“Education is the single biggest transformative factor for the individual, the nation and society” – UN Women Executive Director

Speech by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at a High School visit on safe schools and the role of youth in preventing and responding to violence against women and girls, Hanoi, 29 March 2014.


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Excellency Vice Minister of Education, 

Distinguished Headmaster, 

Guests and students, 

I am delighted to be here with you today! 

I thank the organizers of this visit, the Department of Education and Training, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Plan International, and the Ministry of Education and Training.

I am especially appreciative of the opportunity to be with you, students, who represent Viet Nam’s future.

Before joining UN Women, I worked for many years on education. I established an NGO in my country, South Africa, focused on providing education in marginalized communities.  

And a few months ago, after years of continuing education, I received my PhD in education and technology.

Education is the single biggest transformative factor for the individual, the nation and society.  

Societies cannot thrive unless all children and young people have quality education that provides them with academic knowledge and an understanding of values. 

Both how you are taught and what you are taught provide important life experiences of how to live together. 

These values include equality, respect for diversity, care, empathy and compassion. 

Education also teaches us important competencies such as listening, paying attention to the needs of others, problem solving, being brave and speaking out in solidarity for ourselves, for others, for human rights for all.

Today, I look forward to discussing how we can individually and together make progress for gender equality and to end violence against women and girls, especially in schools. 

One in three women will be subject to violence globally. 

This violence knows no borders. It affects women and girls of all ages, all income levels, all races and ethnicities, and all faiths and cultures, globally as well as here in Viet Nam. 

According to the national study on domestic Violence Against Women (VAM) in Viet Nam, one in three ever-married women have experienced physical violence. If we add sexual violence and emotional abuse, this figure climbs to 58 per cent. 

Almost one in four women with children less than 15 years old reported that their children have been abused physically by their husbands. 

More than half of the women who experienced physical violence by husbands also reported that their children witnessed the violence at least once. 

Data also showed that these children who witness violence at home were more likely to experience emotional problems – such as nightmares, aggressive behavior, and low performance at school.

There is also evidence that violence is learned, not natural or inevitable.

According to Paz y Desarrollo and Partners for Prevention, violence in schools is high: 
  • 58 per cent of boys and 68 per cent of girls reported physical violence, 
  • 55 per cent of boys and 68 per cent of girls reported emotional violence, 
  • 35 per cent of girls and 39 per cent of boys reported social bullying, and 
  • 8 per cent of boys and 8 per cent of girls reported having experienced sexual harassment within the last 3 months. 
More than one in four students reported being beaten by their teacher’s hand and another one in four (26.4 per cent) of students reported being beaten by their teacher with an object in the last semester. 

Schools are an important setting for the prevention of violence against women and girls, men and boys. 

Schools should neither reinforce gender stereotypes, nor promote or condone any kind of violence. 

Schools ought to be safe places where we learn how to express and address conflict without resorting to violence, bullying or disrespect.

All over the world, there are important discussions on the need to end all forms of cruel and humiliating punishment, bullying and sexual or verbal harassment. This occurs in or around schools and educational settings, as a result of gender norms and unequal power relations between women and men, as well as boys and girls. 

Gender norms, including perceptions of what it is to be a real man (masculinity), are strongly linked to all kinds of violence against women and girls, including within the school setting. We know that everywhere in the world social norms still condone violence against women and girls, within both the private and public spheres.

We need prevention to stop violence before it occurs. Governments need to promote gender equality and girls’ empowerment, and we need to make sure that what we teach and learn in schools reinforce the values of equality, peace and social justice. 

Prevention should start early in life, by educating and working with young boys and girls promoting respectful relationships and gender equality. Working with youth is a “best bet” for faster, sustained progress on preventing and eradicating gender-based violence. While public policies and interventions often overlook this stage of life, it is a critical time when values and norms around gender equality are forged. 

Children can make a difference, a difference in your schools and your homes with the right message of harmony and equality. This can be the biggest driver for inter-generational transformation of human relations.  

UN Women works all over the world and on various fronts to address violence against women and girls.  We work with governments, with civil society organizations and directly with stakeholders, including youth like you.  
For example, in Lao PDR, young people were surveyed on their perceptions and attitudes related to violence. This was used to design a programme on gender equality and violence together with the Ministry of Education and Sports that would be implemented in schools across the country. 

In the Solomon Islands, UN women provided support to local organizations working with youth in schools and communities to identify and celebrate the attitudes, practices and norms that promote non-violence – reminding students that they were important messengers of peace. 

In Mozambique, more than 800 secondary school students, teachers and managers in Zambézia Province participated in debates on the issue. They focused on zero tolerance for violence particularly in the school environment, and drafted a commitment letter against VAW. 

UN Women believes that young people, all of you, are key to stopping violence through greater awareness, more gender-equitable attitudes, taking action to show that violence should not be tolerated, and by modeling your own respectful relationships. 

This means treating each other equally and never inflicting any physical, sexual or emotional harm on anyone, including your peers.  

Respectful relationships start with respecting ourselves and others, communicating feelings in a safe and open way, resolving conflicts or disagreements peacefully, believing in each other’s independence and right to make choices regarding our own lives, sharing decision-making and asking for the other’s consent when it comes to intimacy of any kind. 

If we pay attention to our own behaviour and encourage our friends to do the same, violence can and will be stopped – be those change makers and show the world that a better, healthier, more-just life, is possible! 

I thank you very much for your attention today, as well as for your energy and enthusiasm, and I encourage you to become advocates against gender-based violence and towards a more equitable society. 

Thank you.