UN Women - United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

Speech by Michelle Bachelet at the NGO CSW Forum Consultation Day

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Date: 04 March 2013

Speaker: Michelle Bachelet

Speech by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, at the NGO CSW Forum Consultation Day, in New York, on 3 March 2013.

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I am delighted to be here once again to address this wider NGO community on the day before the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women officially begins.

I am honoured by the opportunity to meet with so many women and men who have made achieving gender equality and promoting women’s empowerment their life ambition. Your energy and dedication is truly inspiring.

Let me start by thanking the Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women – New York, Ms. Soon-Young Yoon. It is also with great honour that I am speaking on the same occasion as Nobel Peace Prize winner, Tawakkol Karman. She is indeed the brave face of revolution, a woman fighting for change in her society.

This is the third time that I have been given the opportunity to address this important body in the lead up to the Commission on the Status of Women.

I want to say up front that this enthusiastic engagement of civil society sets the tone for the two weeks to come. The time for action is now. Discrimination and violence against women and girls have no place in the 21st century. But change is possible and change is happening.

On the global stage, there have been many major, even newsworthy, achievements for gender equality. The President of the United States has just signed a new Directive to Strengthen Work to Advance Gender Equality Worldwide. On 11 October 2012 the first-ever International Day of the Girl Child was launched and celebrated. Two female presidents were elected, in Malawi and the Republic of Korea, and the African Union has elected its first-ever female chairperson.

Unfortunately, success stories such as these were often overshadowed by stories of persistent and grave human rights violations of women and girls. In countries around the world, women and girls continue to be viciously attacked, raped and killed.

Yet even out of these horrific events we can see that things are changing, that indifference is declining and voices are rising to say, enough is enough.

The momentum is growing and we can hear the rumblings of this call to action among the people, among the thousands of civil society organizations in communities, cities and countries around the world. Women, men, and young people took to the streets with signs that ask “Where is the justice?” with rallying cries that say “Wake up!”

They declared solidarity with a Pakistani girl shot for defending the right to education; they pledged justice for a young woman in India and in South Africa who were brutally raped and later died; they demanded an end to the endless cases of rape and violence that threaten the lives of countless women and girls but never make the headlines.

This call echoed around the world on 14 February, where people left their offices, their homes, their shops, to come together, rise and dance in the One Billion Rising Campaign as an act of defiance against silence, indifference, and injustice.

It is an understatement to say that the priority theme of the 57th CSW, the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, is timely.

The world cannot afford the costs of violence against women and girls. The violence needs to stop. We need to take action. Make no mistake: there can be no peace, no prosperity, no progress, without the full and equal participation of women. Wherever I go, this is the message I convey.

It is the message I conveyed at the recent consultations on inequalities in Copenhagen, where the topic of discussion was nothing less than the future of sustainable development. It has finally become clear that in a post-2015 world, with the lessons we have learned from the Millennium Development Goals, violence against women and girls is undermining all of our development efforts.

This exclusion, this discrimination and this violence based on gender, is one of the biggest obstacles that we face in advancing sustainable development.

As we gather, we say no to all forms of violence against women.
No to intimate partner violence,
No to early and forced marriage,
No to crimes committed in the name of honour or passion,
No to female genital mutilation,
No to femicide,
No to sexual violence,
No to sexual harassment,
No to trafficking,
No to violence condoned by the State and
No to violence against women in conflict situations.

Today as many as 7 in 10 women in the world report that they have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. And although 125 countries have laws that penalize domestic violence, for 603 million women, domestic violence is still not a crime in their countries.

No country is immune to this human rights violation, and every country pays a price for these grave impediments to the development of society.

There have been many positive developments in legal frameworks, many of which were propelled by the staunch support of civil society. Now we must take on the challenge of implementation and accountability.

It is our hope that this CSW will result in action on the promises States have made, on the international treaties and agreements they have signed. Because laws and policies aren’t worth the paper they are written on if they do not lead to action.

This is the largest international gathering on ending violence against women, ever. Now is the opportunity for real progress, for new laws and policies that will be enacted, enforced, implemented and “popularized.”

And it is through the support of civil society that national Governments will undertake these measures and take into account groups who are often left behind, such as women living with disabilities, women living with HIV and AIDS, indigenous women, migrant women, adolescent girls and older women.

As we work to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, it is unacceptable to only scratch the surface. We must now effectively tackle the root causes of violence against women and girls. Here is where the State must uphold its part of the bargain, but also where civil society is an indispensable partner.

