Remarks by UN Women Executive Director on the occasion of the 16 Days of Activism in Bahrain

Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, on the occasion of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence in Bahrain

Date: Wednesday, December 6, 2017

[As delivered]

Thank you very much to our moderator, Her Excellency Hala Mohammed Jaber Al Ansari, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Women. Excellencies, members of the Supreme Council for Women, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues from the UN, it is wonderful to be here, and I thank the Kingdom of Bahrain for the warm welcome that I have enjoyed. 

I want to thank the Kingdom of Bahrain also for their commitment to the women’s empowerment agenda, as seen in the launch of the first UN Women programme office in the country, where this morning we opened the doors for UN Women at the UN House. In particular, I thank Her Excellency, Hala Ansari, for the welcome to the Supreme Council for Women and for the strong partnership we enjoy. We truly feel like we are a team. 

I want to also, from the outset, acknowledge with appreciation the progress that has been made in the unification of the family law, which improves the protection and the benefits that women have as citizens in relation to ending violence against women. This is the time when women around the world are making strides, and when countries are also making strides in addressing violence against women. But of course, it is also a time when we have many setbacks. On a day like this, we acknowledge the setbacks, but we also appreciate the progress. 

One piece of news that is hot off the press is the fact that the TIME Magazine Person of the Year, which has just been announced eight minutes ago, is all the women who are part of the “MeToo” hashtag movement. They have been rewarded for giving women their voice and for assisting us to engage perpetrators, so that they can be sanctioned and stopped. I think it is also very important to make it clear to society that harassment of women and violence against women is not a way of life. It is tormenting, it is hateful, it must not be tolerated. We hope this begins a change where there will no longer be a culture of silence or the tolerance of any form of sexual violence against women, including harassment. 

We are here in Bahrain to celebrate our new office, to strengthen our partnership, but also to celebrate with you the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. This 16 Days runs from the 25 November to 10 December. During this 16 Days, we try to highlight all forms of violence against women and girls, and we try to intensify our education of the public about violence against women. This is not the only time we need to do this, it is just a time when we consolidate our efforts. 

This campaign is observed all over the world. It has a colour, and the colour of the campaign is orange; standing for a light that shines bright, and expressing a wish for a world in which women and men and girls and boys will live without violence. Some of the critical deterrents of violence against women include educating women, so that they are able to remove themselves from situations that may harm them or take their children away, and empowering them economically so they have an option to live by themselves, away from their abusers. So, women’s economic empowerment, a subject that is close to our heart, is a form of fighting violence against women. Legislation is also critical as a deterrent of violence against women. 

The engagement of men and boys as activists in their own right is another key to ending violence against women, which is why we have a movement called HeForShe - men who stand for gender equality. In that movement, we expect men to take a stand, to be the one who will say, “I will not beat up a woman”; “I will not marry a child”; “I will not be involved in the trafficking of women”; “I will not abuse a woman who is a domestic worker”; “I will not abuse disabled women”; “I will not cyberbully girls”. The HeForShes are the men who lead from the front and speak about these issues and motivate other men. 

Violence against women in the Arab States is as much a challenge as it is in many parts of the world. In the region, at least 37 per cent of women have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime, according to the data available. I am so thankful that we are now in this country, and that we are also going to be hearing how we can collate and use data so we can make evidence-based decisions. We know Bahrain also struggles with violence, including domestic violence, but we also know that there is a resolve to address this. 

UN Women is a partner—everywhere in the world where women are, where governments are and where civil society is. We exchange information and experience that we gain in other parts of the world to share best practices and ensure no one is left behind. 

I wanted to also appreciate some of the changes that we have seen in this part of the world. The Government of Lebanon has repealed a law that had previously allowed men who had raped a woman to avoid punishment if they married them. They join Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia, which also repealed such legislation. This was met with a lot of jubilation and congratulations from many other women around the world. On the 20th of July this year, Tunisia passed the most comprehensive violence against women law in the region which includes domestic violence and sexual harassment.

These are some of the changes that we are seeing, and these are some of the steps that are indicating that we have progress in the region. As we move forward, now as an office that will be resident here, we hope that these and other experiences will help us to build a formidable programme, so that every year we can report to you that we are making progress; that we are changing the stereotypes that exist about women; that we are changing the norms that help to perpetuate violence against women. 

We have learned that, even though we pass many good laws, if we do not change the stereotypes and the norms, the good laws don’t work. One of the biggest mistakes that people of my generation made was that we never focused on changing social norms and stereotypes. We campaigned to pass good laws, and the laws were passed. We did not understand why the laws were not working, because of course the good law and the bad norms and stereotypes lived side by side. It is for that reason that now we focus on working with religious leaders, traditional leaders, men and boys, families and schools, because all of them are important for changing these cultural norms and stereotypes. 

In the year 2020, it will be 25 years after the Beijing Platform for Action. During that year, we will want to look back and see how far we have come. We will want to rank countries, to see how much we are achieving the world that we want in 2030, as indicated in the Sustainable Development Goals. 

We think Bahrain should be one of those countries that will be ranked very high at that time. So, let’s get on and do some work, and become number one. Thank you.