International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Executive Director calls for collaboration and strong leadership in efforts to prevent violence against women

Remarks by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the official commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November in New York.

Date: Wednesday, November 25, 2015

[As Delivered]

Mr. Secretary-General,
Mrs. Ban,
Mr. Richard Lui, our wonderful moderator,
Your Excellency Ms. Gillian Bird, Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations, thank you so much for that $6 million gift,
Ms. Maya Wiley, Counsel to the Mayor of New York,
Ms. Mallika Dutt, President and CEO of Breakthrough, our partner,
Mr. Tony Gubesa, Site Coordinator for Grassroot Soccer from South Africa,
Ms. Sarah Kay, poet,
Excellencies, Ministers,
ladies and gentleman,
our colleagues, friends who are joining us on the webcast.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we repeat again: violence against women is not acceptable. It is not inevitable. And it can be prevented. Violence against women and girls is not only one of the most serious human rights violations, it is also one of the most tolerated violations of rights.

This year, our focus is on preventing gender-based violence before it happens. We also focus on sharing lessons learnt from all our work together with you. Ending violence against women requires commitment and zero tolerance at the highest levels of leadership. This is one of the important lessons we have learned.

That is why we applauded Heads of States and Governments, the majority of whom named ending violence against women and girls as a priority for action at our Global Leaders’ Meeting on gender equality and women’s empowerment in September on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

In practice, one such example is one of our HeForShe Champions, the President of Malawi.

Malawi will fully implement its 2015 Family Act, which outlawed child marriage, including through local and district-level marriage courts, and by working to change mind-sets. This is a good step. Ensuring that even greater progress is made will require strong leadership in Malawi. 

We have an important responsibility to ensure that all women have access to justice, and are supported by essential services, including through training women in their legal rights, and teaching police officers how to respond to the signs of domestic abuse.

Another lesson we have learnt is that preventing violence against women and girls also calls for groups working together to change attitudes on the ground. We have just concluded two days of discourse with civil society, with specific plans for our united action, including work at the grassroots level, and one of the issues to focus on is that of eliminating violence against women and girls.

We can prevent violence through community groups that educate men about unequal power relations that perpetuate violence against women and positive masculinity. We can prevent violence through harnessing the power and authority of faith-based groups, cultural groups, sport at different levels—like our friends here from Grassroot Soccer. We can empower women by letting them experience resilience and fairness, and giving them safe spaces. Similarly we are working with men and boys in many similar settings, building a new perspective on positive masculinity and related programmes.

We are fighting to end gender stereotypes and the continued existence of unequal power relationships that underlie the continuation of violence in its many forms. To do this we also need laws across the world that enforce elimination of violence against women. When all of these are implemented in tandem, we know that behaviours can change.

We are seeing some encouraging progress when all of these are done together. One hundred and twenty-five countries have laws against sexual harassment and 119 have laws against domestic violence. Though the laws in many cases are still poorly enforced and some countries still need to close the legislative gaps. The lesson we have learnt is that where laws are enforced, progress is made.

And we now have a 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which provides us with explicit targets to eliminate violence against women. With the combination of committed leadership and grassroots action, acting in unison, we can make a change. We must build on this momentum. As an intergovernmental body with strong relations with civil society, UN Women is strongly motivated to do even more with all of you.

Today, monuments around the world—from the Pyramids in Egypt to the European Commission in Brussels—will be lit orange in solidarity and the promise of change. And tuk-tuk drivers in Cambodia and police officers in Albania, all will be joining the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence.

Here in the lobby of the United Nations this morning, we lit the Thankful Tree and filled it with our wishes for the 16 Days and beyond. I thank Kim McDonnell and Mike Chuter for bringing the tree all the way from Australia and for raising vital resources for the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women. I invite you all to visit the tree and add your own thoughts.

Violence against women is complex and pervasive. It is at home, it is a reality for millions of women in conflict and post conflict areas where extremist groups target women and girls.

Violence is directed at women because of their sexual orientation, because of their race, because of their religion and because they are indigenous women. It affects women in rich and poor countries alike. It is a universal problem. In our work we must leave no hurting and no violated women behind. Our responses must be comprehensive and targeted because the problem is complex. 

The UN system is a strong partner in this, from the strong efforts to end sexual violence in conflict, implementing the Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security, to the education of girls and boys from the earliest days. But we must further intensify our efforts. 

We will continue to work with businesses, with member states, with cities and with villages, with our core partners everywhere in the world, with civil society, women’s organizations and increasingly with men and boys, until we reach true equality, a Planet 50-50—where women and girls can live without violence. 

I thank you.