We need to dig deep: to patriarchal culture, discriminatory socio-cultural practices, unequal distribution of social, cultural and economic power and the economic disempowerment of women. We need awareness-raising, and education, and engagement of both men and women. I have said it many times, and I will say it again: we need to engage young men and boys as partners in our efforts for gender equality.

When we set up UN Women more than two years ago, we made ending violence against women one of our top priorities. And we are fully aware that this requires changing deeply rooted attitudes and cultural norms, and making headway towards equal rights, equal opportunities and equal participation, especially in decision-making.

How is UN Women working in this area? We support the development of laws, national action plans and polices, and capacity-building and training programmes. We provide funding to NGOs and civil society, contribute to advocacy and awareness-raising efforts, and support local initiatives.

Through the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, grantees carry out small-scale but powerful initiatives on the ground. To date, the UN Trust Fund has delivered more than USD 86 million to 351 initiatives in 128 countries and territories.

Our social mobilization and advocacy platform “Say NO-UNiTE to End Violence against Women” has mobilized and obtained the signatures of Heads of States, Ministers and parliamentarians from over 70 countries. It is also a platform for individuals and organization to share what they are doing in their communities, from local outreach to advocacy for legislation that protects women and girls from violence.

Together with UNICEF and UN-HABITAT, we launched a five-year program, “Safe and Friendly Cities for All,” to promote safety of women and girls in public spaces. We work with local leaders and civil society groups to prevent and reduce violence and to mobilize women’s groups, youth and children’s advocates to shape their urban environment. We now work in over 20 cities around the world, and this number continues to rise.

I would also like to highlight that last year in November, I launched UN Women’s COMMIT Initiative, which calls on Governments to implement international agreements on ending violence against women and commit to new, concrete steps to end this human rights violation that affects women worldwide, while building momentum toward the CSW and beyond.

From Togo, to the Republic of Korea, to Australia, to Turkey and Poland, some 40 countries have made clear, implementable national commitments in their countries and we expect to see more such pledges in the coming days.

UN Women supported the successful efforts of a delegation of women peace activists to participate in political stabilization negotiations in Mali during a time of political and humanitarian strife in early 2012.

And in Asia, a historic agreement was signed between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which made provisions that guarantee women the right to meaningful political participation and protection from all forms of violence.

Let me now turn to how are strengthening our partnership with civil society organizations.

Last year I launched the Global Civil Society Advisory Group. Thirteen civil society advisory groups have also been established at the regional, sub-regional and national levels by UN Women and civil society. The first regional group to be set up was for Latin America and the Caribbean, followed by Central and South Eastern Europe. At the sub-regional level, Caribbean and Pacific groups have been created, and nine countries have their own national Advisory Groups – Brazil, Cameroon, Georgia, India, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Pakistan, Tajikistan and the United Republic of Tanzania. In 2013, UN Women plans to establish at least 13 more civil society advisory groups around the globe.

These advisory groups are on their way to serving as dynamic forums for dialogue and engagement and I am pleased that about half of the Global group will be here with us during the session– as will some 20 more civil society advisory group members from the Central and Southeastern Europe Region, Latin America and the Caribbean Region, Cameroon, India and Brazil.

I count on their ingenuity, commitment and influence to build bridges among stakeholders, energize constituencies and facilitate information-sharing during the session. I look forward to our engagement during the session and beyond in 2013.

UN Women has also supported the development of a number of new regional NGO CSW Committees. We are grateful to these committees and their partners for the valuable contributions that they have already made to discussions at the CSW 57, through the consultation documents that they have produced and shared with UN Women and the CSW Bureau.

Last year, over 2,000 NGO representatives from 429 organizations participated in the annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women. But despite the invigorating discussions and initiatives by both Member States and NGOs, there were no agreed conclusions, which was very disappointing.

This year, NGO numbers are stronger and expectations for a strong outcome are high. We at UN Women know the value of civil society’s full participation in these, and other important sessions.

That is why we contacted the heads of delegations to make sure that they include representatives of civil society in their governmental delegations at this year’s CSW. UN Women is determined to build alliances with those organizations committed to making a difference in women´s lives.

This year, we are hopeful that the Commission will adopt agreed conclusions which reinforce international norms and standards, with concrete actions that can be implemented to prevent and end violence against women and girls in all its forms.

We strongly believe that policies must be informed by survivors’ experiences and that economic empowerment measures be an essential part of strategies for ending violence against women and girls.

