4 March 2013

Press Conference on Fifty-Seventh Session of Commission on Status of Women

4 March 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Fifty-Seventh Session of Commission on Status of Women


Calling for a universal response to the problem of violence against women and girls, Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN-Women said today that Governments were the key to ending the “pandemic” of violence targeting females worldwide.

Women and girls everywhere needed Government leaders to take action to assure their citizens that they would come through on the promises they had made and negotiate a global road map of actions to prevent and end violence, she said at a Headquarters press conference on the opening day of the two-week-long 2013 session of the Commission on the Status of Women.  Member States participating in the annual gathering agree on frameworks to address critical issues of gender equality and women’s rights.  When the Commission last addressed violence against women, in 2003, they failed to reach agreement.

“Today, we simply cannot afford to allow disagreement and indecision that blocks progress for the world’s women,” Ms. Bachelet declared, urging Governments to take on “the challenge of implementation and accountability”.  Political will was key to making much-needed progress, she said, stressing that it was important that the Commission’s fifty-seventh session lived up to expectations, because “the world and its citizens” were watching.  The session was critical because it provided a unique and historic opportunity to show the courage, determination and heart to do everything possible to end “the most pervasive violation of human rights and dignity”.

In recent months, the entire world had witnessed violence against girls, which remained a horrific reality occurring in every country and in all settings, she said, noting that public outrage was rising.  According to statistics, up to 7 in 10 women globally, or 70 per cent, would be beaten, raped, abused or mutilated in their lifetime, she added.  The “pandemic” affected the lives of millions of women, fractured families and communities, and impeded development, in addition to costing billions of dollars each year in health-care costs and lost productivity.  “I really cannot say strongly enough:  the twenty-first century has no place for violence and discrimination against women,” Ms. Bachelet emphasized.  “Yet, we know that this violence continues in spite of significant progress that has been made in laws and policies.”

Today, some 187 countries had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, she pointed out.  The United Nations Security Council now recognized sexual violence as a deliberate tactic of war, and 125 countries had enacted specific laws that penalized domestic violence.  Despite that, however, some 603 million women still lived in countries where domestic violence was not considered a crime, she said, pointing out that, in fact, impunity was the norm rather than the exception in most of them.

She said that as head of UN-Women, she had placed a high priority on personally “dialoguing” with Heads of State, countless ministers, civil society organizations and private sector partners in order to encourage stronger action, particularly implementation, because even in countries that had legislation on violence against women, the problem was lack of implementation or adequate implementation.  Ending violence against women required multi-pronged strategies, including the implementation of laws and policy reforms that would ensure that women and girls fully exercised their human rights, including their right to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.  It also called for changes in attitude and behaviour that endorsed violence, which could be achieved through community mobilization and education programmes.  Additionally, it called for building the capacity of institutions and service providers, as well as the involvement of men and boys in building violence-free communities.

Asked about the 2012 collapse of negotiations on the outcome document, and whether she was confident that a similar situation would not arise this year, Ms. Bachelet said that an in-depth analysis of the fifty-sixth session had identified many factors behind the failure to come up with an outcome document.  As a result of that analysis, the current session had been planned differently to avoid a similar outcome, she said, adding that she was hopeful and “reasonably optimistic” of the best possible outcome this year.

When asked about the apparent increase in the brutality accompanying violations against women, such as the gang rapes in India, South Africa and Pakistan, among other countries, she said that, while such brutal violence had occurred for many years, the difference was that today the world not only knew more about the violence of rape, but also other forms such as killings.  It was, therefore, important to ensure there was no impunity and that the only way to end the violence was zero tolerance of perpetrators.

In response to a question about the “big dividing issues” in trying to reach agreement on an outcome document, Ms. Bachelet said she was not in a position to go beyond what she had already outlined.  Member States had only just begun to look through the draft presented by the Bureau, which would form the basis for the negotiations.

Replying to another question, she said poverty was at the centre of everything to do with preventing and ending violence against women.  It was, therefore, imperative to empower women economically since those who were disempowered economically, socially and politically were more vulnerable to violence.  Similarly, women living with HIV/AIDS, as well as young girls forced into marriage, were more vulnerable to violence.

Asked what the United Nations should do in cases where one of its partners committed crimes such as rape, and what “grace period” should be observed before action was taken against them, she said the Organization’s role was to insist on an investigation so as to ensure that justice was done.  However, investigations into sexual violence against women, of necessity and by their very nature, tended to take long, and the world body often had to provide the institutional support that some individual countries lacked for their own investigative efforts.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.