Monday, 11th of March 2019, 8:15 – 10:00, UNHQ, CR 7, New York
Organized by Spain, Andorra, Costa Rica, Morocco, Finland
“Good practices and mobilization of civil society in the fight against gender-based violence”
Terhi Heinilä, Secretary General, National Council of Women of Finland
Mme Ministers, distinguished quests,
It is with great appreciation that I participate in this session on Good practices and mobilization of civil society in the fight against gender-based violence. I want to firstly thank the Spanish government for bringing up this most important issue and for providing an opportunity to present the perspective of the Finnish civil society.
Spain has tackled the issue of violence against women with great significance that acts as an example both in the European Union and globally. We are highly impressed on the strong commitment Spain has shown to the fight against gender-based violence both with legal reforms as well as programs. We are truly inspired about the work of the State Observatory on Violence against Women and the Social Forum against Trafficking and its role in linking both public institutions and civil society organizations. We look forward to the results of the data collected, as well as for the roadmap linked to the financial commitments for the upcoming years.
The promotion of women’s rights by women’s organizations has a long history in Finland. The women’s movement has a central role to play in Finnish society. The National Council of Women of Finland - established in 1911 by the first female parliamentarians in the world, gathers together 60 member organizations in which there are 400 000 women members, 20 per cent of all women of Finland. 12 of the member organizations have been established more than a 100 years ago and 27 of them more than 75 years ago.
The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Gender Gap Index report ranks Finland the world’s fourth best gender-equal country. However, statistics do not necessarily mean that gender equality in all sectors of society has been achieved.
Finland has one of the highest numbers of violence against women in Europe. Violence against women is regarded as the most severe human rights violation in our country. Every third woman has experienced physical and/or sexual violence by her intimate partner. Violence against women causes both human suffering and high economic costs to societies. In the European Union violence against women costs 226 billion euros each year, which represents almost 2 per cent of the annual EU budget.
Women and girls who face multiple forms of discrimination, such as indigenous women, immigrant women, women with disabilities and women belonging to sexual minorities are often also the most vulnerable to experience violence. Special attention needs to be paid to these groups.
Finland has committed to the prevention and elimination of violence against women through the three P’s – Prevention, Protection and Prosecution– as set out in the Beijing Platform for Action and the European Council Istanbul Convention, which Finland ratified in 2015.
Finland has a 4 year national action plan for implementing the Istanbul Convention. It includes measures for the prevention of violence, protection of victims, bringing perpetrators to justice and enhanced coordination of activities.
Women must not stay silent
During more than a 100 years multiple women’s organizations have raised their voice to end violence against women. In recent years the governments have started paying increased attention to violence against women. At present, women’s NGO’s work against violence on women on an international, regional and local level in policy and advocacy work, often with a special focus on prevention.
A key element in the successful promotion of women’s rights has been close cooperation of women’s organizations and the female members of the Parliament – this has taken place ever since women received the full political rights in 1906. Women’s informal networking both in the Parliament and in the women’s movement have promoted women’s rights and prevented violence against women. Numerous legislative and policy measures have been achieved through cooperation and networking by active women from different political parties. Women have been united although the official positions of the political parties differ.
The latest example of women’s cooperation in Finland to combat violence against women took place just a few days ago. Mediation is still initiated as a resolution to solve cases of domestic violence. The women’s network in the Parliament unanimously supported the position of the National Council of Women to prohibit mediation as an alternative dispute resolution process in (relation to) all forms of violence against women. Instead of mediation women who have faced violence must have the opportunity to have court proceedings presided over by a neutral judge.
In terms of the Finnish criminal code, the criminal code currently defines rape as sexual intercourse that includes the use or threat of violence against the victim, or as sexual intercourse with a person who is unable to defend herself. Women’s organizations have lobbied in order to add a lack of consent as the characteristics of a rape. A citizens’ initiative on the consent law gained 57,000 signatures in six months in 2018, which means that it will be presented to the Parliament after the upcoming Parliamentary elections in April. The objective of the initiative is to re-define rape as non-consensual sexual intercourse.
Gender-based violence, sexual harassment and abuse exist in all spheres of society. Online harassment, linked to violence against women, is a new phenomenon that needs serious attention.
Women and girls are the main targets of online violence. According to the European Women’s Lobby’s #HerNetHerRights report, it is a growing phenomenon and human rights violation. Additionally, according to a recent UN report, 73 percent of women reported experiencing online abuse and are 27 times more likely than men to be harassed online. More than two thirds of female victims of cyberstalking also experience at least one form of physical, or sexual violence, from an intimate partner.
