8 March 2020

Scars of Violence Go Beyond Individual to Family, Community, Weakening All, Deputy Secretary-General Says at International Women’s Day Celebrations

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks at the International Women’s Day celebrations in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, today:

It is my pleasure to celebrate International Women’s Day with you tonight after launching the Spotlight Initiative earlier today, a global initiative of the European Union and the United Nations to combat violence against women and girls.  I thank the Government and all of you for welcoming our delegation so warmly.  I am joined by my colleagues Winnie Byanyima, the UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS] Executive Director, and Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary‑General’s Youth Envoy.

Less than one month after gaining its independence, Papua New Guinea was admitted to the United Nations family of nations in 1975.  Since then, Papua New Guinea has emerged as a regional leader, enjoying growth and forging its way in the world’s most dynamic region.  As a nation, it has a strong foundation to build on.  I have been here only 12 hours, but have heard in every meeting about the incredibly rich diversity of this young nation — in languages, in people, in biodiversity.  This is a strength.

But, there is more work ahead.  Increased infrastructure, diversification of the economy and greater access to technology are all necessary elements for forging the road ahead.  As is access to quality education for all, an issue I heard clearly as a core priority from the Prime Minister today.  Work must continue to better prepare Papua New Guinea for the inevitable disruption that climate change will bring with it.  We are also seeing the increased convergence of the “humanitarian-development-peace” nexus in the Highlands, which is recovering from the devastating 2018 earthquake.

It is clear that only inclusive, conflict-sensitive and sustainable development can lead to durable pathways to peace.  And the surest avenue we have to achieve that peace and prevent future violence is to build on the critical role that women play in mediating and resolving conflict.  I spent time this afternoon with women from all different regions, from Bougainville to the Highlands, who shared with me the impact that violence, insecurity and conflict has had on their communities, livelihoods and families.  But, equally, they shared the amazing work that they are doing to build peace.

Throughout the day, we have also interacted with youth, members of civil society, women leaders, market vendors, private sector, Government officials and development partners.  One common thread throughout these interactions was the urgency to lift women up into leadership positions, out of poverty and away from being harmed.  There is a direct link between violence in the home and violence in the community and beyond.  It is not possible to build a nation when half the country lives daily with fear and insecurity.  The scars of violence go beyond the individual, to the family and community as a whole.  It weakens us all.  From my interactions today, this is a message that resonates strongly.  With one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world, urgent change is needed in Papua New Guinea.

But, we also heard today strong messages of hope and an opportunity to transform.  The number of young people in this country and the change that they want to see is an asset.  Through them we can realize change in one generation and realize a shift away from norms that accept violence and harm towards an ethic of care, respect and greater social cohesion.

There is also hope and opportunity in the incredible commitment of Government, which has taken the issue of gender-based violence to Parliament for the first time.  The Government has also made progress in establishing a range of protection services for women and girls, and with the UN’s support has developed the first‑ever national gender-based violence strategy.

Alongside the necessary laws, services and social change must come equal representation in all spheres.  The number of women in decision-making roles has remained consistently low in Papua New Guinea, with only seven women elected as parliamentarians since independence.  It is not possible to build a nation on only half our resources.  And it is not possible to develop policies and legislation that fits the needs of all citizens when half the country is unrepresented.

Tonight’s theme, “Each for Equal”, reinforces the responsibility we each have as men and women to create an equal society.  This year marks 25 years since the adoption of the Beijing Platform on Gender Equality.  On this International Women’s Day, I encourage each of us to use this year to renew a commitment to women’s rights and realize the goal of equality well ahead of our shared target of 2030.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.