Opening remarks by Lakshmi Puri at Stakeholders Forum on Eliminating Violence against Women

Date: Thursday, December 13, 2012

Opening remarks by Lakshmi Puri at Stakeholders Forum on Eliminating Violence against Women. 13 December 2012.

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Distinguished Delegates,
Leaders from Civil Society,
Colleagues and Friends,

On behalf of UN Women and our Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, it is an honour and privilege to welcome you to this Stakeholders' Forum on eliminating violence against women.

I would like to thank the distinguished Ministers and Heads of women's national machineries from many countries for being with us today. I would also like to thank Ambassadors from more than 30 Permanent Missions for accepting our invitation as panelists or lead discussants.

A special welcome to you, Ambassador Marjon Kamara, Chair of the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, who will have the task of shepherding Member States and other stakeholders towards a successful CSW outcome on the priority theme of eliminating violence against women and girls.

I salute the participation and presence of civil society leaders who have done so much to prevent and respond to violence against women in their respective countries, regions, and globally.

Eliminating violence against women must be our common effort and can be our common achievement. This is an issue that concerns us all, involves us all and requires concerted and urgent action. Achievements for gender equality and women's empowerment will be negated if we allow violence against women to persist.

This is about the woman beaten by her husband behind the walls of her home.

This is about the young woman who cannot walk the streets of the city where she grew up for fear of being raped.

This is about the woman who is splashed with acid for allegedly dishonoring a family member.

This is about the girl child who is married by force to a man she does not know and a life she does not want.

This is about all the women in conflicts where their bodies become battlegrounds and rape is used as a weapon of war.

This is about the woman who is tortured, mutilated or killed, sometimes before her very birth, for the simple fact of being female.

This is about girls, such as Malala Yousufzai of Pakistan who was shot in a school bus for speaking out on girls' right to education.

This is the human face of violence against women and girls.

Women and girls are at risk of violence when carrying out essential daily activities - within their homes, or while walking, taking public transport, collecting water or firewood. It occurs in all countries, contexts and settings and is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights. Ending violence against women is not about demanding exceptional treatment. It is simply about letting women live in dignity.

Violence against women constitutes the most severe expression of gender-based discrimination and disempowerment of women and girls. It is a threat to democracy, peace and security, an obstacle to sustainable development and an appalling human rights violation. It weakens social cohesion and harmony, social justice, and constitutes a heavy burden on national economies.

Yet, despite enormous challenges and gaps, we have seen progress in recent years. Much is due to the leadership of many of you in this room.

From being hidden in a culture of silence and impunity, the elimination of violence against women has become a national priority in many countries, supported by a strong international normative framework.

The obligations of States to take responsibility for responding to violence against women and girls are now part of the broad global human rights framework and increasingly of the global development framework. This is a strong foundation for women and girls' rights to equality and freedom from violence.

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW, provides an overarching framework. General recommendation 19 explicitly recognizes violence against women as a form of discrimination and stresses the responsibility and obligation of States to prevent and respond to violence. Specific obligations are also contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires States to take measures to protect girls from violence.

These conventions are supported by a number of General Assembly resolutions including the most recent Third Committee resolution on “intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women adopted just a few weeks ago. A major turning point took place in 1993 with the adoption of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. The Declaration was instrumental in overturning the prevailing stance that violence against women was a private, domestic matter not requiring state intervention.

Actions States are required to take to meet their commitments are also outlined in the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and in the Beijing Platform for Action, including the development of appropriate legislation, ensuring survivors access to justice, providing a range of multisectoral services and responses which are accessible to all women and girls, and engaging men and boys in prevention activities.

But these documents remain empty without implementation. Now is the time for Governments to translate international promises into concrete national action.

We have seen many good practices in recent years. It is essential to look at the evidence, at ‘what works' to address violence against women. Such experiences can serve as inspiration and motivation for others and be the engine for replication and scaling up. Most importantly, they need to underpin the expanding global normative framework and consensus on ending violence against women and girls.

Today's Forum will be an opportunity to share evidence from the ground and to demonstrate that, when Governments make adequate political and financial commitments, it is possible to see progress in eliminating violence against women.

