Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender Violence

“We are responsible for making our communities safe”—Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at Gerehu Market in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Date: 02 December 2016

[As delivered] 

I would like to appreciate the presence of our many colleagues and partners here: the Honourable Governor of National Capital District Commission, the Australian High Commissioner, the New Zealand High Commissioner, the Representative of the European Union, colleagues from the United Nations, from the Australian National Committee, and our colleagues and friends from FIFA. It’s wonderful that you chose this country for this football tournament, which is so important for the motivation of young people and young women. 

Thank you all for being here. I also want to appreciate the fact that I see in the audience so many young people. I see children.  I see men.  I see women. What this means is that we are here about an issue that is everybody’s concern. Our diversity here captures the fact that we are dealing with a complex issue that needs us to respond comprehensively. 

This visit to the famous Gerehu market of which we are so proud, encourages us to see that if we work together, we can bring about change. The women who work in this market deserve to trade in peace, to be able to keep their money firmly in their pocket without any danger of it being snatched. I thank you for the investment that has been made by our partners to make it possible for us to improve the market. 

I also want to acknowledge the fact that the National Capital District Commission has played— and continues to play—a role to support this market. 

Governor Powes Parkophas made sure that the Safe Cities initiative in Papua New Guinea has a unique way of reaching out to the public. This concept of Safe Cities exists not just in Papua New Guinea. We have a Safe City in India, in Egypt and in South Africa. In each country, it is the leaders who make the initiative what it can be for the people in the community, and in that country. 

The fact that here you have picked the issue of the safety of women in the market shows that you are addressing the real problems of the people of Port Moresby and responding to the felt needs of the women of this community. Of course, you are also supporting the work to achieve safe cities through other initiatives and campaigns that increase the number of people who can benefit from the campaign. 

[The year] 2016 has been declared the year of Safe Cities for Women and Girls in Port Moresby. That again helps us to have an ongoing conversation that goes beyond the women’s groups and the activists who are focused on fighting to end violence against women. It opens up a conversation that belongs to the church, the sports fraternity, the police force and the schools.

 The men in our communities need to know that they must be in the forefront to end violence against women. We need to hear more men standing up and saying, “I will not beat up a woman. This is my commitment.” 

So it is this spirit that we want—the spirit of ownership, because as brothers, as fathers, as leaders, as partners, we are responsible for making our communities safe.

By joining and working in partnership with women, we also become role models for young people. 

The tragedy of domestic violence is that in families where children observe their mothers or their sisters experiencing violence, they begin to believe that this is normal—that this is the way to be a man. Yet we know that a good man does not show his strength by being violent towards a member of his family. Children need to know that a home is a safe place, where every member of the family should be comfortable and happy. 

This year we did a study, as instructed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has given us this UNiTE campaign. This study was on women’s economic empowerment. In this study we are looking at how we can change the lives of women through their effective participation in the economy. What came out of the study is the importance of women, and their role in the informal sector: the women who are in the markets, and those who are traders.  Women’s economic empowerment and leadership become truly transformational when it comes from the bottom up. 

In many countries, women in the informal sector are the majority of the women who work outside the home. In India, for instance, 190 million women who work outside the home, work in the informal sector. I am sure the numbers are high in Papua New Guinea as well. 

We are beginning to look at ways to use the study results to further support initiatives such as this one. Where women are in the markets, they are in the informal sector, but they are already organized and therefore have the capacity to do even more for themselves: to support children better, to grow their businesses, to learn to read, to write, to manage their resources,  as I know is already happening here. 

Also women can learn to be leaders. The woman in the market can be the woman who is the next Mayor, the next Counsellor, or the next President of the country!

So coming together like this is a multi-purpose initiative. It is about making the businesses work; making sure that women are safe; making sure that there is a bond of sisterhood and solidarity between and amongst women. It is about bringing men to work with women so that there is greater appreciation. 

The Safe Cities programme now operates in three markets. It brings into security 2,000 vendors, 85 per cent of whom are women. And the safety that the women experience as a result is priceless. Alongside the National Capital District Commission, the police and Vendor Association are ensuring that the markets are a safe place to sell produce and earn a living. 

The fact that we have taken the time to design infrastructure in a manner that makes business easy and safe is important. Whether you are working in a mall, in a factory, or in a manufacturing plant, you would pay attention to the tools of the trade, to the environment that you work in, to health and safety issues. Women in the informal sector deserve the same, because this is also the place where in many cases they spend most of the hours of the day. So this therefore should be a place where they are able to be comfortable. 

The 16 Days of Activism is a period of 16 days in a year. But fighting to end violence against women is an everyday cause. It is something that we must be concerned about and active in every day. Even if you do not get time during the year to express and show your commitment to the fight to end violence against women, during this 16 Days it is important that you actually take time and take it in. Reflect about your country, your community, about what you could dedicate to do to make change and support people, so that when we come together like this it helps us with what we want to achieve. 

Remember, what you think about many times, is what you do. What you do becomes your habit.  What becomes your habit becomes your character. What becomes your character can become your destiny. So if you spend a lot of time with people who are filled with these positive thoughts, and thinking together about how to change society, you are beginning to address a change of destiny. 

As UN Women, we count on you as partners who will not look the other way when you see a problem or when you see violence. You will stand up for a member of the family who is living with violence.  You will make sure that the authorities that need to be aware are made aware. And that some measures are taken to bring about protection in the family. 

We want to make sure that when women have experienced violence, they know that they are not alone. That there is somewhere they can go to, outside their families, to the many civil society and women’s organizations that are here, to their churches, their pastors, the police, or their Governor. Everyone who is here today is with you. Just have the courage and the conviction that you will be able to overcome this, and you are not alone. You must come out and use the services and support that is being made available to you by the Government. 

You heard from the Governor. The Government is concerned. The Government wants to see change. The Government wants to support the initiative of organizations like UN Women and others. The donors here want to see change.  The United Nations family in its totality has got your back. But we need you to work with us so that together we can make this beautiful country better. 

For those of you who have not been watching the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup matches, I encourage you to watch the games that are in your country. It is once in a lifetime that a country hosts something like this.  This is something that is truly special.  It is nation building. It shows our girls in their best light. Bring your children, make them watch it on TV, and talk about the match. Tell them that they too can be a TV star and kick the ball into the net. But keep bad habits out of society and through that they will stand tall, as champions in society.