From November 25 to December 10, Human Rights Day, the United Nations and partners will urge people everywhere to #HearMeToo and elevate attention to one of the most persistent – yet underrecognized – violations of human rights in our world today: violence against girls and women.

While the issue of gender discrimination and abuse has gained attention recently through an array of different grassroots movements around the world like #TimesUp, #MeToo, #Niunamenos, and others, all of these movements are connected by a common global thread. Around the world, far too many girls and women still experience violence and abuse. Their stories must be heard.

We sat down with Michelle Milford Morse, our Vice President of Girls and Women Strategy at the UN Foundation, to talk about why this violence persists, how it impacts global progress, and what we can do to end it.

Why is violence against girls and women considered a global problem?

Michelle Milford Morse: Violence against girls and women is one of the most pervasive, fundamental violations of human rights in the world.

Today it affects one in three girls and women globally. And it has a range of short- and long-term effects. It affects girls and women’s health, their ability to earn an income, and their dignity and opportunity.

And it undermines all of our attempts to reach Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG5), which is our global goal aimed at achieving gender equality.

Can you explain the different types of violence?

M3: There are many types of violence that affect girls and women. The most common form of violence is intimate partner violence, which is experienced by women all over the world across ages, geographies, and socioeconomic status. Today, 38% of women who have been murdered, were murdered by an intimate partner.

Another really prevalent form of violence is sexual violence and sexual assault, which we’re beginning to talk about more in our communities because women are starting to tell their stories.

Female genital mutilation and cutting – another form of violence that’s too prevalent – still affects 200 million girls today. And we should talk about trafficking as well, which is a very serious problem. We know that 71% of trafficking victims are also girls and women.

So violence is taking all these different forms, but the common thread is that it is still affecting far too many girls and women.

Why does violence against girls and women occur? What are the reasons?

M3: Violence against girls and women occurs because of long standing, systemic gender inequality in countries all over the world.

It’s rooted in discrimination, power differentials, and harmful social norms. And that’s why it continues today.

How does violence against girls and women impact the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

M3: The 193 countries that agreed to the SDGs agreed to SDG5, which is the goal aimed at achieving universal gender equality. Within that goal, there is a target for eliminating all violence against girls and women.

If you look across these 17 goals, we have these bold aspirations for no hunger, no poverty, and for decent work and opportunity for all. However, for women who are subjected to violence and who survive violence, their ability to achieve decent work, to be healthy, and to be safe is undermined.

Violence against girls and women is one of the things that will hold back universal achievement of the SDGs. That’s why it’s one of the issues we should focus on.

What actions are needed to end violence against girls and women?

M3: For too long, the world has acknowledged violence against girls and women with a shrug: Too many think that it’s too difficult of an issue. That it’s cultural. That it’s inevitable.
And that’s unacceptable.

In fact, everyone has a role to play in ending violence against girls and women. Governments can pass laws that hold perpetrators accountable and prioritize justice. The private sector can invest in safety, not only in workspaces but in their communities. And individuals can stop being bystanders.

When a girl or a woman tells her story, hear her. Listen and back her up.

For all of us, we can say, “Enough.” Violence dehumanizes all of us, and we don’t have to accept it.

What is the UN doing to combat this issue?

M3: Because this is a global issue that affects so many girls and women, the UN is prioritizing a range of things to combat violence against girls and women. For example, UN Women in partnership with UNFPA is expanding services that provide support to survivors of violence.

In addition, UN women is working to end sexual harassment in public spaces through the Safe Cities Global initiative. The UN is also always looking to improve data, knowledge, and evidence about what works on this issue. Finally, the UN is expanding innovative programs with UN Women through the UN Trust Fund to end violence against women.

What is the Spotlight Initiative?

M3: The Spotlight Initiative, launched in September 2017, was initiated by the European Union and the UN. It was named the Spotlight Initiative for the focused attention it will bring to girls and women.

It’s an ambitious, multi-year partnership that includes a number of UN agencies and will tackle all forms of violence against girls and women. But specifically, femicide, sexual and gender-based violence, domestic and intimate partner violence, and sexual exploitation. It has the potential to create lasting and structural changes in countries and finally end violence against girls and women.

This past September, the initiative made a new important commitment: The EU and UN announced a $58 million investment to end femicide in Latin America. This region has been chosen because it houses 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world – 12 women are assassinated every day. And the vast majority of these murders go unprosecuted.

The new program aims to fill legislative and policy gaps, strengthen institutions, and change harmful attitudes in five countries where femicide is particularly prevalent: Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

Help spread awareness about violence against girls and women by joining the United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women Campaign (UNiTE).