|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Minister of Women’s Rights of France
Stressing that cultural beliefs and practices could never justify violence against women, France’s top official for women’s rights today set forth her Government’s strategies to protect and empower women at home and around the world.
“Violence is violence in whatever society it arises. It must be fought on the same footing and with the same vigour everywhere. We cannot accept any cultural relativism when it comes to women’s rights and the protection of women,” Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister of Women’s Rights of France, said at a Headquarters news conference.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Commission on the Status of Women’s two-week session, which runs through 15 March, the Minister said France would support the Commission’s outcome document on preventing and eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls. The document was presented Monday by Michelle Bachelet, the head of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, known as UN-Women.
“The French delegation wanted to be here. We know that what is at stake is very important,” Ms. Vallaud-Belkacem said, adding that the Commission’s 2012 session “did not conclude on a good note”.
She was referring to the deadlock last year among delegates over explicit references to sexual and reproductive health rights, which blocked passage of a final text.
Still, there had been some degree of progress recently, she said. In December 2012, the General Assembly, with support from France and the Netherlands, adopted a resolution calling on States to step up the fight to end violence against women and girls worldwide, be it rape, forced marriage or female genital mutilation. That text’s passage illustrated society’s growing intolerance for the abuse of women.
Meanwhile at home, the French Government that took office in May 2012 had made women’s rights a top policy priority, she said. It had reinstated the Ministry of Women’s Rights, adopted a comprehensive action plan to end violence against women, and signed the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. A criminal code to ban the practice of taking women abroad to force them into marriage would soon be introduced in Parliament.
In addition, an action plan was under way to give female victims of violence quick and easy access to recourse, including a 24/7 victim’s hotline, emergency shelters, police protection and support from social workers, she said. To prevent violence, the Government had introduced a gender equity curriculum in primary schools, and classes for older children and young adults on sexual and reproductive rights.
An advocate for women’s rights abroad, France aimed to aid women during and in the aftermath of conflict in Mali and countries involved in the Arab Spring, she said. The Government was sponsoring two events in Paris to promote women’s rights. During the first, to be held 20 March, the International Day of Francophonie, 500 female representatives of civil society in francophone countries worldwide would converge at a conference. Then, from 3 to 4 June, ministers of the Union of the Mediterranean would discuss women’s socioeconomic role and the fight against violence.
Asked about the attempt by certain United Nations members to block important language in the Commission’s outcome document, Ms. Vallaud-Belkacem said the session should protect again backpedalling on the women’s rights agenda and gains made through the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goals.
Garnering support from countries in the South was crucial. Toward that end, she was meeting on the sidelines of the Commission with counterparts from South Africa, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco and other countries.
Concerning what was expected of the Commission, she said the international community must be demanding and ambitious. The presence of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General in conflict zones was a positive step, as was the United Kingdom’s initiative to send gender violence experts to those zones to identify and track offenses. The message must be that relying solely on regional organizations was not enough. A common stance and international presence was vital to end violence against women and prevent cultural relativism from serving as an excuse for it.
On how the Organization could end sexual violence against women in countries with peacekeeping operations, she said France wanted the next resolution on forming a peacekeeping force in Mali to include provisions for special protection workers to aid female victims of violence on the ground, in line with the principles of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security. She also lauded the Secretary-General’s “zero tolerance” policy of sexual exploitation by peacekeepers and steps to penalize offenders.
Asked if France supported action to protect Syrian women and girls from sexual violence committed in that war-ravaged nation and in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, she said indeed it did. But, its repeated calls for action by the Security Council had been blocked by certain countries’ veto power. France would welcome any action that could get around that veto.
As to whether foreign women in France were willing to report sexual offenses to local authorities, she said France’s law protected all women, regardless of their religion. In May, she would present to Parliament a draft law on women’s rights that incorporated the rights of foreign women.
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