We hope to see new and improved laws and national action plans that provide for protection and provision of multi-sectoral services that include free hotline services, police and justice responses, shelters, legal aid, medical and health care services, including sexual and reproductive health services, and psycho-social counseling and support to women survivors of violence and their children. It is also important that these services work together in the most efficient and effective way to reduce the burden and impact on women and girls in the process of reporting, response and recovery. These processes can be empowering for women.

We also hope to see stronger prevention efforts, because the best way to stop violence is for it not to happen in the first place. Multi-sectoral prevention is the new frontier that must be conquered. Prevention is not just about awareness-raising campaigns; a whole ecosystem of policies must be in place and connections must be made with other gender equality policies to promote comprehensive and holistic prevention and response. Violence against women does not happen in a vacuum - it is intrinsically linked to the multiple forms of gender discrimination witnessed in the political, economic and social spheres.

We count on education programmes that teach human rights, equality and mutual respect. We need increasing numbers of women in politics, law enforcement, and peacekeeping forces. We need effective social protection, equal economic opportunities and decent jobs for women. And we need better sexual and reproductive health policies and programmes that protect and promote reproductive rights, which are intrinsic to women's empowerment and the elimination of violence.

To achieve our goals, we need political commitment from the lowest to the highest political level. UN Women launched the COMMIT initiative this year, urging Heads of State and Government to announce initiatives to end violence against girls and women and to showcase these commitments to the public. We hope to hear new commitments during this Forum, in the lead up and at the CSW.

The upcoming session of the Commission on the Status of Women provides the prime political platform to bring about progress in strengthening the normative framework and accelerating implementation.

Member States need to take full advantage of the deliberative, consensus-building, policy-making and catalytic functions of the Commission to bring about a strong outcome for women and girls and to give an impetus and sustain holistic action. It is in the CSW that the seed for CEDAW was planted and so it was for the Declaration on Elimination of Violence against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action.

I call on all Member States to be bold and forward-looking in their deliberations in March 2013. You need to send a strong message to the world that all countries are united on the fact that there should be zero tolerance for violence against women.

Among other things, this implies that no customs, traditions or practices can be invoked to justify any form of violence against women. We are all responsible for shaping our cultures in a way that is respectful of women's rights. Indeed, we need to affirm a culture of zero tolerance for violence against women.

To this effect, all stakeholders - Governments, women's groups, faith-based organizations, youth, the private sector, civil society at large and all relevant actors - need to collaborate and work together towards a successful CSW outcome. At the center of your discussions must be only one consideration - progress for women and girls everywhere.

You are the leaders, practitioners and advocates from all regions and various backgrounds and we look forward to hearing about the work you have been leading on the ground. You are our champions and we need you to be mobilized and mobilize others.

Today and tomorrow, we will look at key areas that need to be tackled and issues where consensus needs strengthening. We will have an important dialogue and build alliances to ensure a strong outcome at CSW57.

We want to hear about your expectations for the CSW and what you believe could be the one concrete result or outcome that will accelerate change for women. And we also want to know which commitments you are prepared to make. This will help galvanize us for closing the implementation gap.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with these expectations in mind that we have focused the Forum around five thematic areas:

In the first panel, we will look at the solid and extensive global consensus that already exists and what needs to be strengthened at the intergovernmental level.

Translating this global normative framework into tangible results requires leadership, coordination and resources. This will be the focus of our second panel.

The third panel will examine the causes and risk factors of violence against women. This includes gender stereotypes and social norms and behavior patterns that perpetuate violence against women.

Because violence often happens at the intersection of multiple discriminations, targeted strategies are needed to ensure that all groups of women and girls are reached by an effective response. Panel four will discuss practices to expand prevention and support to particular groups of women. It will also focus on the role of men and boys in prevention.

Finally, we will look at responses to violence against women and what works on the ground, how services have been beneficially organized, and what difference they make in survivors' lives.

We will also host a Survivors' Forum today during lunchtime. This event will be a unique panel discussion with women survivors of violence who have used their experience to influence policy development and legislative reform and implementation on ending violence against women in their countries or communities.

Tomorrow, our Executive Director will join us for the closing session to summarize the main points that will come out of our discussions.

Thank you for your presence today and, most importantly, for your commitment. I look forward to rich discussions.