Speech: Together, ending violence, the most de-humanizing form of gender oppression

Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the launch event of the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to End Violence against Women


[As delivered] 

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed,

Ms. Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union,

Mr. Neven Mimica, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development,

Colleagues from the UN system, especially the Acting Executive Director of UNFPA, my sister Natalia Kanem, and the Administrator of UNDP, Achim Steiner, who are core to this initiative and who I acknowledge for the work they have put into this. 

I want also to thank the team and the colleagues from the Executive Office of both the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General, as well as the colleagues and the teams from the EU, for the speed with which this work has been done. Intergovernmental bodies are not usually known for speed. However, it is clear that this issue is so high on all of our agendas, and with the Deputy Secretary-General’s determination, we have been able, in relatively few months, to be here today and to present this initiative. 

Gender-based violence is the most de-humanizing form of gender oppression. It exists in every society, in every country, rich and poor, in every religion, and in every culture. If there was anything that was ever universal, it is gender inequality and the violence that it breeds against women. It is also one violation and crime that is perpetrated by relatives and people that women trust, love and depend on, bringing about conflict in the lives of women. We have to bring these people to book. The level of tolerance in society for this crime is seen by the extent to which law enforcement is able to ignore the steps that they need to take to prevent and to prosecute this crime. 

When we talk about one out of three women having experienced violence in their lifetime, this is based on scientific research led by WHO. A lot of the data gathered came from health practitioners. Not all women who experience violence report these crimes, so we can deduce that the figures may be even higher. Emergency rooms in hospitals, dentists, eye specialists, orthopedic surgeons, mental health specialists, and even pathologists give us the statistics that explain to us how complex this crime is and how frequent it is. 

For the longest time violence was regarded as something that was private. The UNiTE campaign to end violence against women, which involves many of you in the United Nations, has helped us a lot to bring this crime into the forefront of attention and to make sure that it is not private. We have also been able, with the help of many of you—civil society, the EU itself, and many governments who are here today—to make sure that we do not allow this crime to be treated as anything else but as a crime, just like any other. It is not acceptable to regard violence against women from a partner as a crime of passion. There is no passion in beating up and killing anyone. 

When a man kills a woman, and for that matter, when a woman kills a man, it is murder. When a man kills a woman, we often hear that passion is involved in it, as if it has to be justified, and the perpetrator has to be given the benefit of the doubt. With the work that we are hoping to do now, we will be dealing with the fundamental stereotypes that perpetrate this kind of outlook and value system. We will be engaging and dealing with the challenges of families that we need on our side, with communities and men and boys, and strengthening civil society and women’s movements who have been in the forefront of this work with very limited resources. 

We will be dealing with the power relations that rob women of the capacity to decide about their own bodies. We hope this Spotlight Initiative will be a game changer. It is critical for us to build a movement for gender equality that is able to work across all countries and all nations determined to be game changers, and to ensure that by 2030, as projected in the Sustainable Development Goals, we are in a much different world. 

What has been positive in the fight to end violence against women has been the resilience of women; the determination for women to survive. The Deputy Secretary-General has said to me that I must let you know that she is a survivor, and she is sitting here, and she is strong, and that is why this is so important. 

Speaking for UNFPA, for UN Women, and for UNDP: we have the privilege of chaperoning this on the part of the UN, but we are determined to work with all other sister agencies, like ILO, UNESCO, WHO and the others who are also active in this space. We will be reaching out to work with civil society. We are excited that the EU is just as committed as we are to ensure that this is not just about governments; it is about civil society; it is about also bringing the private sector, with its own resources, into the fold, so that they too can make a difference. 

This endeavour is also about bringing young people and men and boys to take responsibility, so that it is they who will say: as a man and a boy, ‘I will not marry a child’, as a man and a boy, ‘I will not beat up a woman’, as a man and a boy, ‘I will not stand by and watch a situation in my home and at work where a woman is being abused’. 

We thank you for being here, and we hope you’ll travel the journey with us.

Related Link:

Press release: EU and UN team up to eliminate violence against women and girls