Speech: Turning the struggle to end impunity into a global movement for accountability

Remarks by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the United Nations Official Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in New York City


[As delivered]

I thank you all for being part of this important global event that starts the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence every year. This event is under the auspices of the Secretary- General’s campaign, UNiTE to End Violence against Women, which UN Women is proud to manage. This campaign uses the colour orange, which brings together people from all walks of life and shines a bright light on what for too long has been hidden and tolerated, as many women around the world are still unable to have their voices heard. 

At the forefront of the fight to end these abuses are advocates and survivors, who, in the last year, from grassroots and many other levels have taken centre stage. These activists and survivors are mobilizing, as well as global movements ranging from the #MeToo movement, to #NiUnaMenos and to #hollaback and #TotalShutdown, as well as many individuals working in many parts of the world, who we have not yet heard from. This is turning decades of difficult struggle to end impunity into tangible global sisterhood that is getting stronger and telling perpetrators that “time is up”. Even for those who are in powerful positions, the hand of the law will be reaching out to them. More importantly it is about building partnerships and changing the culture in our society that makes these violations possible and tolerated. 

The world needs a comprehensive response to this problem; one that will enable us to get to the truth; one that will ensure that there is accountability. But more than anything else, one that ensures there is sustainable transformation, so that women and girls can live in a world where they can expect not to experience violence. All of us are part of making sure that we bring about this change and that we end the culture that normalizes the abuse of women and girls.

Women and girls in many parts of the world have their voices muzzled. This is why our theme for this year is #HearMeToo, because it is about the women and girls we are yet to hear from and respond to. We are today, together, highlighting again the importance of ending the culture of silence, of victimization, and making sure that gender-based violence, whether it affects women and girls, or men and boys, is unacceptable to all of us. 

We have partnered with the City of New York Police Department (NYPD) and highlight the role of law enforcement in this important work on ending violence. We are making sure that these institutions are part and parcel of advancing the cause that will end gender-based violence and supporting the initiatives that they are already undertaking. A culture that changes from questioning the credibility of victims to pursuing the accountability of the perpetrators within due process is possible.

Here at the United Nations, we have undertaken a process to reinforce our own processes in order to make sure that this important institution is fit for purpose. The Secretary-General does not like to draw attention to himself, but I would like to thank him for leading from the front and for making it possible for all of the UN system to seize this moment and take this work forward. 

Today you will hear from many people who will benefit from the work that we are doing here and the work that many of you who are survivors and advocates are doing.

Today we heard from law enforcement about their own challenges and their efforts to make sure that the women and men who enforce the law are also safe, and that they are encouraged and supported in doing their work. We have them here to join this conversation, and I ask them to stand to be seen and saluted. Thank you for keeping us safe and thank you for choosing to make this one of the important issues of the force that protects New York.

We are concerned to ensure that the institutions in society are transformed in order to make sure that this work on ending violence is done in every corner of the world. In every part of the world, all Member States can play a significant role in bringing about the changes we desire. We at UN Women are collaborating with the UN system, with Member States and with civil society in order to make sure that we bring these changes as close as possible to where they are needed. 

The Secretary-General’s UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women has already benefited six million individuals just last year. We know, however, that there is a much bigger need out there. The Secretary-General has also touched on the EU-UN Spotlight initiative, another important initiative on ending major forms of violence. We also have our Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces programme in cities in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and in Latin America and the Caribbean. New York City is one of those member cities that are focused on making their spaces safer for women. 

What we are trying to highlight this year is the importance of making sure that every country’s law enforcement capabilities are deployed in a manner that makes sure that women are safe, and they can take it for granted that the service is theirs, and at the same time support the forces to be the best they can be. Thank you.