Statement: A life without the threat of violence for everyone: leave no one behind

Message by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 25 November 2017


The initial response to the outpouring of ‘#MeToo’ around the world has been of outrage at the scale of sexual abuse and violence revealed. The millions of people joining the hashtag tide showed us how little they were heard before. They poured through the floodgate, opening up conversations, naming names and bolstering the frailty of individual statements with the robustness of a movement.

This virtual class action has brought strength to those whose stories would otherwise have not been told. Sexual violence in private almost always ends up as one person’s word against another, if that word is ever spoken. Even sexual violence in public has been impossible to call out when society does not view rape as a male crime but as a woman’s failing, and views that woman as dispensable.

We are seeing the ugly face of violence brought out into the light: the abuses of power that repress reporting and diminish the facts, and that exclude or crush opposition. These acts of power draw from the same roots, whether they concern the murder of a woman human rights defender standing up against big business interests in the Amazon basin, a young refugee girl forced to have sex for food or supplies, or a small business employee in London forced out of her job for being ‘difficult’, after reporting the sexual misconduct of her supervisor. In each case, and over and over, these acts of abuse have stemmed from a confidence that there will be no significant reprisal, no law invoked, no calling to account. 

But everyone has the right to live their life without the threat of violence. This holds for all people, no matter what their gender, age, race, religion, ethnicity or caste, and irrespective of their income level, sexual orientation, HIV status, citizenship, where they live, or any other characteristic of their identity.

Violence against women and girls is not inevitable. There are many ways to prevent violence in the first place and to stop cycles of violence repeating.

As a society, we can support the passing and implementation of laws to protect girls and women from child marriage, FGM, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, and we can agitate for their impact to be properly monitored and evaluated.

The provision of essential services for survivors of violence must be comprehensive, multi-sectoral, non-judgmental, of good quality and accessible to everyone, with no exceptions. These services are the frontline of response to those whose lives have just been ruptured; they must have the survivor’s dignity and safety as central concerns. 

Prevention of violence must begin early. The education system and teachers themselves are at the forefront of children and young people learning to carry forward the principles of equality, respect and non-violence for future generations. This takes appropriate curricula and role model behaviour.

What #MeToo has shown clearly is that everyone has a part to play in changing our society for the better. We must speak out against harassment and violence in our homes, workplaces, in our institutions, social settings and through our media. #MeToo has also shown us that no one is immune. All institutions need to be aware of the potential for violence to occur among their staff. With that knowledge, we must take steps to prevent it, and at the same time be well prepared to respond appropriately.

In this broad effort to end violence against women and girls, we see men as playing a vital role in bringing change. Challenging sexism, male dominance and male privilege as society’s norm starts with modeling positive masculinities. Parents can instill principles of equality, rights and respect as they raise their sons; and men can call out their peers for the behaviours that are now being understood as the unacceptable tip of the harassment iceberg.

At the heart of today’s theme of ‘leaving no one behind’, is leaving no one out. This means bringing women and girls as equals into everything that concerns them, and planning solutions to end violence with those who have been previously dismissed, sidelined or excluded. 

As a global community, we can act now to end violence against women and girls, to change institutions and work together to end discrimination, restore human rights and dignity, and leave no one behind.

Read more

In a series of 16 blogs for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka addresses 16 ways to end violence against women

