It is my honor to be here today representing the United Nations on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women to mark the first day of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. Starting today and over the next 16 days, all around the world, we will bring to the fore, the voices of women and girls’ survivors and activists and ensure their voices and stories are heard and action is taken.
This year’s theme for the 16 Days of Activism: Generation Equality Stands Against Rape- calls for all of us to collectively spotlight the pervasiveness of rape and other forms of sexual violence in our societies, and to take urgent actions to stop these crimes.
Globally, governments have committed and recommitted to ending all forms of violence against women and girls, including sexual violence. Yet, around the world, rape and sexual abuse are everyday violent occurrences -- affecting hundreds of millions of women and girls over their lifetimes. We must renew efforts to end this scourge.
Rape and other forms of gender-based violence inflict huge economic, political and social losses to individuals, households, and nation-states, and continue to be an obstacle to achieving equality, development, peace as well as to the fulfillment of women and girls’ human rights. The attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and its promise - to leave no one behind - cannot be fulfilled without putting an end to violence against women and girls.
Rape is the extreme manifestation of a continuum of violence against women and girls. In Nigeria this continuum spans a wide range of gender-based violence including domestic violence; sexual exploitation of adolescent girls and women in IDP camps in North-East Nigeria; wide-scale incidences of 'sex for grades' in schools and institutions of higher learning across the country; trafficking of thousands of young girls across the Atlantic; early marriage of girls who should otherwise be in school; and violence against women in politics. Just last week, we witnessed the horrific murder of a woman politician in Kogi State. The perpetrators of this crime must face justice.
Over the last year, a number of widely reported cases of rape of women have highlighted the pervasive nature of this crime in Nigeria. The case of Ochanya Ogbaje, who died at the age of 13 years, having brutally endured rape over many years at the hands of those entrusted to protect her in Benue; the case of young woman who was drugged and raped by two young men in Lagos State, who proceeded to film this criminal act; the report by INEC that some of their officials were assaulted and raped during the 2019 elections; and cases of brave women daring to break the culture of silence to tell their story of rape endured at the hands of powerful individuals in society, all provide evidence of the deep-rooted nature of the problem.
In order to end rape and other forms of gender-based violence, we must invest in prevention, by addressing the root causes of the problem. Given that gender-based violence is rooted in gender-based power inequalities and regressive gender norms, we must focus of transforming gender relations and social norms. We must empower women through education, economically and politically to exercise their rights, choices and decision-making. We must ensure that those who commit rape are brought to justice and thus end the culture of impunity.
Preventive measures also requires engagement of families, communities and community gate-keepers such as traditional and religious leaders and men and boys in efforts to transform social norms and attitudes towards prevention of violence against women and girls.
The UN is committed to supporting governments the world over, including Nigeria, to safeguard the rights of women and girls from violence. The EU/UN Spotlight Initiative, to End Gender-based Violence which is being rolled out in a number of countries including Nigeria, is an important expression of the support of the international community to the efforts of the Government of Nigeria.
While it is encouraging that the Government is making notable progress to address these crimes, more needs to be done given the challenge ahead of us. As the United Nations, we are committed to working with other stakeholders including civil society and the private sector to support the Government to make a much faster progress in this area.