International Women's Day, 8 March 2007
Message by Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director, UNIFEM
Equality, Development and Peace
Means Ending Violence against Women
International Women's Day is
the story of women’s organizing for equality, justice and peace. Marked by
women’s groups around the world, it is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of
women to bring about a better world. Its commemoration began in 1911 in Europe
with a March 19 rally for women’s right to vote and took on new momentum after
more than 140 working women lost their lives in a fire in the Triangle
Shirtwaist Factory in New York City a week later. It grew in following years as
women held rallies each year to protest the devastation of World War I.
This year as always the day is an opportunity
for reflection and renewal. In the 12 years since the 4th World
Conference on Women in Beijing, the signs of progress are many. There is global
recognition that gender equality is central to human development and human
security, as stated in the Millennium Declaration. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is now
seen as a gender issue as well as a health issue; rape has been recognized as a
weapon of war and a crime against humanity. Women’s human rights —monitored and
upheld by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women (CEDAW), now ratified by 185 countries—are now on every major
agenda, national, regional and international.
At the country level too, there is much to
celebrate. Laws and policies are being adopted to strengthen women’s economic
security in such vital areas as land, property and inheritance rights, decent
employment, and access to credit and markets. Quotas or other affirmative
measures have been adopted to increase women’s representation in political
decision-making in at least 95 countries, including many countries emerging from
But all of this progress can be destroyed
through continuing violence against women. Violence against women is deeply
rooted in structures of gender inequality. It fuels the spread of HIV/AIDS and
destroys women’s ability to break through inter-generational cycles of poverty.
Such violence, already horrific in times of peace, intensifies during armed
conflict as legal and justice systems break down along with systems of social
and community support. Whether in peace or in war, violence against women takes
a huge toll-- from individuals and societies both.
Fortunately, more and more countries are
recognizing these links, acknowledging that until they eliminate persistent
gender inequalities and discrimination, both human security and human
development will remain a distant dream--along with all of the Millennium
Development Goals. Governments are beginning to act: according to the
Secretary-General’s recent report, 89 states have legislative provisions on
domestic violence, 104 countries have made marital rape a crime and 93 states
prohibit trafficking in human beings. What is urgently needed is implementation.
UNIFEM has worked with women’s groups and
governments for over two decades to end the multiple forms of violence in
women’s lives. What we have learned is that ending violence against women
requires multiple strategies working across sectors and at different levels.
Laws must be accompanied by resource allocations, institutional regulations and
guidelines and systematic training for officials who will monitor and enforce
them—including police and judiciary, health and social service providers.
Ending violence against women also requires changing public perceptions and
breaking through barriers of culture and tradition to find non-violent ways to
resolve conflicts in personal and public life.
In the last decade, UNIFEM has spearheaded a set
of regional and global advocacy campaigns, working with governments, women’s
groups and the media to change laws, develop national action plans and scale up
community-based interventions to end violence against women and girls. Since
2005, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which UNIFEM manages, has
supported Governments and NGOs to implement these laws, policies and action
plans. Now we are taking this struggle to the next stage--to institutionalize
the strategic, practical actions that can bring about change, and incorporate
them into national development planning, and state accountability mechanisms.
This year marks the 10th Anniversary
of the UN Trust Fund. Ten years of innovation, experience and activism have
shown that ending violence against women is possible. What is needed now is a
serious strategy and resources to upscale the work through a strong gender
entity within the UN system, bringing the system together to promote the
strategies and practices that have worked. Only then can the UN, in partnership
with Member States and the women’s movement, be at the forefront of efforts to
end this scourge. Only then will violence against women become a rare occurrence
rather than a global pandemic.
On this International Women’s Day we owe it to
women around the world to take this challenge seriously—to end violence against
women, and strike a blow for equality, development and peace.