Remarks by UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the CSW62 side event, Under the Spotlight: Ending violence against ALL women and girls

Date: Monday, March 12, 2018

[As delivered]

Thank you very much Ms. Munizae Jahangir for being our moderator this afternoon. I want to start my remarks by first paying my respects to your mother. Asma Jahangir was one of the best human rights lawyers and feminist leaders that we have been blessed with in the feminist movement. Thank you for carrying on her great work. Wherever she is, I think she is smiling on us. We are fortunate in the many exceptional leaders supporting this Initiative. From Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, to Amina Mohammad, our Deputy Secretary-General, who has worked every day around the clock to see this come to fruition.

This Initiative is a true endeavour by the United Nations and the European Union to work in a different way. As you see, not only do we have the Executive Offices of both organizations passionately involved in this specific initiative, we also have different UN agencies working closely together on the implementation for Spotlight: UNFPA, UNDP, ILO and UN Women. We also have civil society partners; and governments of the countries that are involved in the Initiative.

It is our intention, I can promise you, Lizzie Kiama (Kenyan disability rights activist and advocate), that this is a new beginning for us as well; that we shine a light on ourselves. And that we highlight the constituencies of women that might not have had enough attention paid to them in the past, and who therefore were in that sense invisible, even though they endured the violence that we are wanting to fight, and to end.

Miki Wali (trans and youth feminist activist, human rights defender and gender advocate from Fiji) also highlighted some of the specifics of fighting to end gender-based violence in a manner that recognizes the diversity of gender, so that we do not turn a blind eye to the different categories of women who experience specific types of violence.

There is an intention in Spotlight to be as broad as possible in the manner in which we work. For instance, if I take domestic violence as an example. That is the most prevalent type of violence in every society, in every class. It is very complex, as it is intimate, and it is difficult for people who endure that type of violence to speak out.

We find that we sometimes have to rely on the public health system and the health providers who see the women present with symptoms that show that they live with violence. It could be mental ill health. It could be women with bruises, women needing an eye specialist, an ear specialist, an orthopedic surgeon. And sometimes women turn up in the morgue.  

These days we have also learned about the prevalence of sexual harassment, the fact that it happens in every institution, in every country, and that it happens over a long period of time. The perpetrators of this type of violence get away with it because they can. Because for the longest time it was normalized. Women did not always feel that it was possible to complain and be heard. And the perpetrators thought that they were untouchable, that nothing would happen to them.

The tipping point that we are now talking about is the change of that culture, and the acceptance of what otherwise has been accepted as a way of life.

We thank and appreciate the #MeToo movement for using its own unique agency to help highlight many of the issues that you who are grassroots activists have been working on. Because grassroots activism does not attract the same level of media attention, it has not been possible to get the same visibility as people in Hollywood have. The important thing is to appropriate that visibility for the rest of the women. What we have tried to do, and continue to do, is to forge a united front with the women in that space, so that their victory will also be your victory, and your victory theirs.

Our stance is that gender-based violence is one of the truly universal phenomena that affect every country. Every woman—whether a queen, a CEO, a student, a grandmother, an activist—becomes equal when a perpetrator finds any one of us. Because the pain is the same, the violation is the same, the dehumanization is the same.  And therefore, it is important that we look at this as one of the bonds of sisterhood that we must win on together, and win for every woman, everywhere in the world.

Scale matters. One thing that I know for sure; in every country where we have seen a very dedicated fight to end violence against women, it has been because civil society has had the space and the support to lead on it. And in countries where governments do not support effectively the fight to end violence against women, civil society continues to fight. They fight with everything they have. They stay the course. They risk their lives.

And when governments come together to support civil society, when we institutions such as the UN as well as the EU come together, civil society thrives because it is able to demonstrate what it has been able to do and to scale up the many initiatives that we have undertaken in a small way.

So, everything comes together—in a combination of all these stakeholders who bring different strengths to the table.

In that way Spotlight gives us a new beginning, to learn from some of the mistakes of the past and some of the areas that we might not have shone the brightest light on. And we build on the rich experience that exists between us.

In our case, as UN Women, that includes the experience of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. Many of you are familiar with it, as the Fund works with civil society, and continues to be part of this Initiative, just as the work that has been done by UNFPA with civil society will continue to be part of this Initiative.

I am very optimistic that we have something here that we will build together. I have no illusion that we will not have challenges along the way. But I feel that because everyone will be within the tent, we will be able to solve the problems together, and we will be able to have the most significant impact.

I thank the colleagues from the EU for their vision, and I thank also our leadership in the UN for grasping this with both hands and making sure that it is put at the centre of the agenda for UN Reform as well as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Thank you.