Cost of violence against women 'beyond calculation,' warns UN chief

8 March 2009
Women marching against sexual violence in the DRC (file photo)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today added his voice to a chorus of United Nations officials calling for an end to the routine violence suffered by women and girls around the world, in a message marking the International Day for Women.

In some countries, as many as one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime, Mr. Ban said in his message for the Day, whose theme this year is “Women and Men: United to End Violence Against Women.”

“We must stop the habitual and socially ingrained violence that mars lives, destroys health, perpetuates poverty and prevents us from achieving women''s equality and empowerment,” he stressed.

Last year the Secretary-General launched a global campaign “Unite to End Violence Against Women” ending in 2015, the target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of internationally agreed objectives which include eradicating poverty, achieving universal gender equality in education and reversing the rate of HIV/AIDS incidence.

“Violence against women is also linked to the spread of HIV/AIDS,” said Mr. Ban.

He explained that not only are large numbers of women in some countries forced to have sex, but “Women and girls are also systematically and deliberately subject to rape and sexual violence in war.”

“Violence, and particularly sexual and gender-based violence, is one of the defining characteristics of contemporary conflict,” said Ron Redmond, the spokesperson of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Mr. Ban noted that “Death, injury, medical costs and lost employment are but the tip of an iceberg. The impact on women and girls, their families, their communities and their societies in terms of shattered lives and livelihoods is beyond calculation.”

To change the mindsets and socially ingrained habits of generations will not be easy and will take the collective force of individuals, organizations and governments, added the Secretary-General.

“We must work together to state loud and clear, at the highest level, that violence against women will not be tolerated, in any form, in any context, in any circumstance,” he said, adding that “We need a positive image of women in the media. We need laws that say violence is a crime, that hold perpetrators accountable and are enforced.”

In another statement, UN Children''s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann Veneman underlined the significant role men and boys have to play in ending violence against women and called for putting in place programmes and activities to educate them.

Michael Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, called for gender equality to be at the core of all the world body''s actions, saying that it is not only necessary for social justice but also for achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, noted during commemorations marking the Day that, “Iraqi women made much progress towards asserting their political representational rights during the provincial elections held last January, but remain vulnerable to discrimination and violence on the basis of gender.”

Mr. de Mistura pointed to the large number of widowed Iraqi women as an issue requiring urgent and immediate attention and expressed his concern that the many years of wars and conflict have stalled and set back progress towards achieving equality for Iraqi women.

To mark the occasion in Afghanistan, up to 15,000 women gathered in Kandahar, Bamyan, Kabul, Herat, Mazar, Daikundi and Jalalabad wearing blue scarves to pray for peace.

Speaking at the country''s main event at the Amani High School in Kabul the Special Representative for of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Kai Eide said, “Afghanistan needs its women in order to make the progress we all seek.”

In Somalia, many women and girls are victims of violence, human trafficking, beatings, rape, child marriage, and female genital mutilation and remain silent for fear of being ostracized or killed by their own families, said Mark Bowden, UN Resident and Humanitarian.

“Violence against women and girls is not a women''s issue, it is an issue that concerns and diminishes us all. No custom, tradition or religion can justify cruel and degrading treatment,” said Mr. Bowden.


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