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

Speech by Michelle Bachelet at the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts

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Speech by Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women at the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts Event “Stop the Violence: Girls at the Front lines of Prevention” on 7 March, 2013

Date: 07 March 2013

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Good afternoon,

It is truly a great pleasure for me to be with you. I want to thank Mary McPhail and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts for your terrific partnership.

The 57th meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women gives us a very unique chance. It is the chance for us together to push the borders on the elimination of violence against women and girls. It is the chance and our responsibility to do all we can to eliminate violence against women in our century! 

We have come together –as governments, activists, and the United Nations – to say: ENOUGH! We must and we can end violence against girls and women.

I am often asked if it is possible to end this global pandemic that claims up to 7 in 10 women in their lifetime. After listening to all of you, I am more than ever convinced that it is possible. 

Every day in every country, women and girls – our friends, neighbours, sisters, daughters, aunts and mothers – are beaten, verbally abused, burnt by acid, harassed in schools and on the streets, raped in times of conflict and peace. 

In every country that I have visited, I have heard heartbreaking stories of abuse, but also unforgettable accounts of survival and the strength of women and girls. Just recently, I met women in Mali who were the front-line victims of the crisis, and they haven’t given up. They are speaking out, they are calling for guarantees of representation in the peace negotiations, they are calling for the assurance that there will be no impunity for those who have committed rape and other forms of violence.

We heard the story of Shehnaz Bano from India, a survivor of dowry-related violence. Shehnaz endured violence at the hands of her husband and in-laws. But one day, the day her sister-in-law attacked her with a knife. She found the strength and the courage and filed a case under the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, and she won. But that is not the sort of strength and courage women should be asked for - this should not happen in the first place! 

Today, she is enrolled into a computer science programme in Delhi University.

And we heard from Kumbukani, a Girl Guide from Malawi at an event earlier this year, about her relentless fight against child marriage, despite community pressure and taunts against her.

These are not stories of defeat and despondency. These are stories of survival, and a call for action. 

These are lives of real women, stories that cannot leave us indifferent. Ending violence against women and girls is not a matter of choice. First, and I ask you, do you want to see your daughter, your sister, your mother be one of the seven in ten women statistics? It’s an imperative to eradicate violence if we truly wish to see sustainable development, equality and peace.

There is no more effective remedy to end violence against women and girls than stopping it before it begins. I am so pleased that UN Women and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts have become partners in prevention. 

Prevention starts in the mind and the heart. It starts very early in life, it starts in how we teach our children to treat others and it starts with us not discriminating between girls and boys. 

Notions of inequality and practices of discrimination indeed begin early. All too often, girls and young women are treated as the subjects of prevention efforts. Girls and young women, on the contrary, just as boys and young men, can be tremendous agents for change, reservoirs of energy and talent and hope. 

Engaging young people – girls and boys, young men and women – as participants and agents is the key to social transformation and a future where we have ended violence against women and girls.

The Stop the Violence Curriculum that we are launching today is a tool that many of us have been looking forward to. It’s a one of a kind international curriculum that puts young people at the heart of solutions to the challenges they face. It will equip them with knowledge about their rights, and tools to claim those rights. It will enable them to engage peers and communities to lead and shape prevention efforts. From age five to 25, the curriculum has something for everyone, everywhere – girl and boy, man and woman. 

The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts will implement the curriculum through its membership of 10 million youth. We have more partners in the room today who are geared up to roll out the curriculum to their youth constituencies. 

We are looking to Member States for their leadership and action to take this curriculum to their Ministries of Education, to schools, to communities and to work with us to adapt it to their national context. We are looking forward to schools, teachers, and parents taking this on board, so that prevention and dialogues on gender equality and ending violence against women and girls start as early as possible. So that girls and boys grow up understanding their rights, respecting each other, and reject the harmful attitudes and behaviours that have crippled our societies for so long.

We are counting on each and every one of you to add your support by sharing the curriculum with your Girl Guide and Girl Scout groups, your peers, your schools and communities. Leverage the power of the Internet and social media to spread awareness about the issue and the actions you are taking.

Yes we can end violence against women and girls - let’s say it out loud here together and I invite you to join me in saying: YES WE CAN!

Today, we are at least 10 million activists stronger, with Guides and Scouts mobilizing everywhere. Trust me; it’s a force to reckon with.

I thank you.