Thank you all for joining today on Valentine’s Day, to rise up and declare that now is the time to end the global disgrace of violence against women and girls.
The Secretary-General has sent a message which I would like to share with you.
“The global pandemic of violence against women and girls thrives in a culture of discrimination and impunity. We must speak out. That is why I launched my global UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign. As part of this, I am proud to emphatically raise my voice and join the chorus of all those taking part in the One Billion Rising campaign.
“But this must be more than a day of advocacy. It must be a day that triggers action.
“In less than three weeks, at the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women, the world will gather at United Nations Headquarters for the largest-ever UN assembly to end violence against women and girls. Eighteen governments have pledged to come to this historic gathering with new initiatives to stop gender-based violence by improving access to justice, ratifying international conventions, strengthening protection, toughening punishment and enhancing prevention and education. They are part of UN Women COMMIT to end violence against women and girls initiative.
“I encourage all of you to call on your leaders to join this effort. On this special day, I urge all governments to send us a Valentine message: a concrete commitment of action to end violence against women and girls. Bring that commitment to the Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York in 18 short days.
“By standing together we can end violence against women and girls and build a world where all live free from harassment and fear. This will have benefits that reverberate far beyond the affected individuals as they become empowered to help create a better world.”
The Secretary-General has provided strong and passionate leadership on this issue, including zero tolerance within the United Nations. His message says it all. I just want to add a few words based on my own experience.
Throughout my life I have been deeply disturbed and angered by all forms of violence against women and girls. I have made an effort to reach out to women who are afflicted – to show solidarity and support, but even more importantly to listen to their concerns and needs and share those with others.
Last November, I visited Mali, where I received an appeal from the women caught up in the tragic situation in the North of the country conflict there.
I will not forget what I heard from one of the leaders, Saran Keita Diakité. She described in horrifying detail how women were the main victims of the tyranny of the North.
I promised the women of Mali that I would bring their stories to the United Nations. Not only because these women deserve attention and support, but because what they say applies in so many other situations around the world.
Women are disproportionately victims of attacks. That is why women should have a major say in how to respond.
Women bleed and hurt and struggle. We should acknowledge the special qualities that women can bring to our collective fight against violence.
In the eyes of the afflicted women I see more than victims – more than survivors. I see activists, leaders and champions of social change.
But, we also need men to stand up and denounce violence against their mothers, daughters, sisters and friends.
Each of us has to do our part. Men must respect women as equals and show solidarity with women combating this scourge of violence. All of society will benefit when men and women unite and rise together.
Nobody can do everything but everybody can do something.
Today, we rise.
In the weeks to come, we stand tall.
And when the Commission on the Status of Women opens in March, let us continue our determined struggle for an end to all violence against women and children.
Our event today is part of One Billion Rising, initiated by Eve Ensler.
All around the world people are rising today to express their outrage against gender-based violence.
In this manifestation, we can take inspiration from those who have experienced brutality.
In closing, I would like to quote Enisa Salcinovic, who survived rape during the war in Bosnia. She said: “No matter how they tried to kill everything within us – within me, they killed nothing! I will not stumble. As long as I can walk, I will persevere. I will find the strength within.”
Enisa and her sisters around the world are heroes in this fight. As long as they can find the strength - so can all of us.
We have work to do – let’s go!