Conversation with Sandie Okoro, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the World Bank Group, on the latest findings on violence against women

Wednesday, April 7, 2021
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Women Political Leaders sits down with Sandie Okoro, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the World Bank Group, to hear about the latest findings on violence against women.

What are the most recent findings concerning GBV in the context of COVID-19?

One out of three women is subjected to physical and sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by a non-partner according to the latest report from the World Health Organization, and the troubling fact is that this has gone unchanged over the last decade or so. We know that violence starts early, by the time women reach their mid-twenties, one of out of four women has already experienced violence at the hands of a partner. We are finding more and more that education sector experts and those who work directly with adolescents have a critical role to play, and this is an important area of action to truly prevent gender-based violence.

The COVID-19 crisis has taken a drastic and growing human and economic toll; it is exposing—and exacerbating— gender, wealth and race inequalities. At the peak of school closures in April 2020, about 1.6 billion children were out of school, with the concern that many may not return. Added to that, factor in the children who are displaced due to conflict or live in areas of instability, I believe we still do not have the full grasp of the full damages caused by this pandemic. What we certainly know is that, in the midst of all these restrictions on movement and lockdowns, women and girls are exponentially more vulnerable and unsafe. We are seeing that many countries are reporting a substantial increase in emergency calls for domestic violence cases, all the while experiencing decreases in access to services, including vital sexual and reproductive health services, crisis centers, shelters, legal aid, and other forms of protection services. As courts return to regular business and COVID-related protections, such as eviction moratoria and cash payments, end there is likely to be a flood of civil cases linked to GBV that impact women including divorce, alimony and child support and custody. You name it, odds are access to support systems and protection services are even less available. This is unacceptable.

Why prevention of violence against women and gender-based violence must be prioritised?

This is a no-brainer. Gender-based violence has no place in society, and no woman or girl should ever have to undergo such treatment. It is a human rights violation, and its cost transcends all that we think we know to date. Over the last few decades, we have been reading about the ways with which GBV limits women’s ability to thrive and enjoy freedoms on a basis of equality with men. We must recognize that women and girls are not exposed to violence by accident, it is in fact the result of a structural, and deep-rooted discrimination solely based on their gender. No community or society can thrive when half the population is not treated with equal respect or given the same rights as men. This is not charity, it is a moral and legal obligation that must move politicians and decision-makers to action. Gender-based violence is a pandemic which has no vaccine, yet we are seeing how COVID-19 has swiftly mobilized the world’s many communities towards coordinated action and shared responsibility in limiting and reversing the spread of this medical emergency. We should treat gender-based violence in the same way, and mobilize influencers, decision-makers, and institutions in committing to, and delivering, on reversing the incommensurable damages it bears on the home, the local community, and the society at large.

How can women’s leadership make a difference in times of crises?

Women’s leadership is essential, as it is about the representation of a discourse that is truly missing from the local and global fight against gender-based violence. We know the important role women play in peacebuilding, and we can’t achieve equitable development solutions if we do not involve half of the world’s population. We need to make sure women and women leaders are involved in every strata of society in order to effectively build solutions that focus on preventing and reversing gender-based violence, and work hand in hand with men and boys at a very young age to change the norms. There are no quick wins to put an end once and for all to gender-based violence, but when women sit at the same decision-making table as men, we know that this and future generations are in safer hands.