UN Women Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet remarks on “Ending Violence against Women and Girls” at the Danish Institute for International Studies, Strandgage Copenhagen, Denmark, 12 October 2011.
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I’m very happy to be here in Copenhagen and I’d like to congratulate you for electing the first woman Prime Minister of Denmark, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
As the first woman President of Chile, I know what it’s like to pave a new path, and I am experiencing that now again as the first Executive Director of the new United Nations agency, UN Women.
Since UN Women started 10 months ago in January, I’ve traveled to more than 20 countries in all regions of the world championing women’s empowerment and gender equality, and I am inspired by the people I meet and all the great things that are happening.
In Liberia, I met women who had struggled long and hard to have a seat at the negotiating table to bring peace to their country after decades of war and brutality. They are now building peace and democracy in their country under the leadership of the first woman President of Africa, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
In every country that I have visited, I have seen women taking steps, some large and some small, to build new futures for themselves and their nations. These steps in history have brought us to where we are today. I believe that the 21st century is the time for equality between men and women.
In 1911, women were allowed to vote in just two countries of the world, today that right is virtually universal. During this time, women have continually expanded their political rights, and alongside women’s greater political influence, there has been a growing recognition of women’s rights.
Every woman has the right to live free of violence and discrimination and this is what I am here to talk about today.
It is time to end violence against women and girls. This is a global pandemic and a public health and human rights emergency, and the time has come to join forces to say enough is enough.
Today violence against women takes many forms and it is an epidemic that costs lives, damages psyches, threatens physical health and the human spirit, violates human rights, takes a brutal toll on families and communities, reduces women’s productivity, and costs nations billions in losses each year.
Worldwide, women and girls continue to suffer violence inside and outside of their homes, often at the hands of intimate partners or persons they think they can trust. Violence against women and girls cuts across boundaries of age, race, culture, wealth and geography. It takes place in peacetime and during conflicts and crises.
The data on violence against women and girls is not as good as it should be but according to one study by the World Health Organization, the prevalence of physical and/or sexual violence by a partner varied from 15 percent in urban Japan to 71 percent in rural Ethiopia, with most areas being in the 30–60 percent range. Here in Denmark, a 2003 study showed that 22 percent of women reported physical and or sexual violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime.
Gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights in our world today and yet it is one of the least prosecuted crimes. It remains characterized by impunity, which allows it to continue.
But I am optimistic because the tide is turning and it can turn faster if people join together and take a common stand. Now is the time for zero tolerance of violence against girls and women, and we have much progress to build on.
Just a few decades ago, rape and sexual violence in conflict were considered an inevitable part of warfare. Today rape in war is seen for what it is, a violation of human rights and a crime to be prosecuted. Gender-based violence, including rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and other atrocities, are now codified as war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. And courts and tribunals have prosecuted perpetrators for committing these heinous crimes.
During the past four decades, we have witnessed dramatic advances in legal reform to protect women’s rights. Today 125 countries outlaw domestic violence, and 117 countries outlaw sexual harassment. And 186 nations have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, signaling their commitment to fulfilling the human rights women and girls and breaking down the barriers to achieving gender equality and justice.
In May of this year, we celebrated the formal opening for signature of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. This is an important step forward. I know first-hand that in my region, the ‘sister’ Convention of Belem do Para 1994, was path breaking, proving its value and impact for the betterment of the lives of women and their communities across Latin America. And I am sure the new Convention will be important in the lives of the women of Europe. This is why I urge the signatories of the Convention to move towards early ratification, so that the treaty’s entry into force can be secured.
Ending violence against women and girls –and the impunity that allows it to continue—are top priorities for UN Women. Our other priorities, which reinforce progress in this area, are increasing women’s participation and leadership, engaging women fully in peacemaking, peacebuilding and reconstruction; prioritizing gender equality in national plans and budgets; and advancing women’s economic empowerment. By working on these fronts simultaneously, we will make greater progress.
In the coming years we are making a major push for universal access to services for all women and girls who experience gender-based violence. This is a global emergency, and yet, many women in the world subjected to violence and in life-threatening situations do not have access to even the most fundamental emergency and immediate support services. Such services embrace not only protection and health treatment but also access to justice—from police officers to legal assistance to the judicial system—something that is far from being achieved in countries worldwide, as detailed in UN Women’s flagship report that we released earlier this year, Progress of the World’s Women: In Search of Justice.
We are also stepping up efforts to prevent gender based violence from happening in the first place, making sure that prevention efforts start early, with raising girls and boys based on values of non-violence and mutual trust and respect.
We are reaching out to men and boys and young people to make greater progress. UN Women plays an active role in supporting the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, which is reaching far and wide to mobilize leaders and communities to take action. And Our Say NO to Violence against Women initiative advances the objectives of the UNiTE campaign through social mobilization.
Just a few weeks ago, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women announced 17.1 US million dollars in grants to 22 initiatives in 34 countries, including, for the first time, Iraq and South Sudan. These grants support work at the grassroots level and cover a range of strategic interventions, such as increasing the access of women survivors of violence to medical and legal services in Iraq, supporting HIV-positive women to connect with traditional leaders in Malawi to counter widespread stigmatization and abuse, reducing workplace violence in export-oriented garment factories in Bangladesh and India, and accelerating the channels of justice and health services for survivors in Uruguay.
Over the years, the UN Trust Fund has established itself as a leading source of support for innovative and catalytic projects, combating violence where it matters most — at the local and community levels. If not for the tireless efforts of its grantees, tens of thousands of women and girls would not see justice for the abuse they suffer, nor would they know that they don’t have to live in fear.
Today I invite you to help us reach our target together with the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign to raise 100 million US dollars for the UN Trust Fund’s annual grant-making by 2015.
And let me close by saying this, I believe that together we can end violence against women and girls and we can make the 21st century the century of equality. By unleashing the energy, talents and potential of half the world’s population, we will not only improve the lives of women and girls, we will create a better world for all of us.