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UN urges 'zero tolerance at the highest levels of leadership' to end violence against women and girls

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Official Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women at the UN Headquarters in New York.
UN Women
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Official Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women at the UN Headquarters in New York.

UN urges 'zero tolerance at the highest levels of leadership' to end violence against women and girls

Ending gender-based violence is a top priority for achieving the United Nations founding mission of peace, development and human rights, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, noting his specific concerns about rising violent extremism and its impact on women and girls, and calling for global collective action to end the scourge.

“If we are united, between men and women, among government leaders, business communities and civil society leaders I think there will be nothing which we cannot overcome. There will be nothing which will stand in our way to achieve gender equality and gender empowerment,” said Mr. Ban in his remarks during the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, at the UN Headquarters in New York.

Mr. Ban called for ending all attacks against women and girls, including domestic abuse, sexual assault, slavery, trafficking, female genital mutilation, child and forced marriages and all other forms of abuse.

Citing the attacks on activist Malala Yousafzai, the kidnapping of the Chibok girls in Nigeria, the terror inflicted on women in Syria, Iraq and other countries, Mr. Ban stressed that all crimes against women must be punished.

Focusing specifically on the impact of violent extremism on women and girls, he said that many women and girls suffer other gender- specific abuses from terrorist groups and security services.

“Women, especially young women, may fall prey to false promises of violent extremists. These extremists pervert and shame the religious teachings they claim to represent. In some cases, the recruiters – even the attackers – are women. We have to confront this disturbing reality and take decisive action to address it,” said Mr. Ban.

The UN chief announced that he is preparing a Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, a framework to underpin action to stop violence against women, where challenges pertaining to this issue will be discussed in the weeks ahead.

Additionally, Mr. Ban said that women are not merely victims but “agents of change with potentially enormous influence”.

“Women can play a decisive role in addressing sensitive issues such as sexual violence. This is especially true in societies where women victims of rape also carry shame and stigma. In those cases, victims may prefer to confide in women. And when we women gain prominence for defending human rights, justice and the rule of law, they also serve as role models who inspire others,” said the Secretary-General.

Mr. Ban said that he has sent a strong signal to men that gender inequality and abuses against women will never be tolerated at in the UN system and added that he has been pushing the UN Security Council to advance its women, peace and security agenda.

“But if we are serious about ending violence against women, including violent extremism, we have to intensify our efforts for women's rights. That is why we are raising our ambitions,” said Mr. Ban.

He noted that violence against women is “pervasive” in all countries and added that individual women and women's organizations are essential to success.

“I will continue to do everything possible to advance women's leadership in classrooms, boardrooms and negotiating rooms. I will give as many women as possible the chance they deserve to make a difference as leaders at the United Nations. And I count on all of you to join me in pressing men to understand that women's safety and equality are in everyone's interest,” said Mr. Ban.

In his message to mark the International Day, commemorated annually on 25 November, the Secretary-General echoed similar sentiments as he called for urgent need collaboratively act in order to end crimes against women, which stand as “grave threats to progress.”

In that statement, Mr. Ban noted that he is leading the global response through programmes such as the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign and the HeForShe, which aim to engage men in promoting gender equality.

Additionally, he recalled that the newly adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also recognizes the importance of eliminating violence against women, with related targets across several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For her part, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who also spoke at the today's commemoration, stressed that violence against women, one of the most tolerated violations of human rights, can be prevented.

“Violence is directed at women because of their sexual orientation, because of their race, because of their religion and because they are indigenous women. It affects women in rich and poor countries alike. It is a universal problem. In our work, we must leave no hurting and no violated women behind. Our responses must be comprehensive and targeted because the problem is complex,” she said in her remarks at the commemoration.

Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka said that ending violence against women requires commitment and zero tolerance at the highest levels of leadership.

She applauded the Heads of States and governments who named ending violence against women and girls as a priority for action at the Global Leaders' Meeting on gender equality and women's empowerment in September on the side lines of the General Assembly.

Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka highlighted the importance of ensuring access to justice for all women and other essential services, including training them about their legal rights, and teaching police officers how to respond to the signs of domestic abuse.

She also said that attitudes towards women must be changed on the ground to prevent violence against women and girls.

“We can prevent violence through community groups that educate men about unequal power relations that perpetuate violence against women and positive masculinity. We can prevent violence through harnessing the power and authority of faith-based groups, cultural groups, sport at different levels […] We can empower women by letting them experience resilience and fairness, and giving them safe spaces,” said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka.

She stressed that laws must be enforced across the world to eliminate violence against women, which can encourage changes in behaviours.

“We are seeing some encouraging progress when all of these are done together. One hundred and twenty-five countries have laws against sexual harassment and 119 have laws against domestic violence. Though the laws in many cases are still poorly enforced and some countries still need to close the legislative gaps,” said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka.

As part of the Orange the World campaign, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka said that world monuments ranging from the Pyramids in Egypt to the European Commission in Brussels, will be lit orange today “in solidarity and the promise of change” and at the same time, tuk-tuk drivers in Cambodia and police officers in Albania, among others, will join the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence.

Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka also highlighted the important role of the SDGs as they “provide us with explicit targets to eliminate violence against women.”

Lastly, she called for a collaborative action from businesses, Member States, cities, villages, all other partners, including civil society, women's organizations and men and boys, to reach a “Planet 50-50- where women and girls can live without violence.”