Secretary-General Calls for End to Silence that Shields Perpetrators, Perpetuates Crimes against Women, at Panel Discussion on New Book, ‘Half the Sky’

15 September 2009

Secretary-General Calls for End to Silence that Shields Perpetrators, Perpetuates Crimes against Women, at Panel Discussion on New Book, ‘Half the Sky’

15 September 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General Calls for End to Silence that Shields Perpetrators, Perpetuates

Crimes against Women, at Panel Discussion on New Book, ‘Half the Sky’

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at a panel discussion on the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, in New York Today, 15 September:

I am delighted to join you for this discussion about a remarkable new book and the issues it covers.

The book’s title tells us that women hold up half the sky.  My feeling is that they do even more than that.

But whether half, three quarters or some other proportion, it is also true that the whole international community must be united in the struggle for women’s rights.

Let me say what a pleasure it is to welcome Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn to the United Nations.

Mr. Kristof, I know I speak for the entire UN community when I say that when we read your columns, we feel as if we have one of our own right there at the New York Times -- pressing our issues, expressing our outrage and proposing common-sense solutions.

You are a walking, talking, blogging, globetrotting champion for the common good.  We are grateful for your efforts, and the work that you and Sheryl have now done on one of the main challenges of our times.

But of course, at times the United Nations has also felt the sting of your criticism.  That is as it should be.  When we struggle or fall short, we must be held accountable by the press and most of all by the people we serve -- the people to whom you give such potent voice.  Our aim is to do better for them, and scrutiny helps.

Let me continue with a thought experiment.  Let’s suppose I have been asked to describe our world to someone completely unfamiliar with it.

I would start with the weather, the mountains, seas and wildlife.  Then I would turn to its people.

Among the most outstanding features would have to be their wonderful diversity -- but also the tremendous economic disparities among them.

But above all, I would have to describe the violence they do to each other.

I would have to explain that fully half of those people face shocking abuses and discrimination.

That they die from easily preventable diseases and, still too often, in the process of giving birth.

That they are forced into slavery and prostitution.

That they are denied the right to speak their views, wear what they want, or pursue an education or a career.

That they are burned to death or scarred with acid with little or no punishment for the perpetrators.

The casualties dwarf those of most wars, the costs are too high to put a figure on.

The listener would rightly respond with disbelief.

Yet of course, this is our world.

The listener would rightly ask: “Are the people in charge of this world morally blind?”

Now imagine that person is a little girl, old enough to inquire about her future, but too young to grasp the perils that may lie in store, solely because of her gender.

We owe her better.

Earlier this year, I met a young woman in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Goma.

She had been brutally raped at gunpoint by four soldiers.  She was just 18 years old.

I met her at a hospital called HealAfrica, which cares for hundreds of girls and women who have been abused and maimed by soldiers and militia from all sides of the conflict.

I was deeply moved by this young woman’s story.  It also made me angry.

Violence against women stands against everything in the United Nations Charter -- and everything we stand for.

Human trafficking, sex slavery, domestic violence and institutionalized discrimination have no place in this or any other world.

We must also end the widespread silence that serves only to shield the perpetrators and perpetuate their crimes.

The antidote is clear: women’s empowerment.

The United Nations has been championing women’s rights since its very founding.

It has played a leading role in establishing global standards of equality between women and men.  We have it clear that gender equality must be addressed by society as a whole, and not be seen as a “women’s concern”.

That is why I launched a campaign called “Unite to end violence against women”.  This issue should be high on the international peace and security agenda.  There can be no security without women’s security.

It is why we are fighting for strong laws, girls’ education, microcredit and the right to sexual and reproductive health.  It is why we are pressing for universal adherence to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

We are committed to engaging men, for we will never fully empower women without changing attitudes and stereotypes.

And of course, this work has to take place here, too, within the United Nations.

For my part, I have appointed more women to senior posts than at any time in United Nations history.  This includes, in just two years during my tenure, nine women with the rank of Under-Secretary-General and, overall, the number of women in senior posts has increased by 40 per cent under my tenure.

It seems to me that I might have another opportunity to appoint another Under-Secretary-General.  The General Assembly of the United Nations approved my recommendation yesterday to establish a gender architecture.

I am now requested by Member States to appoint a very powerful female leader to establish this agency.

Thank you very much for your support.  It took almost three years.  I began [this] in April 2007, just three months after my tenure.  It took two and half years.  I am very pleased and encouraged by the strong support from the Member States.

I will continue to do my part.

No country and no culture has fully escaped this prejudice.  Only by standing up for fundamental rights everywhere can we expect to achieve lasting change.

I thank all of you and all the participants in this panel for their engagement.  I hope Half the Sky reaches a wide and influential global audience.

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