The complexities of violence against women and girls are vast and enormous and the issue requires our full attention– nothing less. UN Women looks to you to share the wealth of knowledge and experience that you can bring to discussions on ending violence against women and girls during parallel events and panel discussions at this session. This is vital to a progressive outcome.

For my part, I remain committed to strengthening the relationship between UN Women and civil society. I remain keen on devising and developing ways to move forward on the issues of common concern and interest–together. I will continue working to expand spaces for civil society to engage in United Nations’ meetings and programs.

Towards the end of last year, during the Stakeholders’ Forum, which UN Women hosted, we heard directly from women survivors of violence. They stated very clearly that we should not ignore their voices and experiences. They want to be part of the solution and they look to the United Nations to devise policies that are strong, multi-pronged and effective.

As we look ahead, we now have the unique opportunity to prioritize gender equality and to shape a post-2015 development agenda based on inclusion, justice and equality.

Inequality is, and will continue to be, the main challenge of our century. Inequalities between men and women, between the wealthy and the marginalized, even between countries and regions have a disruptive impact that we can no longer afford to ignore.

As I mentioned, in the past few months, the international community has been involved in a worldwide consultation process on the topic of inequalities and the future of post 2015 development.

The final report of the addressing inequalities consultations, co-led by UN Women and UNICEF has been quite illuminating.

Listening and involving civil society, women’s rights organizations and individuals from all over the world should be an ongoing endeavor and not a one-time effort.

Dialogue and inclusion must always be at the center when addressing inequalities. Engaging people in development should not be considered a procedural formality, it is our collective duty.

People are not beneficiaries, they are partners in development. Without them, we cannot shape, let alone implement a new development agenda. Women’s full engagement is essential if we are to make women’s empowerment and gender equality a priority post-2015.

The post-2015 agenda will have to rely on a new social contract between States and citizens, which prioritizes inclusion, equality, and democratic participation. It will have to rely on a global governance system that is more just, where there is no room for unfair practices and deep rooted inequalities.

Gender equality must be a priority in the new global development agenda. Nothing short of that goal will deliver on the promise of a more equitable, inclusive, peaceful and sustainable world.

Ladies and gentlemen:

International Women’s Day is just around the corner. It is a day to celebrate all the advancements we have made so far towards building a world where gender equality is the norm and not the exception.

There are many achievements we can all feel proud of. A girl born today will more likely live and develop in a world that is more conscious of her capabilities and her value. She will have a better chance to study, to work, to speak her mind, than a girl born just half a century ago. She will have a better chance of being involved in designing and fighting for a more equitable, just, and peaceful world.

But our work is far from over because this is not true for every girl born in this world.

This is why International Women’s Day should also be a time to reflect on what still needs to be done. It should be a time to contemplate the challenges ahead, a time to regroup and plan our next steps. It is a time to move forward.

The good news is that violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Violence against women and girls is preventable.

You and I know that we all have a responsibility in ridding our world of violence and that your role as civil society cannot be understated.

Tawakkol Karman, who graces us with her presence today, said in her Nobel Lecture: “I have always believed that human civilization is the fruit of the effort of both women and men. So, when women are treated unjustly and are deprived of their natural right in this process, all social deficiencies and cultural illnesses will be unfolded, and in the end the whole community, men and women, will suffer.”

She goes on to say that “the solution to women’s issues can only be achieved in a free and democratic society in which human energy is liberated, the energy of both women and men together.”

I borrow her words today, not only because I find them truly inspiring, but also because this sentiment is exactly at the core of our efforts for gender equality and women’s empowerment, and for a life free of violence for all.

This is exactly what we need to do: combine the energies of both men and women to transform our world. Only then can we talk of progress. Only then can we assure a development based on inclusiveness and equality. The truth of the matter is we will all find a way towards development, or we will all fail in the attempt.

I want to thank all of you, gathered here today, for your hard work over the years. I know that many of the achievements we are so proud of today, have been made possible by you and others like you: dedicated people, committed to the values of justice, democracy, peace and equality.

You are here today because you believe that no country can advance inclusive growth and equality without protecting the human rights of girls and women to live free of violence and discrimination.

You are here because it will take the full support of Governments and the authority of the law to protect our hard-fought gains for gender equality.

And you are here because your voices are what will move our collective efforts forward. Because together, we can make this the century of inclusion for women.

Change is possible. Change is happening. And I am proud to stand here and to know that we are all a part of it.

Thank you very much.