As the world marks the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, I stand with millions of men and women around the world to say NO to violence! We will not accept that violence is a part of culture. We reject any suggestions that women and girls are mere possessions to be used and abused.
Tragically millions of women and girls worldwide have a story to tell about being punched or slapped or kicked or raped or verbally abused or forced into marriage, or subjected to female genital mutilation. It should shock us all that an estimated 35 per cent of the female population has experienced physical and sexual violence.
These women are from big countries, from small countries; they are rich, they are poor, women of faith and those of none – they are from all walks of life. Often the perpetrator is a partner or family member, and the consequence is tragic. In 2012 almost half of the female victims of homicide globally were killed by an intimate partner or family member.
The tragedy of this cruel reality is that it affects everyone. The damage inflicted on children who grow up with domestic violence is heart-breaking and almost unimaginable in its long term consequences.
There is also a staggering economic cost. In 2004 the UK estimated the economic cost of domestic violence alone to be £23bn, and researchers think it could be as high as 10 per cent of some countries’ GDP. No one can argue that ending violence against women is not an urgent priority. That is why I devoted my career in the UK government to a multi-sector approach to addressing the issue. The result was a 64 per cent reduction in violence against women and a £7.1bn reduction in the economic cost.
As Commonwealth Secretary-General, I am determined to replicate this success across our 52 member states. So when I took office in April I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
Since then the Commonwealth has held an inaugural women’s leadership summit to develop a Commonwealth manifesto and action plan on gender issues and equality. This work was reinforced by the outcome of the Commonwealth Women’s Affairs meeting, where ending violence against women was one of four priorities endorsed by ministers. We also launched the cutting-edge Commonwealth judicial bench books to help provide practical guidance to those entrusted with responsibility for upholding laws which protect women from violence. This legal resource was described by judges as “essential”.
Tomorrow, the Commonwealth Secretariat is charting a roadmap for change. More than a hundred people, including experts in education, health and the law, plus senior officials from international development organisations and gender rights campaigners will meet in Marlborough House to help us review and shape this initiative.
We will tell participants about the tailored toolkits that we will be creating for countries. These resources will recognise that men also need to play an important role in addressing this problem, and that tackling violence against women is a whole community initiative. They will contain education and health programmes and legislative resources to help Commonwealth countries.
I know we have the whole Commonwealth family’s support because it’s clear in our Charter that gender equality is a basic human right, and women’s empowerment is essential to sustainable development. Last year, Commonwealth leaders prioritised achieving gender equality at their summit in Malta.
I know we have global support because gender equality is explicit in the internationally-agreed sustainable development goals.
Today I pledge, on behalf of the Commonwealth, to continue to empower women and girls, helping them to defy expectations, by rising to the top of corporations and influential international organisations, and by leading governments. Let us confound those who seek to limit ambition, and let us with unwavering determination work to ensure that the scourge of violence does not impede progress for any of our 2.5bn citizens.