Speech by Her Majesty Queen Máxima, 3rd World Conference of Women’s Shelters, The Hague, 4 November 2015
Ladies and gentlemen,
We're here today to address the serious issue of violence against women. It is a universal problem and it is happening in all countries and all cultures. It affects all social groups and all ages and is often hidden from the outside world. That's exactly why we need to direct our attention to it.
Millions of women - and their children - are familiar with the fear, the isolation and the shame that are caused by domestic violence.
And you're familiar with them too, due to your work in walk-in centres, shelters and support organisations.
I greatly admire your work and your commitment.
You have come here from over 100 different countries to share experiences and learn from your colleagues, so that we can all become better at protecting the women and children who are in need of help. The Netherlands is proud to welcome you here today.
The presence of Crown Princess Mary gives this conference an extra dimension. For eight years now you have been active as chair of the Mary Foundation, and you give women the courage to break out of the circle of violence.
There is no justification for domestic violence. Ever. That's quite clear.
At the same time, there are no easy solutions. Anyone who looks into this issue soon learns how complex the situation of victims can be. How widespread and persistent this problem is.
A third of all women in the European Union have experienced physical or sexual violence themselves. And the figures are much the same elsewhere. In the Netherlands, one in three incidents of violence to which the police are called involves domestic violence. It is a dark secret hidden behind hundreds of thousands of front doors.
'Home' should be a safe place. Somewhere where you can be yourself, together with the people you love. It's tragic that so many people don't have that safe place.
We know that domestic violence has a serious impact on millions of women. It takes away much of their joy in life, and their health suffers too.
According to the World Health Organization, women who are the victims of such violence are twice as likely to suffer from depression or addiction. Four out of ten women suffer physical injuries. The World Health Organization describes violence against women as: 'a global public health problem of epidemic proportion, requiring urgent action'.
And that's not all. Women's careers also suffer. They're less able to concentrate at work or during their studies. They become less self-confident. They're absent more often and their performance decreases. This means their futures are at stake, making the problem even more urgent. A Canadian study showed that eight per cent of victims lost their jobs because of the violence they had suffered. In the Netherlands, the economic cost of domestic violence is estimated at around €450 million a year.
So obviously the issue is extremely complex. And to add to the complexity,
each woman has her own personal story, and there are no all-round answers.
That's why it's so good that you're here today and tomorrow to share your knowledge and experiences.
However complex the issue, we do have some insights to build on.
First, it's important that women feel able to share their stories. Talking to someone they trust helps them break out of the cocoon of fear and isolation. Taking their colleagues or their boss into their confidence can also help. More than half the women surveyed in a Canadian study found this to be beneficial.
Of course, for that to happen, women need to have a workplace where they feel safe. One country that leads the way in this respect is Australia. Many businesses there realise how harmful domestic violence is and try to support their employees in various ways, by creating a 'safe workplace', for example. Hopefully, other countries will be inspired by the Australian approach.
This brings me to the second of the insights I mentioned: women's economic
position and financial resilience. If you're financially dependent on your
partner, it's far harder to break out of the circle of violence in order to make
a fresh start.
That's why we need to keep promoting women's economic empowerment, in combination with education and raising awareness.
In many countries there's still a gender gap in terms of access to financial services. In developing countries, women are still nine per cent less likely than men to have access to basic financial services. I greatly admire the efforts being made in a number of countries to change that. In Kenya, for instance, you can see how market women can benefit from having a savings account of their own. It means they can spend and invest much more. And so they have far greater control over their own lives.
European countries are also paying more attention to women's economic resilience. The Dutch organisation 'Women Inc' is a good example - a network that mobilises all the forces it can to increase opportunities for women.
And in Denmark there's 'Advice for Life', an initiative of the Mary Foundation. It's a mentor-based programme that offers financial, legal and social counselling to women who suffer violence.
There's a third insight that can help us, too: the importance of taking account of women's personal situations, and where possible involving the whole family in finding a solution.
Since 1974, the Netherlands has had women's shelters whose location is kept secret. Safe houses like these can prevent a great deal of tragedy. But in other cases, it's better to organise shelter in the centre of the neighbourhood, in an open setting, in a building where women can receive visitors. That way these women and their partners can jointly be helped to break free from the spiral of violence and work on their relationship based on respect and equality.
Experience shows that many victims are unable to break off contact with the perpetrators of domestic violence, for example because children are involved. In such cases it's best to include all family members in a support programme. That makes it easier for these women to resume normal life, and families can prepare better for a future without violence.
In 2011, I opened the first shelter in the Netherlands that adopted this approach: the Oranje Huis, in Alkmaar. It was built with the support of various charities, amongst which was the Oranje Fonds, that was given to the King and me as a wedding present and of which we are patrons.
Residents and staff of the Oranje Huis told me their stories. The director said: 'We engage in a dialogue with victim and perpetrator. We don't run away. We talk.'
This new approach has brought about much international interest and is also being tried out in other countries. An example of the immense value of sharing knowledge and experiences.
Ladies and gentlemen, the United Nations has made tackling violence against women a priority in the Sustainable Development Goals for the next 15 years. One goal is to 'achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls'. To this end, the UN sees 'eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls in public and private spheres' as an essential target.
Your work is important to the whole world! Together we are sending a clear message today. Everyone has the right to a life without violence. No one who is affected by domestic violence should be left to cope on their own. They all deserve a fresh start, in a safe place. May our joint efforts be stronger than the fear and isolation of the victims, and may we give them hope for a better future!
I wish you all a very successful conference.