22 April 2008


22 April 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


“I still find it impossible to wrap my head around the fact that just by being born a woman, you are at risk of the most appalling and probably most widespread human rights violation of our time,” Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Nicole Kidman told correspondents today.

Joining the award-winning actress at a Headquarters press conference on the UNIFEM “Say NO to Violence against Women” campaign were United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, UNIFEM Executive Director Joanne Sandler, and United Nations Foundation President Timothy E. Wirth.

“Today, from the United Nations,” Ms. Kidman said, “I want to encourage people of all nations to unite behind our call to end violence against women.  Invite friends and colleagues to sign on to the campaign at and inform your family.  If you’re a teacher, let your students know.  If you’re active in a religious community, spread the word amongst the other members.  If you’re a Facebook user, log on and encourage your virtual friends to come on board.”  Ending violence against women requires commitment and resources, she said, adding, “Every voice counts, and every amount counts.  Let survivors of violence around the world know that they can count on us.”

Opening the press conference, Deputy Secretary-General Migiro said that violence against women was never acceptable, never excusable and never tolerable.  Yet it was probably the most pervasive human rights violation.  One in three women would be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.  UNIFEM’s “Say NO to Violence against Women” campaign, through which people could sign on to the call to end violence against women, helped to make visible the hidden pandemic.  Violence against women was hidden in homes and schools and other places where women and girls should feel safe.  It was also hidden in the billions of dollars earned by criminal networks from human trafficking.  UNIFEM’s initiative was providing a platform to demonstrate commitment and stimulate action.

Saying some progress had been made on the issue, Ms. Sandler noted that 89 countries had specific laws on domestic violence and more than 100 had made rape a crime.  However, far too often, the violent crimes committed against women went unpunished.  Supporting countries to fully and unswervingly implement the laws and policies to end violence against women was the big challenge.  By signing on to the “Say NO” campaign, citizens sent an unequivocal message to leaders around the world, and Governments were responding.  Decision makers were signing on as a first step in showing that they had heard.  The United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence was the leading multilateral mechanism to provide support to innovative efforts that worked, and the campaign was raising resources for that Trust Fund. 

Mr. Wirth said the United Nations at its best was a great norm setter.  Violence against women was now receiving the highest level of focus from the United Nations, from the institutional changes to activities in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, to the work of the Deputy Secretary-General.  One of the areas that encouraged it was citizen action.  The broad Internet campaign that got hundreds of thousands of people to sign up for the “Say NO” campaign was terribly important in that regard, and the Foundation was pleased to be a part of that.  The “unspeakable violence against women” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was just one case study that had to be done. 

Answering questions about her reasons for involvement with the “Say NO” campaign, Ms. Kidman said she had been raised by a feminist mother who was a nurse in a hospital.  She had been surrounded by women when she grew up, and by people helping other people.  As a child, she had therefore heard a lot of stories.  When she went to meet her mother in the hospital, she had seen suffering.  Her mother had also been involved with women’s shelters.  That had had a powerful impact.

Declining to answer questions about personal experiences, she said, however, that she was a mother of two and seven months pregnant.  As a mother, she wanted a better life for her children and for everybody’s children.  When she had heard on the radio that UNIFEM was organizing men’s groups in Cambodia to address the issue of violence against women, she had called UNIFEM and offered her services.  Not much attention was being paid to the issue.  It was “shrouded in silence”, even though one in three women would encounter violence.  Girls and women still thought that, as there was no solution, one could not address the issue.  Raising awareness was important.  Girls and women should realize there was no stigma attached to being a victim.  It was something that could be addressed.

Asked if she was disappointed that only 210,000 people had signed up so far, Ms. Sandler said she anticipated many more “signatures” and was excited about the fact that parliaments and Prime Ministers were signing up.  The website did not provide for gender-disaggregated data, but the campaign was very much about leaders, mostly men, signing up publicly.

Mr. Wirth remarked that violence against women was not just a women’s issue.  It should be a concern of all.  The United Nations Foundation focused on three issues:  climate change; children’s health; and women’s issues.  Men dominated Governments, and it was important to change men’s minds.  That change must be an institutional behavioural change.  The campaign had collected 200,000 signatures in a very short time, which was not disappointing, but a good start.

Ms. Sandler added that focus was everything.  Contributions to the Trust Fund had tripled over the past two years.  The issue was getting attention.  The repercussions for those leaders who were not listening were a citizens’ backlash.

To another question, Ms. Sandler said the violence against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sudan and other places was just the tip of the iceberg.  It was a hidden pandemic, about which there was insufficient data.  

The Deputy Secretary-General added that violence against women crossed class, ethnicity, race and borders.  No one was safe.

Ms. Kidman noted that money was needed to support the actions undertaken by UNIFEM.  Many practical things could be done, such as providing protection for the passageways women and girls took to fetch water and food in areas of conflict.  Money was needed to provide services to victims.  The human resources were available, but financial resources were lagging. 

Addressing questions about the relationship between climate change, the food crisis and violence against women, Mr. Wirth said that climate change was stressing societies.  Darfur was very much a result of climate change.  The first to suffer under such stress were the most vulnerable groups.  Women were going to be hurt the most and earliest by climate change.

Ms. Sandler said that food security also had an impact.  In conflict situations where rape was used as a weapon, rape took place mostly along the passageways women and girls took to get water and food.  Protecting those passageways was a simple and practical way to combat the phenomenon.

Asked for comments on a speech by Stephen Lewis, a former United Nations official who criticized the Organization for not doing enough on the topic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr. Wirth said the Democratic Republic of the Congo was the most difficult area in the world and the United Nations was doing a great deal to police the peacekeepers.  Those peacekeepers, after all, were not from the United Nations but were military staff from troop contributing countries. 

Addressing a question concerning the selection as new Executive Director of UNIFEM of Ines Alberdi of Spain over India's Gita Sen and others who allegedly were better qualified, Mr. Wirth said that institutional change was necessary and that the Deputy Secretary-General was showing leadership in that regard by getting women in higher profile jobs into the United Nations.  Things did not change overnight, however.

Ms. Migiro said in response to a further question on the subject that the Organization had specific targets for filling high-level positions with women.  The ultimate target was to reach 50-50 per cent parity.  She objected, however, to the perception that that was a women’s issue.  Parity was in the interest of the whole society.  Improvements had been made, but there was still a long way to go.

To a further question, she said that violence against women cut across borders and ethnicities and religions.  Beliefs could be used to do something about it.  “We should go beyond our belief, beyond our culture.”  The violence affected peace and security, and productivity.  Human beings had a responsibility to work against that vice.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.