To be invited to the opening session of the Commission on the Status of Women is a singular honour, especially at this time and with this particular theme. I am deeply grateful and bid you a warm welcome to New York and the UN Headquarters and this GA Hall – a symbol of international cooperation and understanding.
The Commission on the Status of Women is our lead champion in the global fight for women’s equality and empowerment. UN Women is the strong arm of the UN family, shaping and consistently standing up for the rights and empowerment of women. One week ago, Michelle Bachelet and I were on the podium together at the inauguration of the first woman President in Korea, in fact, the first woman in northeast Asia.
I can feel the passion in this room. Many of you are veterans of this struggle. You have been in the frontlines against discrimination for years. You have seen glaring injustice. You fight back.
The Secretary-General proudly stands with you, leading this cause at the United Nations.
We are systematically bringing gender equality to the centre of our work for health, human rights, peace and sustainable development.
I have been working with the United Nations for decades. When I look around meetings of top advisors today – in New York and in the world - I see more women at the table than ever before. Women's empowerment is picking up speed.
But we need to do more together in confronting the main theme of this year’s Commission session. It is growingly serious. Let us face it, ending violence against women is a matter of life and death.
Millions of women and girls suffer from this global scourge.
I have met them – among refugees and in hospitals, in large advocacy groups and in small gatherings all around the world.
Their stories are graphic and heart-breaking – but their spirits are never broken. I saw it in the camps in Darfur five years ago, and last October among afflicted women from the North of Mali, then occupied and repressed.
The problem pervades all countries, even in the most stable and developed regions.
On 14 February, on Valentine ’s Day, I was proud to be part of the One Billion Rising movement to end violence against women.
We had an inspiring but also sobering event here at the United Nations. The manager of our UNiTE campaign reflected realities well when she said, “Every day, women are beaten by their partners, have acid thrown in their faces, are harassed in school and on the street, are raped in parks or on their way to the market.”
She was describing a situation you know all too well.
But knowing is not enough - we have to stop it.
We must bring an end to this blatant manifestation of brutality, inequality and abuse of human rights.
We have to provide concrete help for those affected: funding, counselling and resources which enable them to rise and reclaim their lives.
We have to empower victims – so that they can help us tighten laws, prosecute criminals and trigger a fundamental change of minds. Violence against women simply must come to an end.
For this we need to mobilise all good forces. And we have to create a culture where shame around these crimes is solely directed to the perpetrators.
I am also grateful to all of you for holding governments and authorities accountable to their promises and commitments.
I especially appreciate the hard work of the experts on the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. They scrutinize laws, constitutions and individual cases. Their work changes lives.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends,
Violence against women pervades war zones as well as stable communities, capitals as well as the countryside, public space as well as the private sphere.
Since it is an unacceptable feature of daily life, we have to respond everywhere and on every level.
This also means encouraging men and boys to stand up and say No to Violence against Women. The Secretary-General’s Network of Men Leaders is a part of this effort. It requires encouraging men to help us break gender stereotypes by taking an equal share of responsibilities in their homes and families.
Everyone has a responsibility. You do not have to be a politician or a policy-maker. One football player from Cameroon inspired his countrymen and many others when he said: “Be a champion. End violence against women.”
The UNiTE campaign has made great progress -- influencing policies, mobilizing the public and forging partnerships.
The campaign will formally end in 2015. Until then, we have to accelerate the momentum against violence – and we have to keep it strong well into the future.
Ending violence against women is also critical to reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Sanitation is one area where we are far off-track. This is central to development – but it is also a matter of safety for women. More than a billion people do not have toilets. This means that millions of women are forced to seek privacy outside their communities or at night. This exposes them to serious physical threats and dangers.
The fight against violence against women and girls and the campaign for the MDGs are mutually supportive.
The same is true for our pursuit of peace. Women are especially vulnerable in conflicts. They are far too often subjected to unspeakable atrocities. We are mobilizing the United Nations system to address this problem. We must always give priority to protecting victims of sexual violence in armed conflict. It has become a weapon of terror in order to instil fear among women and civilian populations. This must come to an end. Zainab Bangura, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, is in the frontline of this work.
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Friends,
This has been a year of shocking headlines and stories about violence against women. Imagine then the pain of the victims and their loved ones. We may not know them, but they are members of our common human family. We suffer with them.
Many of you may have personally dealt with or experienced violence against women and girls. Certainly most of you know someone who has. You have shared their grief and their anger.
We are here to channel our outrage into action.
We are here to declare that every woman and girl has the right to live a life free from fear and violence.
Now is the time to gather strength and act.
I thank you for coming together to do just that. Let's go to work.