Marking International Women’s Day, Secretary-General Calls for Concrete Action to End All Violence against Women, Girls; Says ‘We Have Right on Our Side’

8 March 2013

Marking International Women’s Day, Secretary-General Calls for Concrete Action to End All Violence against Women, Girls; Says ‘We Have Right on Our Side’

8 March 2013
Meetings Coverage
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Observance of International

Women’s Day (AM)

Marking International Women’s Day, Secretary-General Calls for Concrete Action

to End All Violence against Women, Girls; Says ‘We Have Right on Our Side’

At Special Commemorative Event, Head of UN-Women Urges

‘Courage, Conviction, Commitment’ to Make Gender-Based Violence Unacceptable

With a groundswell of support for women’s rights rising in all corners of the world, the international community must seize the momentum and keep its promise to eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a packed room at the 2013 celebration of International Women’s Day this morning.

“Today, across the world, a critical mass is taking shape,” he said, opening a special commemorative meeting at United Nations Headquarters.  Indeed, leaders and citizens, celebrities and ordinary people alike were joining together to reject the silence and stigma that long surrounded violence committed against women and girls.  “The time has come.  Like other campaigns that have abolished harmful practices and hateful ideologies, we have right on our side,” he declared.

On International Women’s Day each year, the world honoured the champions and pioneers who advanced the cause of equality for women and men.  However, he said, it was also a day for zeroing in on the barriers that remained.  Around the world, women were still paid less than men for the same work.  All too frequently, their invaluable household and care-giving work went unrecognized, and women and girls remained objectified and oppressed.  Most troubling of all, they were still subject to shocking attacks and abuse committed by those they should be able to trust.

“Impunity compounds the hurt,” as perpetrators went free and were able to strike again.  He recalled that he had spent some time several years ago with victims of sexual violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  “I was angry at the suffering before my eyes, and at the knowledge that this was a tiny fraction of what goes on every day around the world,” he said.  But, even there, he said, he had also seen inspiring examples of heroism of the people who were responding and giving hope to so many others.

The theme of the 2013 International Women’s Day celebration — “A promise is a promise:  Time for action to end violence against women” — underscored the fact that urgent, concrete action was needed to end such heinous violations of human rights, he continued.  Data collection could be strengthened, and States could and must provide legal aid, increase police capacity, extend the reach of protection plans and bring to justice perpetrators.  But prevention must be the global watchword, and all people — women and men, girls and boys — must wage the struggle.  “But, we do not have the luxury of time:  we must reach more women and girls before more violence reaches them,” he said.

In an opening session that was moderated by CNN International anchor Isha Sesay, Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), agreed that the world was at a “tipping point” with regard to women’s rights.  Never before had there been such global momentum or widespread public outrage at cases of violence against women and girls.

Indeed, never before had the world seen instant and global technologies able to immediately capture and communicate atrocities committed against women.  Women, men and young people were now raising their voices in every region, saying that “enough is enough”.  They demanded an immediate end to impunity and insisted upon the protection of the rights of women and girls to live in dignity, free of violence and discrimination.

However, with such sweeping social transformations came obligations for the international community, she said, adding that “we must keep pace with the aspirations of people everywhere in the world”.  There was a special duty incumbent upon United Nations Member States.  In that regard, she was pleased to announce that today, one year after the launch of UN-Women’s “COMMIT” initiative, 50 Governments and the European Commission had pledged to take concrete steps to end violence against women and girls.

“If we act with courage, conviction and commitment, we can change violence against women from being one of the most pervasive violations of human rights to being a rare occurrence that is considered unacceptable and no longer tolerated,” she stressed, telling delegates that “there is no going backwards — we will keep moving forward”.

Also issuing opening remarks, Gérard Araud ( France) said violence against women, regardless of whether it occurred during times of war or peace, led to the same consequence:  it limited women’s fundamental rights to education, freedom, equality, citizenship and to control their bodies without consequence.  When women’s sexual and reproductive rights were not respected, that constituted violence against women.  Those rights were too often denied.

Women were the first and principal victims of armed conflict, suffering intolerable sexual violence and used as weapons of war to destroy entire populations, he said.  France’s intervention in Mali was guided by a desire to respond to grave violations committed by armed groups, especially against women.  The Secretary-General, for his part, had taken steps to counter such violence, having created a Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and had overseen the deployment of male and female advisers for women’s protection in peacekeeping operations.  Their presence in Mali must be ensured.

The Secretary-General had made the women’s participation in conflict resolution a priority, he continued.  Indeed, it was time to stop seeing women as mere victims; they must be seen as having an important role in society.  At the United Nations, the normative framework for ensuring women’s rights had grown, and he welcomed the General Assembly’s recent unanimous adoption of a resolution, co-led by France, on eliminating female genital mutilation.  He also expressed hope the fifty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women would be able to adopt “bold and ambitious” agreed conclusions to meet the many challenges ahead.

Also held during the commemoration this morning was an interactive panel discussion on the theme of the International Day, which featured:  Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Former Chairperson of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and Executive Director of Tebtebba; Patricia Brownell, of the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse; Annie Banda, National Coordinator and Advisor of the Coalition of Women Living with HIV in Malawi; and Nisha Varia, Senior Women’s Rights Researcher at Human Rights Watch.  It was moderated by Ms. Bachelet.

In addition, delegates gathered at the session greeted with energetic applause the launch of “One Woman”, the music video for the first-ever theme song for a United Nations organization, written for UN-Women on the occasion of its launch two years ago.

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