UN rights chief calls time on ‘economic violence’ against women and girls

Human Rights

During his opening statement to the all-day panel dedicated to women and human rights, Mr. Türk said there had been “extraordinary progress” thanks to the worldwide women’s movement.

But the very fact that a separate panel needed to be convened on gender-based violence shows that progress has been “hard-won and fragile”, he added.

The meeting’s focus on so-called economic violence as a part of a wider pattern of gender-based violence occurs when a woman or girl is denied access to financial resources as a form of abuse or control.

Mr. Türk noted that one in three women have been subjected to some form of violence – physical, sexual, psychological or economic – at least once in their life.

If one in three men globally were subject to such devastating and pervasive harm, an emergency summit would be convened,” he said.

Unseen, unregulated

The High Commissioner said economic violence often goes unseen or unregulated but could be just as harmful as physical violence, as it usually includes forms of control, exploitation and sabotage.

“While economic violence most commonly occurred in the home, it could also be enabled and perpetrated by the State through discriminatory legal frameworks which restricted women’s access to credit, employment, social protection, or property and land rights,” he said.

Mr. Türk declared that so far, global efforts to deliver on gender equality have failed, pointing out that 3.9 billion women worldwide faced legal barriers affecting their economic participation and women earn only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, among other inequities.

Time to start over

Mr. Türk said there needed to be a thorough revision of discriminatory laws and practices to put a stop to economic violence.

“Gender equality needed to be positively fostered through laws governing all areas of life and there needed to be policy measures to ensure these laws were applied,” he said.

Further, he said there needed to be a stronger effort to ensure survivors of economic violence could seek justice and assistance.

There needed to be better complaint mechanisms, economic and social support systems, more widely available psychological assistance, and for perpetrators to be brought to justice,” the High Commissioner said.

He emphasised that violence against women and girls was “abhorrent and inexcusable.”

UN Human Rights Council/Rajab Safarov

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks at the UN Human Rights Council’s (OHCHR) discussion on women’s rights in Geneva.


During the forum, members of civil society also weighed in on the harm caused by economic violence.

Esther Waweru, Senior Legal Advisor at Equality Now, said inequality in the family was one of the main reasons for economic violence, paired with “retrogressive patriarchal gender norms.”

She said that 1.4 billion women globally lived in countries where economic violence was not recognised and where there are no protections; a practice she believes could leave more women and girls vulnerable to exploitation.

Ms. Waweru recommends that Member States enact comprehensive laws to criminalise sexual and gender-based violence and intimate partner violence – along with economic violence.

She called for laws to “repeal and revoke marital power clauses designating husbands as the head of the households” to “ensure equitable sharing of the joint property deriving from marriage” and equal labour rights.

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