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RIGHTS: U.N. Recruits Men to Help End Violence Against Women

Liza Jansen

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 25 2009 (IPS) - Marking the 10th anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a Network of Men Leaders to battle violence against women and girls here Tuesday.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks at a press conference for the launch of the Network of Men Leaders.  Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks at a press conference for the launch of the Network of Men Leaders. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

“These men will add their voices to the growing global chorus for action,” Ban said.

The Network of Men Leaders consists of current and former politicians, activists, religious and community figures who will work together to support the efforts of women around the world to defy destructive stereotypes, embrace equality, and inspire men and boys around the globe to speak out against violence.

Seventy percent of women have experienced some sort of physical or sexual violence from men, mainly from husbands, intimate partners or relatives, Ban noted.

Therefore “men have a crucial role to play in ending such violence, as fathers, friends, decision makers, and community and opinion leaders”, he said.

The Network of Men Leaders is an initiative of UNiTE to End Violence against Women, a campaign the secretary-general launched last year that fights violence against women and girls in all parts of the world. UNiTE brings together a host of U.N. agencies and offices to galvanise action across the U.N. system.

“Violence against women and girls remains the least acknowledged and recognised gender issue by Arab states and their policymakers,” Ghida Anani, programme coordinator for the group KAFA, said at the launch.

KAFA, which means “enough”, is a Lebanese non-profit organisation seeking to mitigate the causes and results of violence and exploitation of women and children.

“We believe that men are part of the problem, but also part of the solution,” Anani said.

Anani has been fighting violence against women and girls for eight years in the Middle East, where many women silently suffer from violence that is often legal.

“Engaging men and boys to commit themselves to ending such violence is crucial and long overdue,” said Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol of Thailand, who also attended the conference.

Mahidol is a Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and was involved with UNIFEM’s global “Say No To Violence Against Women” campaign in Thailand last year.

“While there may be one-size-fits-all solutions, I strongly believe that prevention can be as effective as the cure, if not better,” Mahidol said.

Members of the Secretary-General’s Network of Men Leaders include José Luis Rodrígues Zapatero, prime minister of Spain; Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize; Paulo Coelho, author of the acclaimed novel, “The Alchemist”; and Ricardo Lago, former president of Chile.

Ban also announced that new grants for projects on the ground are to be awarded this year by the U.N. Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women, and managed by UNIFEM, amounting to 10.5 million dollars for 13 initiatives in 18 countries and territories.

By 2015, the UNiTE campaign aims to have achieved five goals worldwide: adopt and enforce national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls; adopt and implement multi-sectoral national action plans; strengthen data collection on the prevalence of violence against women and girls; increase public awareness and social mobilization; and address sexual violence in conflict.

“We must act together. We must build on the efforts of so many women and women’s organizations who have worked tirelessly to address this epidemic. We must continue to widen the circle of engagement,” Ban said.

Members of the Network will work to raise public awareness, advocate for adequate laws, and meet with young men and boys, the secretary-general said.

“Break the silence. When you witness violence against women and girls, do not sit back. Act. Advocate. Unite to change the practices and attitudes that incite, perpetrate and condone this violence,” he stressed.

Women who experience violence suffer a range of health problems and their ability to participate in public life is diminished. Violence against women is not confined to a specific culture, region or country, or to particular groups of women within a society, UNiTE stressed.

Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria, according to World Bank data.

Several global surveys suggest that 50 percent of all women who die from homicide are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.

“Let this be the new environment where men and women leaders work side by side to replace the mindset of masculinity with one of gender sensitivity,” Mahidol concluded her speech.

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