New York

08 March 2013

Secretary-General's remarks at observance of International Women's Day: “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”

I feel a great strength, great power and energy and dynamism from all of you. This room is too small to accommodate all your energy.

I know that all of you must have had a little bit of inconvenience in coming to this place because of the sudden, unexpected, March snow.  But you should know that snow is regarded always as a very auspicious sign. So we call it, in my country, “auspicious snow”. But even though there must have been a lot of traffic jams, on this snowy cold day, nothing deters us, nothing stops us to work for gender empowerment. 

On this very happy International Women’s Day, I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart. You have my full commitment to work with you, all the world leaders, and business communities and civil society leaders to realise our aspirations, and your aspirations. A promise is a promise that we have to keep. That is my word today, and I really sincerely congratulate you. But congratulations are not enough. We have to realise our dreams and keep our promise.

On this Day, we honour the champions, the pioneers – all who advance the cause of equality for the world’s women and girls.

We celebrate the steps being taken by women, and for women, that enable them to enjoy their fundamental human rights.

But this is also a day for setting our sights on the barriers that still remain.

Women are often paid less than men for the same work. All too frequently, their invaluable household and care-giving work goes unrecognized.

Women are objectified and oppressed, often cut out of political decision-making and peace negotiations.

Most troubling of all, women and girls are subjected to shocking attacks and abuse. 

The violence is mostly committed by husbands, fathers, colleagues and others whom women should be able to trust.  Impunity compounds the hurt.  Perpetrators go free, able to strike again.  Too many women who speak out end up punished as if they were the criminals.

No country is immune.  Violence against women and girls is a heinous human rights violation that takes place regardless of income, class and culture -- in countries at peace and those at war.

But violence against women is not inevitable. Mindsets can change. Data collection can be strengthened.  States can and must provide legal aid, increase police capacity, extend the reach of protection plans and bring to justice perpetrators.  And let us not forget the simple power of naming and shaming.

Prevention must be our watchword.  A solid framework is taking shape.  National laws are increasingly robust.  So are global standards, including those set by the Security Council’s landmark resolution on women, peace and security - 1325.

The entire UN System is engaged, including through my UNiTE effort and network of men leaders, UN Women’s COMMIT initiative and the Stop Rape Now campaign being spearheaded by my Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Resources remain critical.  This year, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women will be able to satisfy only 1 per cent of the requests we have received. UN Women also needs more funding.  I count on your support.

Ending violence against women and girls is a human rights issue, a social issue and a development question.

All of us must wage this struggle -- women and men, girls and boys.

  I will never forget the time I spent with victims of sexual violence in the eastern [Democratic Republic] of the Congo four years ago.  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.

But even there, I also saw one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen: the heroism of the people who are responding and giving hope to so many others.

Today, across the world, a critical mass is taking shape.  Leaders and citizens, celebrities and ordinary people, are rising to say “no more silence; no more stigma”.

I commend the Commission on the Status of Women for devoting this year’s session to this cause.  This is an opportunity to remind States of their fundamental obligations to prevent, protect and respond.

The time has come.  Like other campaigns that have abolished harmful practices and hateful ideologies, we have right on our side. 

But we do not have the luxury of time.

We must reach more women and girls before more violence reaches them.

Let us join together to press politicians, religious figures, community leaders and others with influence to join our campaign. 

As the song we launch today reminds us, if we work as one, we shall shine.

I thank you very much for your commitment.