UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore's remarks at 'Children and women under attack: Ending gender-based violence in emergencies'

27 September 2018
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore speaks during a high level event titled ‘Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies’ at the UNICEF headquarters in New York during the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly on 27 September 2018.
UNICEF/UN0238716/Tijerina
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore speaks during a high level event titled ‘Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies’ at the UNICEF headquarters in New York during the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly on 27 September 2018.

NEW YORK, 27 September 2018 - As prepared for delivery

"Good morning, everyone — and welcome to UNICEF House.

"A special welcome to my co-chair this morning, EU Commissioner Stylianides. Millions of children from every continent have benefitted from UNICEF’s long-standing partnership with ECHO. And we appreciate the EU’s leadership of the Call to Action, which UNICEF fully supports.

"And thank you all for your commitment to ending the tragedy of gender-based violence in emergencies.

"One in three women and girls — over one billion worldwide — will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. I repeat, one in three.

"But imagine being a woman or girl in the chaos of an emergency setting, like a conflict or natural disaster.

"Imagine your home is a target, and you’re forced to flee.

"Imagine you are the target, just because you’re a woman or a girl.

"Imagine a perilous walk to a temporary shelter, or a school — or to access food, water or health care.

"Imagine having your period, and because you have nothing to use, you stay at home — missing out on an education and often, vital food distributions at school.

"Imagine losing one or both parents, or being separated from loved ones.

"Imagine not knowing whom to trust…or where you’ll spend the night.

"Imagine being forced into an early marriage — or becoming a mother when still a child yourself.

"Or imagine enduring violence, abuse or exploitation by the very people enlisted to help you — including peacekeepers or aid workers. A criminal betrayal of trust.

"For millions of women and girls trapped within humanitarian emergencies, these are not distant nightmares — these are daily realities.

"Just two examples — 65 per cent of women and girls in South Sudan have experienced physical or sexual violence. In the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, 76 per cent of adolescent girls have experienced it. Three out of every four girls.

"In my travels, I’ve seen the impact of conflict on women and girls first-hand. I’ve heard their stories. I’ve witnessed the devastating impact of violence on their bodies, minds and emotions.

"But I’ve also witnessed something else. Unimaginable strength.

"Strength to summon the courage to not only survive the violence that’s been inflicted on them — but to fully live and overcome.  

"Strength to go back to school — to learn and grow.

"Strength to support other women and girls who have survived the same ordeal.

"Strength to overcome the trauma they’ve endured and begin to rebuild their lives.

"As a global community, we must match their determination with our own. A determination to invest in support programmes. To give survivors an opportunity to report what has happened to them — and to heal. And to work with communities to push back against the cultural norms that reduce women and girls to second-class citizens, and render them vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation in the first place.

"UNICEF is on the front-lines of these efforts, working with our partners to support women and girls in emergencies.

"Through protection services, like establishing safe spaces, and constantly decreasing the risks to women and girls across our programmes.

"Through support services like psychosocial support, case management, and clinical management in cases of rape.  

"Through innovative technology, like Primero, which provides us with a new and safe way of collecting and analysing data on gender-based violence.

"And through co-operative community efforts to change harmful social norms like early childhood marriage, life-threatening early pregnancy or keeping girls out of school.

"For example, the Communities Care programme in Somalia helped dramatically drive down harmful attitudes that put women and girls at risk. By working with community and faith-based leaders and groups, we saw reductions in acceptance for spousal violence, for using family honour as an excuse not to report rape, and for blaming women or girls for the assaults they endure.  

"As IASC Champion for protection from sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment, ending gender-based violence in emergencies is at the top of my agenda.

"And as Executive Director, I’m committed to focusing UNICEF’s technical and programming expertise on protecting and supporting girls and women in humanitarian emergencies. 

"But UNICEF cannot do it alone. Which is what today’s event is all about: sharing ideas and experiences from across the humanitarian family on the programmes, technology and services that we can scale-up to support women and girls, everywhere.

"Let us honour their courage with our investment. And let us match their determination with our best efforts to transform the tragedies they’ve endured into the protection, hope and opportunity they deserve.

"I look forward to our discussion today.

"Now I’ll pass the floor to my co-chair today, Christos Stylianides."

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