On International Women's Day, Change Is Possible

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By Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women

Today, on International Women’s Day, I join every individual who believes that change is possible. We are guided by a founding principle of the United Nations: the equal rights of men and women.

All around the world, our voices are rising, and silence and indifference are declining. Change is possible, and it’s happening.

Change is happening when every country, for the first time in history, has women on their Olympic teams, as they did this past summer in London.

Change is happening when people worldwide declare solidarity with a Pakistani girl who was shot for championing education for all, a girl named Malala.

Change is happening when protests erupt across the globe with women and men, young and old, rising up and saying no to violence against women.

Today, I have a message that has two sides, one of hope and one of outrage.

Michelle Bachelet

Image: © Lin Qiong/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com

I have hope because awareness and action are rising for women’s rights. But I’m outraged because women and girls continue to suffer high levels of discrimination, violence, and exclusion. They are routinely blamed and made to feel shame for the violence committed against them, and they too often search in vain for justice.

My message today is simple and straightforward: enough is enough. Discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century. It’s time for governments to keep their promises and protect human rights in line with the international conventions and agreements that they signed onto. A promise is a promise.

When we set up UN Women more than two years ago, we made ending violence against women one of our top priorities. Last November, on behalf of UN Women I sent a letter to all heads of state and government of the United Nations. I asked them to COMMIT and announce new actions to prevent and end violence against women and girls. So far, some 45 governments have committed. We are urging all governments to commit to actions to end violence against women.

As we observe this day, government representatives and activists are gathered at the United Nations for the largest international gathering on ending violence against women. At the 57th Commission on the Status of Women, governments are negotiating a global roadmap of actions to prevent and end these widespread human rights violations.

Ten years ago, when nations came together in this forum on this same issue, they were unable to reach agreement. Today, we cannot allow disagreement and indecision to block progress for the world’s women.

The right of a woman to live free of violence depends on a strong chain of justice. And countries that enact and enforce laws on violence against women have less gender-based violence. Today, 160 countries have laws to address violence against women. However, a law is only as strong as its enforcement – and in too many cases enforcement is lacking.

So let us work together for strong laws and policies and for effective implementation. Let us work together for prevention and education and for programmes that provide essential services for the victims and survivors of violence.

Today and every day , we say NO to discrimination and violence against women and girls. And we say YES to peace, human rights, justice and equality. Let us move forward with courage, conviction and commitment, with the message that women’s issues are global issues that deserve urgent priority. There can be no peace, and no progress as long as women live under the fear of violence.

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