Remarks of Michelle Bachelet during her visit with internally displaced women at the Women’s House in Mali

Date: 09 Jan 2013

Remarks of Michelle Bachelet during her visit with internally displaced women at the Women's House. Bamako, Mali. 9 January 2013.

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Let me first thank the organizers for this visit and unique opportunity to see first-hand and hear from you about the impact of the crisis and the situation of displaced women and girls here in Mali.

I admire your courage, strength and determination. The courage of the Malian population, and particularly Malian women, who have been living under very difficult circumstances, is a strong call for solidarity, responsibility, and for responsive action with Malian women and for Malian women.

The entire world is watching the situation in Mali. And just like many others in the international community, I am extremely worried about the deterioration of the security conditions in the Northern regions. I condemn the human rights violations. I reaffirm that the full participation of women must be central to all efforts for peacemaking, peacebuilding, and securing justice.

I am standing in front of you as the first leader of UN Women, and also as a sister who was once in exile. I know how hard it is to be forced away from your home and your community. I know how hard it is to keep your families and children safe.

The world needs to know what displaced women and girls are going through in Mali. Responding to your concerns and addressing your priorities are essential for lasting peace, democracy and development.

UN Women is working here in Mali and worldwide to build societies where men and women have equal opportunities, rights and participation. We are working with the recognition that women's empowerment and gender equality are essential to development, peace and security.

I have listened to your stories. The human rights abuses of women in the northern part of the country are unacceptable and must be stopped and punished.

Credible and effective methods must be put in place to prevent and respond to violations of women's rights.

And it is absolutely imperative that women's protection must be an integral part, a priority, of the operating procedures of any international force to be deployed in northern Mali.

In two days, I will meet with the ECOWAS leaders. I will insist that any solution to the crisis must address the crime of rape, and categorically prohibit amnesty for war crimes of sexual violence.

Effective interventions to address women's and girls' conflict-related displacement must include support to survivors. They must address the risk of sexual and gender-based violence among displaced populations, and ensure the distribution of food and non-food items to women.

In this regard, let me welcome the joint actions of the Ministry of Humanitarian Action and the Ministry of Childhood, Women and Women's Empowerment for their mobilization for displaced populations, particularly women and children.

I would also like to express my respect and congratulations to all the actors who work every day, at the peril of their lives, to provide assistance to victims of rape, including the Malian Association of Lawyers, and the APDF and NGO GREFFA.

As a response to the crisis, UN Women, in partnership with the UN system as a whole, has launched an emergency plan to provide psychosocial support and economic assistance to women and girls who are displaced, at risk, or victims of violence.

Together with other agencies, we will continue to support the work of civil society and women's organizations that provide frontline services and accompaniment to displaced women and girls.

I am glad to see that almost 20 units aimed at providing specific assistance to displaced women have now been set up in two regions with local NGOs such as Amprode Sahel. Three months after the launch of this programme, more than 10,000 internally displaced women and theirs families have received assistance for income-generating activities.

Our financial and technical partners, including the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Spain, Belgium, and Sweden should be also thanked for their generous support to this initiative.

We all know that gender-based discrimination in national legislation, or traditional practices, can put displaced women in an even more precarious situation. Whether in camps or in host families, women's rights must be protected, including their rights to live free of violence and discrimination, to an adequate standard of living, and to decent and safe housing.

International law categorically prohibits rape and other forms of sexual violence in conflict. There cannot be amnesty for these crimes. And there must be justice for anyone who has been a victim of these crimes: Commanders are responsible for stopping it, and if they do not, they are criminally liable.

It is well established that peace, a peace that extends beyond the simple act of signing a peace agreement, is unsustainable if it is not rooted in justice. When violations of human rights are not investigated, when the root causes of conflict are not addressed, when victims' calls for justice are not heard, the risks for renewed violence remain high.

Your voices, women's voices must be heard so that your needs are addressed and your human rights are protected.

The world needs to listen to you and I will stand by you for women to be an integral part of the solution to Mali's crisis.

UN Women stands with you for peace, justice and equality. I will carry your voices forward and do all I can to bring international support for women's rights and participation in building peace and democracy here in Mali.