Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women Official Commemoration in New York


[As delivered]

Thank you to all of you who are here with us to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I want to underline ‘elimination’, because that is the task.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an opportunity for us to highlight what we are doing and what the situation is. But there are 365 days in which we must do the work, and we highlight that today.

Today we will hear ideas about the work being done and what still needs to be done. And next year, when we mark the 25 years of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, we will be committing ourselves to do more work. As we mark also 20 years of Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, we will be further committing ourselves to the elimination of all violence against women, including in particular, rape.

We are dubbing the campaign next year Generation Equality, because we are claiming that we are going to be that generation who will change things. We know so much now about what needs to be done: what works and what goes wrong, and we have mobilized a lot of people from every walk of life. This next 10 years – the decade of action that must complete the implementation of the SDGs to the extent that we can– has to be about fixing this issue as well.

Rape isn’t an isolated, brief act. It is a gross violation of human rights, with long-term, devastating, visible and invisible impacts. It has life-changing effects that range from pregnancy to sexually transmitted disease, with immense and long-term trauma and an unwarranted sense of shame. In some situations, women are rejected by their loved ones; they are even punished by institutions in society for being raped– including by religious and cultural institutions that are supposed to look after society.

In both conflict and in peacetime, rape often shapes women’s decisions to move from their communities, through fear of attack, or the stigmatization of survivors.

And yet, in many cases, perpetrators walk free. As a result, misogyny is strengthened. It feels like it is rewarded, it is tolerated, and therefore it makes it difficult for us to give a strong message to survivors that this crime has consequences.

Although rape is so pervasive, it is badly under-reported, for the reasons that I have just mentioned, including the fact that women are more likely to be poorly treated by law enforcement; humiliated and treated like a problem. But we also know that there are institutions for law enforcement that are trying to make this right, and we want to highlight their work.

We are now, today, calling upon you, and all of us, to make sure that we do not turn our backs on the millions of women and girls whose lives have been forever changed in this way. We are calling out impunity, calling for the end of the broader culture that trivializes and permits rape, and calling for women to be treated in the way that they are supposed to be treated. Most of all, we are calling for an end of rape and the rape culture that permeates our society.

We know that rape – and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, has highlighted this – is rooted in a complex set of beliefs, power relations and control. Dominant norms of “masculinity” assume that men’s sexual entitlement is a given and they create an expectation that men can control and coerce women, particularly in relation to sex. We also have seen jokes about women, and even about rape, being tolerated, with many being bystanders and missing an opportunity to intervene and to end the trivialization of this pain that women and girls suffer.

Today we are also calling on governments and services to take the positive steps necessary to scale up the response, which must include: increasing accountability by making rape universally illegal – including in those countries which still allow marital rape – and holding rapists to account in every country that is a member of the United Nations; putting victims at the centre of response; strengthening the capacity of law enforcement officials to investigate these crimes and respond in a way that shows that they believe survivors and are equipped to direct them to the right support services; ending all forms of harmful cultural practices and eliminating homophobia; increasing the number of women in police forces, and supporting survivors with all legal aid and essential services that we can provide in our countries.

One of the ways that we tackle violence against women and girls at UN Women is through the multilateral RESPECT framework, which informs policymakers about how to prevent and respond to violence against women, with a collective commitment to action. Through the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, we are also working to transform the inequalities that drive gender-based violence and eliminate global acceptance of sexual abuse and harassment of women and girls.

Today, I want to congratulate the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women for achieving its resource mobilization target for grant-giving to civil society organizations – one year ahead of schedule. These civil society partners do an exceptional job and I want also to thank you for all the good work that you do. Thanks to the voluntary contributions by Member States and from the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, the Trust Fund has now been able to invest US$40 million in more than 90 civil society organization projects in over 57 countries working to prevent and end violence against women and girls, just in 2019; and to double its 2020 grant-giving target. Thanks again to the Member States that have made this possible. And there is room for more – we’re open for business!

Two weeks ago, I was in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the first-ever global convention of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women grantees. One of the participants, Ajna Jusic, is here with us today. The Convention focused on progress made since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action and the work that we want to do to end violence against women and girls. It ended with the UN Trust Fund’s two youngest grantee representatives presenting me with a set of recommendations to inform the process of global consultations on Beijing +25. They focus on key issues such as: sustainable funding for the work of civil society; capacity and institution building; and the collection and use of evidence. I am fully committed to take these recommendations forward in upcoming meetings and deliberations with some of you, and to make sure that this becomes a crucial part of our work for Generation Equality.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters: we are Generation Equality. If not us, who? Our responsibility is to end rape within a generation and to do all we can in the next 10 years to score very high on the implementation of the SDGs.

Again, I thank you for being here.