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Speech by Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director on international Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and 15th Anniversary of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women

New York, 23 November 2011

First of all, I would like to congratulate the UN’s newest agency: UN Women…and my good friend, Michelle Bachelet, the first ever Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women.  Women and girls around the world are fortunate, indeed, to have such an inspiring, resourceful, and courageous role model.

I am pleased to join you all this morning.  We are part of a growing chorus calling for an end to violence against women and girls…not just today but every day.

There is no adjective that can adequately describe the depth of the anger we should feel about violence against women and girls.  It is a gross violation of their rights and every standard of civilised behaviour.  As long as it continues, it diminishes us all…wherever it happens.  And it happens everywhere.

Violence does not discriminate.  It cuts across race, religion…country, class, and culture.  It flourishes in conflict. It occurs in homes and families…schools and workplaces… care homes and communities.

Globally, up to six out of every ten women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.

An estimated 150 million girls under 18 experience some kind of sexual violence.  Note that I say “estimated”.  The terrible fact is that we do not know the extent of it.  And there are many reasons for that.

Often, girls and their families do not report cases of abuse because of stigma or because they are afraid of the authorities.

In many places, violence is tolerated or, at best, under-reported.  Sometimes, there is a genuine lack of awareness about what is acceptable.

Compounding all of this is the fact that around the world, many baby girls are not even registered at birth.  There is no data on them.  In Ethiopia, for example, only 7% of girls’ births are recorded.  When girls aren’t counted, it reinforces the notion that they don’t count as much as boys.

Of course, they do count.  In equal measure.  And they need our help.

Not just to tend to the physical scars of abuse -- which are alarming.  But to heal the psychological scars – the scars we can’t see.

The quiet girl with no friends crippled by a lack of self-confidence.  The girl who is so preoccupied she does not perform well in school.  Or the little girl robbed of her dignity and vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation.

A dreadful loss for each and every girl…a devastating loss for society.

Because when girls are supported and empowered…they grow into women who build healthy and strong families… encourage gender equality… boost their countries’ economies.

Preventing violence against girls and women is critical not only for their own well-being, but for the health and progress of our global community.

That is why UNICEF is a proud partner in the Together for Girls initiative…. part of the Secretary General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign.

Together for Girls is working hard to collect data on the impact and extent of sexual violence so that we can respond better.  We are developing programmes that prevent violence from happening…and protect children from abusive influences.  And we are raising awareness of violence from dense urban sprawls to sparse rural communities.

National household surveys documenting violence against children have been carried out in Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya, and Zimbabwe…with more in the pipeline.  Already in Swaziland we are making good progress.

UNICEF has supported the training of judges there on how to deal with children in court.  And we have seen more severe penalties for those who harm children.  We helped establish a Child Friendly Counselling Centre to provide care for women and children who have been abused.  And we are partnering with the Ministry of Education and Training to spark a national dialogue on how to break the culture of silence around violence against children.

But so much more needs to be done to combat this global pandemic.  We need greater political commitment and resources.  And we need men and boys to be part of the solution.

So, today, let’s pledge to reenergize our collective efforts…work together to accelerate action… realize results…and give voice to the thousands of girls and women silenced by the shame and the stigma of violence.

Thank you very much.




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