“Parliamentary Strategies for tackling violence against women and girls”: speech by Michelle Bachelet

Date: Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Statement of Michelle Bachelet, UN Under-Secretary and Executive Director of UN Women on “Parliamentary Strategies for tackling violence against women and girls,” 5 March 2013, ECOSOC Chamber, New York

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Good morning and I extend to you all a warm welcome.

I wish to acknowledge and greet the chair of this event, Ms. Kadaga, Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, and Mr. Radi, President of the International Parliamentary Union, IPU.

For me, it always is a very special pleasure to meet with parliamentarians from around the world during the annual Commission on the Status of Women.

Above all what I value from our meeting is the opportunity to share and exchange information and ideas with all of you on the issues under consideration, and I am confident that your diverse and rich parliamentary perspective will inform our deliberations.

At the same time, allow me to acknowledge the long-standing and productive relationship between the United Nations and the IPU on broader issues such as women’s political participation and gender equality. I look forward to building on this relationship.


Today, in this century, we find ourselves at a tipping point in history.

Never before has there been greater and very public momentum to end violence against women.

Never before have we had the instant and global outreach that new technologies afford to record in mere seconds and communicate in real time the atrocities taking place in countries around the world.

Never before have we witnessed such open, widespread public outrage and calls for change and action.

No matter where we live, we are all witness to ongoing and appalling violence against women and girls. This has nothing to do with your nationality, your social class, your religion – violence remains all too pervasive and knows no borders.

In the aftermath of highly public tragedies over the past year, women, men and young people have raised their voices in a singular cry: enough is enough. People demand an end to impunity and insist on the protection of the rights of women and girls to live lives free of violence. And they do this because we are at this tipping point of deeper social transformation where indeed, and this is my biggest hope, gender equality becomes reality for all.

We know – and I have said it countless times – that violence against women is the most pervasive human rights violation with the worst record of justice rendered.

This year, the Commission on the Status of Women is addressing this priority theme and the CSW has the unique chance and must come to strong agreement on the way forward. It has to be a way forward that signals violence against women is never acceptable and that Member States will no longer turn a blind eye to such crimes, such human rights violations. There is no point in us lamenting publicly the deaths of women brutally raped, of a young woman brutally shot because she claims the right to education for girls – we need to act, we need to act now and we need to act here at the CSW.

At this 57th CSW, the agreed conclusions we reach must not only reaffirm , but must honour existing norms and standards on the elimination of violence against women and girls. We have to go an extra mile if we are to retain the trust of hundreds of millions of women and girls, if not billions, looking to us here for two weeks to show courage.

The conclusions must have the “teeth” needed for action, for implementation. That means States must back them up with effective plans and policies, legislation and budgets.

As parliamentarians, you and your colleagues around the world are essential to this goal. You have put ending violence against women on the political agenda and I thank the IPU for the important role it has played in this area.

Legislative change is fundamental to halting the violence epidemic, and it is you, the representatives of the people, who can make it happen and make a real difference for women and girls.


On behalf of the women survivors of violence and countless and nameless women who suffered, suffer and those who lost their lives because of violence thank you for your efforts and would now like to suggest four concrete ways that you can further to help prevent and end this appalling violence.

First, parliaments pass legislation and create laws that criminalize violence. Today, two- thirds of countries currently have legislation criminalizing domestic violence, for example.

But this is not enough. All countries should have legislation that penalizes violence against women in all spheres and all forms of violence. Parliaments must identify gaps and amend weak legislation.

For example, after the horrific rape and death of a young Indian woman and the tremendous public outrage, the Government took action. A panel was appointed to look at strengthening criminal laws in cases of sexual assault against women.

Headed by former Chief Justice J. S. Verma, the panel has proposed criminal penalties for several forms of harassment, for stalking, for voyeurism, for assaulting a woman, and for military or police supervisors who fail to control subordinates who commit rape.

These new proposals will go a long way in strengthening current Indian laws which prohibit acts that “outrage a woman’s modesty,” but do not define specific off-limit behaviors.

At a press conference in January, Mr. Verma said, “Merely addressing the end stage of rape isn’t the solution. You have to address the first steps, which ultimately graduate into aggravated forms of sexual assault.”

So I urge all of you to review and strengthen laws in your countries to end violence against women.

Second, parliaments play a key role in monitoring and implementing existing and new legislation.

When laws are not implemented, or are implemented casually or inconsistently, that is a failure of governance, a failure to meet the rights and needs of constituents and, in this case, a failure to protect women and girls from violence.

This is an area where coordination and partnerships with other stakeholders can make all the difference.

Parliamentarians can use their good offices to bring police, prosecutors, judges, health care providers, social workers and religious and community leaders on board to wage the battle together and hold each other accountable. Ending violence against women requires the full engagement of all sectors of society.

Third, successful implementation of legislation lies in society’s increased awareness of violence against women. Today, the Worldwide Web and social media greatly help in this regard.

But parliamentarians also have an important role to play. You can help sensitize people and shape public opinion. You have speaker power! You can engage the wider community in an open debate on changing social norms and attitudes and send the message that violence against women is unacceptable and will not be tolerated and perpetrators will be brought to justice.

Fourth, is the parliamentary function of budget setting and budget approval. This is key to progress.

We know too well that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

A law is potent only if it has the financial and human resources required for its implementation.

Many a law or an action plan is passed without a budget, without those “teeth” I spoke of earlier. In reality, this means that nothing happens.

In order for a law to have effect it must have financial backing. And these financial requirements must be reflected in budget allocations. Women and girls around the world are counting on you to deliver those budgets. And so am I.


In closing, I want to strongly reaffirm UN Women’s commitment to working as hard as we possibly can with the limited means given to us but with a very strong voice, to help end violence against women and girls, in public as well as in private spaces.

We have been working on global campaigns to bring attention to the problem and to mobilize all stakeholders for the elimination of that violence.

For example, the United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign includes a welcome focus on the role of men and boys in ending this violence.

And it is producing results. A remarkable young man in Tanzania, for example, was so moved by the stories he read of violence against women that he entered and won a global UNiTE T-shirt design contest [in 2011].

Today, he mobilizes his peers through a traveling “Caravan for Change” that raises awareness of violence against women and girls in his own country.

We also coordinate the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women which, by the end of 2012 included 95 programmes in 85 countries and territories.

Among its grantees is the Population Council, which equips indigenous girls in Guatemala with GPS systems to create maps that include areas of perceived safety and risk. Local leaders are using the maps to improve municipal planning, including lighting, police patrols and more.

In addition, we know that violence against women and girls affects entire families, communities and cities.

Therefore, we’ve also developed a “Safe Cities Free of Violence against Women and Girls” global programme that brings a comprehensive approach to the issue.

Dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders, including parliamentarians, is key to forging a consensus on concrete actions to end violence against women and girls.

Parliamentarians by definition are there to serve the public good and citizens- you were elected to serve ALL citizens. I call on you to never forget that the women and girls you serve – indeed, all humanity – place hope and trust in you. Deeds always count more than words and I count on your passion and commitment for us TOGETHER to bring an end to the history of violence.

I thank you very much.