New York

11 July 2022

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at "What Were You Wearing?" Art Exhibition Reception [as prepared for delivery]

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
Welcome to the United Nations, and to this powerful exhibition brought to you by RISE and the Spotlight Initiative.

I am really moved by the testimonies Amanda, Bryan, Britney, Jessica, Sabrina and Samantha and just shared. I thank you for your bravery — for being willing to share your pain and your power with us. You inspire us to speak out against gender-based violence. Your leadership helps others to find the strength to challenge systems and institutions that silence survivors and fail to hold perpetrators accountable.

These testimonies, and this entire exhibit, confirm that sexual violence occurs everywhere, at all times and across all cultures. One in three women worldwide has experienced physical or sexual violence, and there are 1.3 billion survivors of sexual assault globally.

In the past two years, it has become clearer than ever that these statistics underestimate the prevalence of gender-based violence in our societies. We still have far to go in preventing and ending violence against women and girls.

Why is this still the case?

We could blame the COVID-19 pandemic and economic insecurity; or we could blame a prevailing culture of male violence.

But we need to stop playing the blame game, and take action to address the root causes of violence: gender inequality, and the patriarchal structures in our societies. 

By asking the question “What Were You Wearing?”, this exhibition flips the narrative on victim-shaming and blaming.

The clothes on display illustrate how ludicrous that question is. They mirror the diversity of people who experience violence: from every region of the world, including a two year old child whose diapers are there for all to see.

They demonstrate more clearly than any legal argument could that women and girls are attacked regardless of what they are wearing. Indeed, some of the power of these clothes lies in their ordinariness. They were worn by women and girls just going about their daily lives -- until they were attacked.

No one should be assaulted based on their choice of clothing. No one should be abused. Full stop.

We are living in a moment where the principles of bodily autonomy, gender equality and human rights more generally are under widespread threat.

But we must not lose hope. The pushback we are experiencing is a direct result of the strength of our vision for a world free from violence, inequality and injustice.

At the United Nations, we are redoubling our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 — including Goal 5 on gender equality —  the ‘docking station’ of all the other goals.
 
Through the Spotlight Initiative, in partnership with the European Union, and working hand-in-hand with governments and civil society, we are running programmes in more than 25 countries to advocate on gender based violence and strengthen prevention and accountability.

These programmes have contributed to doubling the number of convictions of perpetrators of gender-based violence since 2020.
More than 1.3 million men and boys have been educated on positive masculinity, parenting, respectful family relationships, and nonviolent conflict resolution.

The Spotlight Initiative shows that addressing gender-based violence comprehensively can make transformative change possible.

We will continue doing our part. But we need everyone, everywhere to join together to end gender-based violence, once and for all.

I first experienced this exhibit in January, and I can promise you that it will make a lasting impression.

I thank RISE and the Spotlight Initiative for bringing it back, so that more people can experience it and take its message of strength, justice and accountability beyond the United Nations.

Thank you.