Thank you, Secretary-General for launching UNiTE, your campaign to eliminate violence against women, in 2008. Thank you, Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and Executive Director of UNFPA Babatunde Osotimehin for your phenomenal commitment and global endeavours in support of women and families. And thank you First Lady of New York Chirlane McCray for being with us, representing our wonderful host city, and thanks to all the distinguished speakers, Dr. Gustavo Jalkh, Terri Hatcher and Ayla Göksel, moderator Amna Nawaz, and the artists who are here today to stand up to violence against women worldwide.
This year, we mark not only the Official Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, but also the 20th anniversary of the declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against women. Yet the prevalence of violence against women – committed domestically, in the community or by the state – remains too high, in every corner of the world.
I know that we are all aware of the grim statistics on violence against women – but they bear repeating until they change. According to the World Health Organization, violence against women is a “global health problem of epic proportions”, UN Women notes that one in three women worldwide experienced physical or sexual violence last year – mostly inflicted by a partner; and in 2012, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime found that almost 50% of all female homicide victims were killed by their partner or their family members. Only 6% of male homicide victims are killed in the same circumstances.
When half the world’s population has to live in fear, or live with the consequences of violence, or in the worst cases – lose their lives, this is not just a problem for women; it is a problem for all of us – families, communities, societies, states. If the act is global, the consequences are too.
We need to consider new strategies and more holistic approaches that address the root causes of the problem and enable women, as agents of their own empowerment and safety, to live without the threat of violence. New evidence reported in The Lancet shows whatever the form of violence against women, programmes that work tend to be “participatory, engage multiple stakeholders, support critical discussion about gender relationships and the acceptability of violence, and support greater communication and shared decision making among family members”.
From a UAE perspective, we have tried to approach the problem comprehensively at the state and community levels by focusing on prevention, awareness raising, protection and policy initiatives. We ensure, by law, that girls complete their education until the end of grade school, we raise awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace and on women’s legal rights. Affected women and their families must have access to psychosocial treatment and rehabilitation support. However, we are still developing a more comprehensive policy on domestic violence, and while it can be difficult to have these conversations, they are beginning. In August, our Cabinet agreed to activate our policy and legal structures on this issue, to build transparency and change practice at the national level.
But, whatever progress we make at the national level, this is sadly a global problem, requiring a global response. We must resist efforts to politicise the issue and force definitions that suggest violence against women is somehow linked to specific groups, cultures, religions or regions. It is not.
Fundamentally, we must look at the full circle of a woman’s life – from education to health to labour to family and social relationships – and examine ways that individuals and societies can eliminate violence. These efforts must also be extended to more complex contexts, for example, sexual violence inconflict zones, and to confront the emerging trend of violence against women perpetrated by extremists such as ISIS, who barbarically target women’s rights and freedoms as part of their sadistic creed. A key challenge here will be to ensure that while we work to end violence against women, we are also careful to maintain a balance between protection and the securitization of women’s safety and their rights.
Central to succeeding in these efforts will be engaging state systems, and building equity in our educational, health, cultural, judicial, security and economic structures so that a culture of respect and equality for girls and women becomes the norm rather than the exception.
But it will also require us individually and at the community level to commit to changing our patterns, perceptions and standards of behavior using social media tools, dialogue efforts to break the silence, long-term work by our religious and community leaders, schools and civil society organizations, and support to collect data and research on best practices.
It will also need engagement by men and boys, and we would like to commend the Secretary-General and UN Women for launching the wonderful HeforShe campaign to focus on the contributions men and boys can make to gender equality.
Our Foreign Minister, HH Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan, was proud to be the first man in the UAE to commit to this important cause here at the UN in September.
The only sustainable solution to violence against women is for us to build societies where women are empowered and respected, every day, in every part of the world. In conclusion, we would echo the call by Phumzile (Mlambo-Ngcuka) when she launched this year’s event online: “We must make 2015 the year that marks the beginning of the end of gender inequality – this is the time for action”.