Unite to End Violence Against Women
by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Headquarters, 5 March 2009
Ladies and gentlemen
One year ago, I launched a campaign calling on people and governments the world over to unite to end violence against women and girls.
We called it “Unite to End Violence against Women”. And unite we must.
It is sometimes said that women are weavers and men are too often warriors.
Women bear and care for our children. In much of the world they plant the crops that feed us. They weave the fabric of our societies.
Violence against women is thus an attack on all of us, on the foundation of our civilization.
It destroys health and perpetuates poverty. It strikes against equality and empowerment.
It contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
Worldwide, one in five women suffer rape or attempted rape. In some countries, as many as one in three women are beaten, forced into sex or otherwise abused. This is alarming and shocking.
This must stop.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you know, I have just returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo. There I visited the HealAfrica hospital in Goma. As you know too, sexual violence and abuse is prevalent throughout the country
I met a young woman there, in the hospital. She was just 18 years old.
Fleeing the fighting that destroyed her village, she was raped by four soldiers at gunpoint.
Doctors at the hospital can repair her wounds. But can even doctors heal her soul?
She suffers not only from physical injury, she also bears the curse of stigma. She has been ostracized from her village and her family, from a false sense of shame.
I was shocked by what she told me. I was saddened almost beyond expression. I was also very, very angry.
These women need medical care. They need to be accepted back into their communities and families. Above all they need to be able to live free of fear.
I spoke forcefully about this when I met President Kabila [of the DRC]. I spoke to the commander of the Congolese forces in the eastern DRC, as well as with the governor and the local authorities.
I spoke about it to everyone I met, and I will keep speaking out against such unspeakable atrocities.
When I was meeting President Kabila, the fact that 80% of sexual violence was perpetuated by the other armed groups of rebels – I told President Kabila that that was not an excuse. As a leader of the country – a sovereign leader of a sovereign country – wherever sexual violence may happen, then he must be responsible.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Violence against women is an abomination. It stands against everything in the United Nations Charter.
The consequences of violence go beyond the visible and immediate. Death, injury, medical costs and lost employment are but the tip of an iceberg.
The impact on women and girls, their families, their communities and their societies in terms of shattered lives and livelihoods is beyond calculation.
Far too often, these crimes go unpunished. Perpetrators walk free. No country, no culture, no woman, young or old, is immune.
Women have been speaking out against violence, and supporting each other in opposing it, for a long time. Often they have found a voice through the work of the United Nations system.
Increasingly, men are speaking out.
Global examples include the White Ribbon Campaign and the V-Day Campaign's “V-Men” counterpart.
In many countries, at workshops and community meetings, men are teaching other men that there is another way – that “real men don't hit women”, let alone rape them. That real men respect women.
Allow me to tell a brief story from a gender workshop in a rural community in South Africa.
An older man, a leader of the community, who had sat quietly through the proceedings, raised his hand to speak. The facilitator's heart sank, because she did not know what he would say. She knew this man, this leader, had the power to sink the workshop. Older men are, normally in Africa, deeply respected in rural communities.
The facilitator worried that the man was going to deliver a lecture on how it was against African culture to think of men and women as equals. That giving women power could divide families.
“Yesterday, when I got home”, the man began, “I called my sons. I called my wife. And I explained what we are doing in this workshop.”
He told his children that things had to change now. No longer could their mother come home tired from a long day of work and be expected to cook, clean and wash the dishes.
From now on, he told his children, “You have to start cleaning and tidying the house. You have to start the dinner, so when your mother comes home she can see that we have all helped.”
As for the man himself, he said, “I will wash the dishes.” This is the moment of change.
The point of the workshop was that we are not born knowing what it means to be a man. We learn it from the people around us.
And because it is something society has decided on, it can also be changed by society.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In closing, let me speak bluntly.
We must unite.
Violence against women cannot be tolerated, in any form, in any context, in any circumstance, by any political leader or by any government.
The time to change is now.
Only by standing together and speaking out can we make a difference.
On this International Women's Day, let us resolve to do that.