By Knut Ostby
Excellencies, members of the diplomatic corps, senior officials. distinguished guests, colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen.
I am honored to be able to welcome you to this evening’s performance, “Celebrating Women’s Role: Stop Violence Against Women and Girls”, which comes at the end of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign.
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign that began in 1991. The start and end dates of 25th November and 10th December mark the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women and the International Human Rights Day. This choice of dates symbolizes the important link between violence against women and human rights, and emphasizes that violence against girls and women is a violation of human rights.
The 16 Days Campaign calls for the elimination of all forms of violence against women. Some of the methods we use to campaign are:
- To raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue
- To strengthen local work opposing violence against women
- To demonstrate the solidarity of women around the world who mobilize against violence against women
- To create tools that will urge governments to implement promises made to eliminate violence against women
On Violence against Women around the world
Violence against women and girls is one of the most pervasive human rights violations.
It takes place in all countries around the world, in poor countries and in rich countries, in countries in conflict and in countries that are politically stable.
Violence against women is rooted in behaviours and attitudes that promote inequality and unfairness between men and women at all levels in society.
On a global level, up to seven in ten women report that they have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. Most of this violence is taking place in intimate partner relationships.
In addition to the physical and emotional trauma, the monetary costs of violence against women are enormous. For example, a 2008 study estimated the cost of violence against women and girls in the United Kingdom to be about £37 billion annually .
On Violence against Women in the Pacific
Unfortunately, the numbers and statistics showing the situation in the Pacific, are not any better.
In Kiribati, more than two thirds of women who have had a partner, reported to have experienced at least one act of physical or sexual violence, or both, by that partner.
Here in Fiji, the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre reports that approximately 66% of women have been physically abused by partners and nearly half repeatedly abused.
The annual monetary cost of intimate partner violence in Fiji was estimated at 7% of the Gross Domestic Product in 2002.
Domestic violence has many victims; not only the women directly affected. Children who witness domestic violence are at increased risk of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and poor school performance.
Violence against women and girls is impacting the culture in the Pacific and in the world; our society and our economy. Violence against women and girls impacts everyone.
So what can we ALL do about it?
The only way to eliminate violence against women and girls is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
This requires challenging and changing the social norms and the behaviors and attitudes that tolerate such violence. We all need to UNITE and SAY NO to violence.
Women should be encouraged to participate in politics and decision making, including taking part in creating and promoting laws and policies that prevent violence.
Women’s economic empowerment also reduces violence against women. When women are made economically independent or able to contribute to their families economically, they will not be as vulnerable to violence as they were before.
Working with men and boys is critical. To challenge gender stereotypes and to promote respectful relationships, cooperation and co-work across gender lines should be encouraged.
Violence against women and girls impacts many different sectors of society. Therefore, support for victims and survivors also has to come from all different sectors, including support from the police and the justice system. Shelters and secure accommodation, medical and healthcare, and counseling and hotline services must be made available.
Many organizations in Fiji and in the Pacific, including NGOs and women’s organizations, Pacific governments, UN agencies, and youth are working to address violence against women and girls. I would like to congratulate these organizations on their courage and their great work.
But we need everyone to become involved. Only when social standards and norms demonstrate respect for girls and women, can violence against them come to a halt. When everyone UNITES to end Violence against Women and Girls, we will see a change.
When important messages are expressed through art, and in particular through dance and music, I think we can see them more clearly. I think we can more easily take them to heart. Therefore I think that tonight’s performance is very valuable and that it can really make a difference in how we understand and take on board the extremely important problem of violence against women.
On behalf of UN agencies in Fiji, I would like to thank Peter Rockford Espiritu for taking on this most important theme and his team of artists and dancers from the Oceania Dance Theatre for their hard work to develop tonight’s performance, sharing their spirit and energy to help bring this message to our hearts.
I would like to thank UN Women for sponsoring the performance and the other UN agencies for supporting this production.
And many thanks to all of you, for taking the time to attend, to learn about and to be open to this global problem that impacts every one of us. I hope you are ready to open your hearts to what you will see and hear in this performance and that it will be a contribution to change for women in the Pacific.
Thank you for taking this step to SAY NO to violence against women and girls.