National Sexual Assault Conference

Date: Friday, September 16, 2011

Message by Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Executive Director at the National Sexual Assault Conference in Baltimore, USA, 16 September 2011.

Dear friends,

I am sorry that I cannot be with you today but I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address you on the critical issue of ending violence against women and girls. I commend you all for your dedication to ending this most pervasive human rights violation.

Ending sexual and gender-based violence-and the impunity that allows it to continue—are among the top priorities for UN Women. We believe that tackling this challenge effectively requires a multifaceted and comprehensive strategy as well as diverse partnerships.

In the coming years we are making a major push for universal access to services for all women and girls who experience sexual assault and abuse. 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 publication, Progress of the World's Women: In Search of Justice.

We are also stepping up efforts on preventing 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 respect.

Prevention includes more determined engagement with two strategic groups: men and boys, and young people as champions of change. And it includes ending impunity for the perpetrators of violence, without which this crime will remain simply a part of daily life in many places.

As the newly created entity at the United Nations charged with leading and coordinating the UN system's work on women's rights and gender equality, UN Women recognizes that ending violence against women and girls will only come about in a wider context of equality and social justice. This requires investments in other key aspects of gender equality.

This requires investments in education, especially secondary education. These investments have huge payoffs - not only for girls, but for communities and nations as a whole. This is probably the best ‘vaccine' we have against gender discrimination and violence, and for reducing poverty and fostering economic growth overall.

We also need greater investment in the economic empowerment of women. All forms of gender-based violence- whether in the home or the workplace, in situations of conflict or trafficking -are linked to women's lack of economic autonomy. Equal income and employment opportunities allow women to renegotiate the personal and social power relationships that perpetuate sexual and gender based violence.

And we also need to invest more in women's leadership, decision-making power and voice. Research shows that when a critical mass of women are in decision-making positions - as political leaders and congressional representatives, community leaders or corporate executives - there is a more favourable environment for gender equality and zero tolerance for gender-based violence, wherever it occurs.

At UN Women, we are working on all of these fronts. We are convinced that violence against women is one heavy burden on humanity that together we can eliminate — through the collective, inspiring and tireless efforts of committed organizations and individuals such as you.

I wish you a successful conference.