Patricia Scotland

Patricia Scotland

Global leaders and institutions have endorsed the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s call to work more effectively together to end the suffering of women and girls facing violence at the hands of their partners.

She was speaking at the Economic Cost of Violence Against Women event at the United Nations General Assembly (21st September). Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said that domestic violence was the greatest cause of death in women and girls.

“That is a fact and yet it’s quite shocking that knowing this so little has been done to address it” she said. “If this was something that was killing and injuring one in three men in our world, there would be an outcry. We would be taking to the streets saying ‘enough, we will not put up with this anymore’.”

Secretary-General Scotland has been involved in tackling violence against women and girls for the past forty years. She told the audience that as the minister for the UK government responsible for dealing with domestic violence and violent crime, she realised that only by presenting an economic case did she succeed in decreasing the cost of tackling the problem.

“This is not an issue that needs governments to spend more money, we need to spend it differently. The unfortunate thing is that many people believe that by doing nothing has no cost implications. But the truth is that it has vast cost implications,” said the Secretary-General.

She said that the problem of domestic violence was the same across the world and it crossed cultural boundaries. What was needed, said Secretary-General Scotland was to pool together the existing knowledge in different countries.  She urged world leaders and institutions to garner the existing information from across the world to create a template which would deliver real change.

“If we can find a methodology which addresses this robustly then we have the key to change. Some of the examples already mentioned today shows us what works,” she said.

The Secretary-General won applause from those in the room, including the European Union, the World Health Organisation and Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, when she explained how her strategic approach had decreased domestic violence in England and Wales.

“In the UK, in 2003, the cost was £23 billion. We disaggregated the money. How much was paid by government, how much was paid by business and how much was paid in injury and suffering. So we could absolutely identify how much each department was spending and that way we could cut the cost. By 2009, we had cut domestic violence by 64% and saved £7.1 billion. Now these are sums the treasury can understand.”

She said that too many women and girls were suffering unnecessarily because nations were choosing not to work together.“It does involve the World Bank and I’d be saying to Jim (Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank), do the baseline that we can all use because every country can go to their treasury and say this is what you’re already spending on the cost of domestic violence,” she said. “As I hear the passion in this room, calling for change, I think this is the moment for us to say, ‘we are the change’.

In the past we were knocking on doors because we were not sitting in these seats, someone else was. But now we’re sitting here and we have to ask ourselves, what are we going to do about it?”

Secretary-General Scotland said that tackling violence against women and children was one of the Commonwealth’s top priorities.  She revealed that she was asking the Secretariat to find out the economic cost in every nation state so each of the 53 members had the figures available to them to campaign for change.

The Secretary-General said at the moment countries and organisations were working in hermetically sealed silos. The head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Angel Gurría, told Secretary-General Scotland that the Commonwealth and OECD should seriously join forces.

Secretary-General Scotland continued, “The truth is that I do not have the capacity of a tiny budget for the work that could and should be done by the World Bank, by the OECD, by the World Health Organisation and by my friends at the European Union and elsewhere.”

She concluded that improvements in the UK happened because the government, business leaders, non-governmental organisations, third sector groups and faith leaders got together to make and deliver change.

“What if we worked together and came up with a template of regulatory structures which could translate into action?” asked the Secretary-General. “I don’t know about everyone else around the table but I’m tired of having the same conversations. I’m tired of watching men, women and children die unnecessarily because we choose, and it is a choice, not to work in concert, not to collaborate, not to rise this agenda in a way that would mean that in four years we time will have a different paradigm.”

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