The United Nations Secretary-General's campaign "UNiTE to End Violence Against Women" got off to a powerful start in the Asian and Pacific region, with a high-profile event held at the United Nations Conference Centre on 25 November and attended by HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha and HE Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prime Minister of Thailand.
"All forms of violence against women [...] constitute a violation of human rights and a degradation of dignity and gender equality. The international community must strongly condemn all acts of violence against women", stated HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha - who has acted as UNIFEM Goodwill Ambassador for Thailand' Say No to Violence Against Women campaign since 2008 - in her keynote address. "We will not successfully end violence against women, unless we substitute the mindset of masculinity with one of gender sensitivity."
The Asia-Pacific regional component of the UNiTE campaign aims to rally all stakeholders - Governments, civil society, the private sector, the media and the entire United Nations system-to join forces to address the global pandemic of gender-based violence, which affects up to 70 per cent of women throughout their lifetime.
Among the specific goals which the campaign aims to achieve over the next five years are the strengthening of data collection on the prevalence of violence and the adoption and enforcement of national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls.
In his statement, the Prime Minister of Thailand explained how his country was rising to this challenge, underscoring the tremendous and often untapped potential of women. "Neither gender equality, nor development can be fully realized if violence against women and girls is allowed to take place, unabated and unresolved", HE Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva stated, referring also to actions undertaken at the regional level, within the ASEAN framework.
"Apart from offering moral and rhetorical support, we all have to take concrete action to end impunity and to make fundamental changes to the existing unequal power structure", he added.
However, "despite the many positive actions taken by countries to address gender-based violence, including the introduction of legislation, policies and programmes, the culture of impunity persists and violence continues," noted Ms. Nanda Krairiksh, Director of the Social Development Division of ESCAP.
While women make up half of the population of the region, violence against women and girls remains one of the region's most pervasive human rights challenges, despite progress towards its elimination and gains in women's participation in public life.
The colourful and high-profile event, attended by over 600 participants, heard startling figures about the magnitude of the issue, directly from the mouths of survivors of violence, NGO workers and law enforcement officials: "One in three women will suffer violence in her lifetime... Among women aged between 15 and 44, violence causes more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined... About 5,000 women are victims of so-called 'honour killings' every year", the group said in a well-choreographed presentation.
All speakers highlighted that tackling this issue was as one of the most compelling the region faces, requiring a robust and multisectoral partnership capable of further mobilizing public opinion against this pandemic.
The regional campaign launched on 25 November targets four priority areas in particular, for growing and strengthening such partnerships: young people; faith-based organizations and religious groups; men and boys; and the media.
"A future free of violence for the women and girls of Asia and the Pacific lies in all of our hands. Violence against women and girls has no place in any society and impunity for perpetrators must no longer be tolerated", concluded Ms. Moni Pizani, Regional Programme Director of UNIFEM, East and South-East Asia Regional Office.
The regional launch coincided with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and was organized by the United Nations Thematic Working Group on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, which brings together some 20 UN agencies. The Working Group is co-chaired by ESCAP and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM, part of UN Women).