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International Women’s Day

20-03-2002 - - On 8 March 2002, the international community will again observe International Women's Day. Within the framework of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010), my message this year will focus on the theme of violence against women, with particular reference to its impact on children.

Countless acts of violence afflicting women and children in both developed and developing countries still persist, ranging from domestic violence, battering, marital rape and dowry-related violence to pre-natal sex selection in favour of male babies, female infanticide, sexual abuse, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, and sexual exploitation, including trafficking and forced prostitution. Moreover, in situations of armed conflict, women and girls are increasingly targeted for attack, mistreatment and, in some circumstances, systematic rape. As refugees, women are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence while in flight, in refugee camps and/or during resettlement.

Violence against women and girls occurs in all countries, in all regions, and in every segment of society, though the forms and incidence of such violence are variable. Often, violence is not random - women and girls are victims simply because they are female. Thus, gender-based violence is an expression of gender inequality but it also may serve to bolster wider patterns of gender discrimination and injustice. Too often, violence is visited upon women as though it were a right of men to inflict it and the obligation of women to suffer it. Such thinking must be rejected categorically.

In recent years, the existence of gender-based violence has gained greater public acknowledgement in many countries but denial of its scope and seriousness remains widespread. Its victims, moreover, may prefer silence, especially when prevailing social customs, powerful institutions and the legal system do little or nothing to afford protection. I appeal, therefore, to governments, civil society organizations and the international community to promote respect for internationally recognized principles, norms and standards of human rights, particularly women’s rights and children’s rights which are an inalienable and integral part of universal human rights. And I appeal for greater and more open debate as well as stronger action concerning violence against women. That action, let me add, must include preventive education.

Gender-based violence has immediate and far-reaching consequences affecting women’s and children’s development, health, mental and physical well-being, and life prospects.

By ‘children’, of course, we mean both boys and girls, whether they are the direct victims of violence or are exposed to it. Despite its pervasive presence in human history, we are only just beginning to reach a fuller understanding of the causes and effects of violence. Much more research and investigation are needed if we are to understand how violence affects the behaviour, emotions, attitudes and personal development of its direct victims and its witnesses.

However, crucial though they are, increased knowledge and understanding are not enough, nor should they be the first response. The key immediate action in all cases is to stop the violence before it does any further damage. Violence feeds upon itself and therefore has the potential to escalate. Stopping the violence, therefore, is urgent and vital. But it too is not enough. For the cycle of violence to be decisively broken, its recurrence must be prevented. This applies as much to political violence as it does, say, to domestic violence.

Effective prevention must take specific and appropriate forms but a factor common to many different approaches is the strengthening of the resilience and coping capacity of the victims of violence. UNESCO believes that supportive learning environmentsare very important in this regard, as are particular strategies for promoting peace, conflict resolution, human rights, tolerance and democracy through education.

Without in any way diminishing the importance of other situations around the world, allow me to take the example of Afghanistan, where until recently women and girls were victims of systematic marginalization and discrimination at the hands of the Taliban regime. Afghanistan under the Taliban became justifiably notorious for its denial of women’s fundamental human rights, particularly the right to education, health and work. Today, thanks to recent developments, new opportunities are becoming available to Afghan women so they may regain their rightful position in society and become equal partners in the tasks of reconstruction.

Women are reclaiming their rights to education and employment, schools for girls are reopening and women are returning to their former jobs.
In whatever way it can, UNESCO is supporting these efforts, recognizing that Afghan women themselves must take the lead in identifying their own needs and priorities. The end of all forms of gender-based violence is likely to figure prominently among those priorities. The collapse of the Taliban regime has removed a major impediment to Afghan women’s recovery of their rights but other obstacles stubbornly remain. The return of peace and security in Afghanistan is essential for all other efforts aimed at recovery and reconstruction. But real peace and security will not return to Afghan women until the tolerance of violence in the culture and in the society is uprooted.
Violence against women and children is not a "women's issue". Indeed, as an issue of equality and equity, it concerns us all. Both men and women must work side by side in support of increased recognition and respect of the equal role and rights of each other. A member of an Afghan women’s group described this recently in simple, yet moving words: "Society is like a bird. It has two wings. And a bird cannot fly if one wing is broken. Let us resolve to ensure that all societies fly with both wings, of equal strength and with equal dignity".

Source Message from the Director-General





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