As we commemorate International Women’s Day, we must look back on a year of shocking crimes of violence against women and girls and ask ourselves how to usher in a better future.
One young woman was gang-raped to death. Another later committed suicide out of a sense of shame that should have attached to the perpetrators. Young teens were shot at close range for daring to seek an education.
These atrocities, which rightly sparked global outrage, were part of a much larger problem that pervades virtually every society and every realm of life.
Look around at the women you are with. Think of those you cherish in your families and your communities. And understand that there is a statistical likelihood that many of them have suffered violence in their lifetime. Even more have comforted a sister or friend, sharing their grief and anger following an attack.
This year on International Women’s Day, we convert our outrage into action. We declare that we will prosecute crimes against women — and never allow women to be subjected to punishments for the abuses they have suffered. We renew our pledge to combat this global health menace wherever it may lurk — in homes and businesses, in war zones and placid countries, and in the minds of people who allow violence to continue.
We also make a special promise to women in conflict situations, where sexual violence too often becomes a tool of war aimed at humiliating the enemy by destroying their dignity.
To those women we say: the United Nations stands with you. As secretary-general, I insist that the welfare of all victims of sexual violence in conflict must be at the forefront of our activities. And I instruct my senior advisors to make our response to sexual violence a priority in all of our peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities.
The United Nations system is advancing our UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, which is based on the simple but powerful premise that all women and girls have a fundamental human right to live free of violence.
This week in New York, at the Commission on the Status of Women, the world is holding the largest-ever UN assembly on ending violence against women. We will make the most of this gathering — and we keep pressing for progress long after it concludes.
I welcome the many governments, groups and individuals who have contributed to this campaign. I urge everyone to join our effort.
Whether you lend your funds to a cause or your voice to an outcry, you can be part of our global push to end this injustice and provide women and girls with the security, safety and freedom they deserve.
The writer is the Secretary-General of the United Nations.