  • Joint Statement: ‘Freedom from fear’: Ending violence against women
    Human beings are born free and equal, both in rights and in dignity. This is the fundamental principle enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On 10 December nearly 70 years ago, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first international assertion of the “highest aspiration of the common people”, including the “promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms”, and “… a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want”.
  • Executive Director’s blog series, day 15: Sexual violence in conflict
    Sexual violence against women and girls in conflict-affected countries is being used as a tactic of war, with devastating consequences for women across the globe. This form of violence is the weapon of choice for armed actors looking to destabilize societies, given its ability to traumatize individuals, generate stigmatization, and fragment family and community bonds for years, even well after ‘peace’ has been made.
  • Executive Director's blog series, day 14: Violence against LGBTI persons
    The freedom to be who you are and love who you choose is a fundamental human right. States have clearly established legal obligations to safeguard the human rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people. Yet in 72 countries around the world, LGBTI people do not have this freedom.
  • Executive Director's blog series, day 13: Violence against women in rural communities
    This October, I received an unusual and very welcome present on the International Day of Rural Women: a declaration from 295 women of Yoni Chiefdom in the northern part of Sierra Leone. Entitled “Yoni Chiefdom Women Declaration on Bondo Bush Practice (Female Genital Mutilation)”. It set out the readiness from the Bondo society to end FGM in the Yoni Chiefdom, and to “see our girls go to school and become somebody in society”.
  • Executive Director's blog series, day 12: Cyberviolence
    With new technologies come new opportunities to connect with people, access information, and pursue education and employment. These are valuable assets especially for women and girls for whom these activities may otherwise be limited.
  • Executive Director's blog series, day 11: Human trafficking
    It’s a familiar, age-old story; family members who leave home in search of a job, a better life and new horizons. These days, women who set out on this journey are an important part of the overall migration picture, accounting for more than half of all migrant workers worldwide.
  • Executive Director’s blog series, day 10: Safe public spaces
    Sexual and gender-based violence in public spaces is never acceptable. Yet across the world girls and women are daily subjected to it – from harassment and comments, to stalking and assault. Their experiences on public transport and city streets are so frequent that the sense of unsafety is almost normalized.
  • Executive Director’s blog series, day nine: Violence against women and girls with disabilities
    One billion people experience some form of disability, including about 1 in 5 women compared to 1 in 3 men, and with that, a heightened risk of violence, which in turn is a cause of disability.
  • Executive Director’s blog series, day eight: Ending violence against widows
    The marriage of a child to an older man sets up a power imbalance that is likely to last a lifetime and carries with it the threat of unwanted pregnancies, health risks and violence. However, in many countries it can be even worse for the woman whose husband dies, as without him she may have no status, no right to property, and no ownership of family assets, even if they were hers before.
  • Executive Director’s blog series, day seven: Leaving no one out from health
    Every four minutes, three young women become infected with HIV (UNAIDS Right to Health report, 2017). They are clearly not enjoying their right to health, nor will they, until we are able to reverse the inequalities and discrimination that fuel HIV spread.
  • Executive Director’s blog series, day six: Ending child marriage
    Not only is marrying young a form of violence in itself, where girls who are not physically or emotionally ready to leave home, must become sexually active and start their own family; it also makes them more vulnerable to being beaten or threatened by their husbands than girls who marry later.
  • Executive Director’s blog series, day five“Ni Una Menos” (Not One Less) — Fulfilling the promise to end femicide for women and girls
    In what has now become an alliance through Latin America to end the brutal sexual violence and murder of women and girls, the rallying cry of “Ni Una Menos”, or ‘not one less’ has galvanized a call for urgent action at all levels, from government policy-makers to individual change-makers.
  • Executive Director’s blog series, day four: End the democratic deficit
    A critical part of UN Women’s work in ending violence against women and girls is supporting change in discriminatory laws and policies. In fighting for policies that empower women and prevent and eliminate gender-based violence, we’ve worked to ensure more women have access to policymaking positions, political leadership and other seats of power.
  • Executive Director’s blog series, day three: No impunity for violence against indigenous women
    We need to treasure our indigenous women and girls. They have unique knowledge and skills, sophisticated ecological knowledge and adaptive responses to climate variability, including environmental practices that lower carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Executive Director’s blog series, day two: #MeToo has made us all responsible for change — Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
    The viral #MeToo social media conversation was unprecedented in opening up revelations of sexual violence and abuse in both private and public sectors. It has helped to publicly expose the scale and reach of sexual violence, and with that awareness, made us all responsible for change.