Women and girls who speak out on gender equality issues continue to be targets of hate and threats of abuse. Feminists, female politicians and decision makers, NGO and human rights activists as well as journalists are at specific risk. The aim to silence powerful and brave women and to limit their participation and freedom of speech cannot be accepted. Women should never be afraid to express their opinion or take up public positions.
It is important to note that the Istanbul convention requires online violence as a form of violence against women and girls. Prevention of online violence requires strong commitment and cooperation between governments, women´s organizations and other actors.
The European Women’s Lobby’s aims to educate and organize consultations for female politicians on how to avoid online abuse and online sexual harassment.
A few examples of exemplary civil society organizations that work towards ending violence against women in Finland are:
The Multicultural Women's Association Monika, which is a unique umbrella organization, established and administrated mostly by migrant women. The multicultural staff provides services in 20 languages. MONIKA provides multisectoral services for women and children with an immigrant background who have experienced violence, such as honor-related violence, sexual exploitation, forced marriages and human trafficking. Additionally, MONIKA provides online services that are safe and easy-to-use.
An online peer support group is a closed form of online service through which people can process experiences of violence together with other group members, under the guidance of a group leader.
Women’s Line and Seta – LGBTIQ Rights in Finland have organized a pioneering nation-wide anonymous online peer support group for transfeminines who have faced violence. The discussions concentrate on fundamental rights and provide professional support on how to recognize various forms of violence.
Physical sexual harassment is prohibited in Finland through the Act on Equality between Women and Men. The National Council of Women of Finland has promoted women’s rights with a multiannual program of gender equality acts. This program has empowered the Finnish society to be more gender equal and we received more than 300 acts to promote women’s rights from all spheres of society, from ministries, the Parliament, universities, cities, media and various NGO’s. In addition, a high level forum has committed to the program and gender equality acts. On international women’s day the National Council of Women organized a seminar on work-related sexual harassment. Like all around the world this has also been a current issue we are working on.
In Finland victim support services are developed and mainly provided by women’s organizations. Currently, NGOs are largely responsible for organizing services for victims and perpetrators and low-threshold support services.
In the long fight against violence against women, progress has been made. Since the ratification of the Istanbul convention, the number of shelter places has been increased by over 50 per cent. The regional coverage of the shelter network has been improved, and the number of family shelter places increased (202). However, this is still under half of the what the Council of Europe recommend (550).
There is also an organization that focuses specifically on women with disabilities. Rusetti – the National Organization for Women with Disabilities encourages all women to become visible in all spheres of life including in media, the sciences and politics. Because of their efficient lobbying work women’s shelters are now mostly accessible for example for women wheelchair users.
In 2017, the first Sexual Assault Support Centre was launched in the Women’s Hospital in Helsinki. More support centers will be opened around Finland in the coming years. These provide services for victims that have experience sexual violence in the last 30 days. The victims of rape and other acts of sexual violence should be offered support also after the 30 days of the incident. Women’s organizations underline the need for low-threshold support services for non-acute sexual violence.
There is a special method called MARAK that is used to aid victims of serious domestic abuse or individuals under a serious threat of abuse. The objective is to gather a multi-agency team to asses the case and form an action plan to improve the safety of the victim.
At European level the European Women’s Lobby Observatory plays a key role in identifying key issues and monitoring progress towards a Europe free from male violence against women. The Observatory’s main objectives are to identify critical and emerging issues in order to feed the policy work to advocate for prevention and support of women victims. The Observatory comprises experts from 30 countries in Europe and several international and European women’s organizations.
In Europe 1 in 3 women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15. 50 women die every week from male domestic violence. Every second woman in Europe has faced sexual harassment. 75 per cent of women in top management positions have experienced sexual harassment at work. 1 in 4 women experience physical and/or sexual violence during pregnancy.
Shelters and services for women victims of violence such as hotlines or rape crisis centers are closing down everywhere in Europe, due to austerity measures and lack of funding.
The work of women’s organizations in combating violence against women must be recognized. Appropriate financial and human resources for activities carried out by non-governmental organizations and civil society to end violence against women must be allocated and secured.
I want to warmly thank the government of Spain, especially Mme Minister, for hosting this event and bringing to light the issue of violence against women, one of the top human rights violations globally.
We need a zero tolerance towards all forms of violence.