Speech by Michelle Bachelet : Reclaiming Public Spaces for the Empowerment of Women and Girls


Speech by Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women: Reclaiming Public Spaces for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. CSW Side Event. 07 March 2013.

Good afternoon,

Excellencies, colleagues, and friends. I extend a warm welcome to all of you.

I would like to welcome and introduce our panelists today. They are :

Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, the Deputy Executive Director of UN Habitat – partner with UN Women on two major global safe cities programmes

Christian Salazar, Deputy Director of Programmes, UNICEF – partner agency on Safe and Sustainable Cities Programme

Suneeta Dhar, Director of Jagori, New Delhi, India – one of the pioneering NGOs working on women’s safety, partner of UN Women and UN Habitat in Safe New Delhi Programme, and a recipient of the Gender Equality Fund

Josephine Castillo, Community organizer, DAMPA Federation, Groots Philippines, Huairou Commission and member of the Global Advisory Group of UN Women

Olga Segovia, Executive Director, Women in Habitat Network, Latin America and Caribbean, Chile – the oldest network in Latin America working on women’s safety in many countries of the region and long-standing partner of UN Women and UN Habitat

Mary Balikungeri, Founder of the Rwanda Women’s Network, partner of UN Women and UN Habitat in the Safe Kigali Programme

Please join me in giving them a warm welcome and round of applause.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to be with you as we gather to talk about a subject critical to the well-being of millions of women and girls around the globe.

This subject seems, at first glance, so simple and straightforward so that we take it often for granted.

It is about the ability of women and girls to be safe in public spaces – it’s about being able to wait for a bus…ride a subway…sell goods in a marketplace…walk to school be in the school, a store or a voting booth…swim in a pool…visit a friend – safely and peacefully. But so often, women and girls are in fear of public spaces –they get accosted, threatened, harassed or assaulted.

Violence against women and girls takes place every day in public spaces around the globe. Most cases, however, remain hidden – unspoken, unreported, unaddressed.

But sometimes…sometimes…the acts are so horrific that when publicized they draw the outcry, the revulsion and condemnation of people everywhere…and they rally millions to demand change.

You heard me say it before – this happened last October when Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl was shot by an assailant who boarded her school bus.

It happened in December when a 23-year-old medical student was robbed, gang-raped and thrown off a bus in New Delhi. All she wanted to do is get home safely after watching a movie. How many of you here in this room take it for granted to get home safely after an evening out with friends?

And it’s not just happening in the evening – it happened last month when Kepari Leniata, a 20-year-old Papua New Guinea mother, accused of witchcraft, was tortured and burned alive on a public street in broad daylight.

And it happens everywhere! More than 1 million women are stalked in the United States each year. Women and girls are kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery in Europe. Indigenous women disappear along British Columbia’s notorious Route 16, now called “The Highway of Tears.”

Instead of letting ourselves be overwhelmed by the staggering number of these incidents…

Instead of being paralyzed by the heart-rending stories of each individual victim…

Instead of being disheartened by what the prevalence of such violence might say about the state of humanity in the 21st century…

Let us speak; let us act; let us rise.

Events like our being together today allow us to share our experiences, our ideas and our recommendations to aid women and girls, our fellow human beings at risk around the world. If I have one hope, it is that when you leave this room after our meeting you are determined to take ACTION – to do what you can do to put an end to this.

We find ourselves at a unique global moment and opportunity. The momentum is there to break through the barriers to ending sexual violence and harassment in public spaces.

Research sponsored by the UN Safe Cities Global Initiative, for example, reveals that women and girls identify sexual harassment and fear of violence in public spaces as inhibiting their lives, and they are ready to break their silence about it and collectively move to action.

At UN Women, we are committed to working with the members of this panel, the members of this audience and all people of good will to bring experiences, diverse resources and determination to the table to maximize our impact and serve as a catalyst for change.

UN Women works collaboratively with UN-Habitat, UNICEF, UN Development Programme, and numerous global and local partners—including Huairou Commission, Women in Cities International, Women and HABITAT Network Latin America, and Groots International.

We work with many partners in cities across regions to develop innovative strategies to tackle this most important issue. We do this because we know that we have to unite to have greater and faster impact.

New cities are joining in our work all the time – including, most recently, Dublin, Ireland. In fact, our goal was to involve 35 cities by 2017, but that goal will be reached this year, in 2013.

And the Safe Cities program is already making a difference. In Quito, Ecuador, for example, women were encouraged to break the silence about their experiences through a public awareness letter-writing campaign. Some 10,000 letters were submitted and resulted in an amended city ordinance recognizing violence against women in public spaces.

In Rio de Janeiro, it’s making a difference through the use of mapping technologies to identify safety concerns in 10 of the city’s high-risk areas.

And it’s making a difference in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, where women organized a market vendor association and local government invested in improvements to ensure safety and a cleaner working environment.

I am excited and encouraged every day by the progress I see around me in this area. I know we have a long way to go, but change is happening.

I thank you for being here and I thank you for all you do.

I look forward to our conversation today and tomorrow and to our actions for many days to come. Let us work together for freedom and justice for all women and girls.