United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called for "a bold transformation in men's attitudes and behaviour" so that women become their equal partners and gender-based violence, which has become more complex in the 21st century, can be eliminated.
"I call on all sectors of society to redouble their efforts to achieve the objective of ending all forms of violence against women," he said in a message to mark the fourth International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November. "This will require leadership at every level, in every culture, country and continent."
The age-old scourge of violence against women was taking on new dimensions in the 21st century and carrying the added risk of forcing women to contract HIV/AIDS, Mr. Annan said.
"One of the most alarming is trafficking in women and girls - one of the fastest growing types of organized crime in the world," he said.
More than 700,000 people were trafficked each year for sexual exploitation, he said, many of whom were subjected to violence and all of them to human rights abuses. In addition, rape and other sexual violence were being used as weapons of war against women and girls.
The protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, aimed at eliminating human trafficking, would enter into force next month with 57 countries as signatories, while the number of signatories to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women had grown to 174, he noted
Acting High Commissioner on Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan said this time also marked the 10th anniversary of the acknowledgement by the Vienna human rights conference that "women's rights are human rights," as well as the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.
"This triple anniversary provides an opportunity to assess the progress achieved in the advancement of women's rights and the actions still required to meet the challenges ahead," he said.
In his message, General Assembly president Julian Hunte of St. Lucia said: "Women have the right to live their lives free from violence in all its forms. It is incumbent upon all of us to create an environment where this objective can be achieved. "
One-third of the female population around the world had experienced or would experience violence, the Executive Director of the UN Women's Fund, Noeleen Heyzer, told a news conference at UN Headquarters.
"Violence against women has become as much a pandemic as HIV/AIDS, or malaria. But it is still generally downplayed by the public at large and by policy-makers who fail to create and fund programmes to eradicate it," she said, as she launched a book called Not a Minute More, Ending Violence against Women.
Despite the hard work by women's institutions to have women's rights recognized, "why does gender-based violence continue, seemingly unabated?" she said.
"As long as women in diverse countries do not have access to property and employment and equal wages, to the seats of power and to education, the violence that is perpetuated in their lives is viewed as a private rather than a public issue," Ms. Heyzer said.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) launched a short web film called Women, War, Health in nine languages, highlighting the urgent need to protect the health of women in war and as refugees.
UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid called for zero tolerance of gender-based violence and encouraged people to ask themselves such questions as: "How many more rapes, wife beatings and killings in the name of honour must women endure?"