The Commonwealth Secretary-General has said she is more determined than ever to bring change and end violence against women and girls across the Commonwealth.
Addressing participants in South Africa at the second Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide on 1 November, the Secretary-General, in an impassioned message of solidarity to survivors, said:
“We have had to face the truth of gender-based violence and the scar that it places on our world. The President was right when he called it a second pandemic. I have always referred to it as the silent pandemic, which was here long before COVID.
“I really wish, with all my heart that this issue no longer existed because we are 28 years since the Declaration of the Elimination of Violence Against Women. 28 years of committing ourselves to change. But I want to say to you that change will come.
“I am absolutely determined that we will end violence against women and girls.
“I want to tell you, do not give up. Do not be silent. Keep on fighting. And I promise you I as your Secretary-General will fight with you.”
Hundreds of government representatives, civil society, activists, and survivors attended the two-day summit in Midrand, Johannesburg, which was held under the theme “Accountability. Acceleration and Amplification, NOW!”. The Summit aimed to reflect on the work undertaken since the first summit in 2018, report on key successes and challenges, outline clear strategies to overcome them and create a space for accountability.
Speaking earlier in a keynote address, President Cyril Ramaphosa, who convened the Summit, said:
“As a society, ending violence against women and children cannot be anything but our foremost priority. This is about the lives of our country’s women and children. There can be no greater urgency.
“We owe this to the women and children of South Africa. We owe it to all who have been victims of this scourge, including families and loved ones. We owe it to the people of this country.
“The actions we take now will determine whether this crime forever remains a feature of our national life, or whether we can say we are the generation that ended it.”
1 in 3 women experience domestic or sexual violence
The numbers are staggering. Describing it as a “silent pandemic”, the Secretary-General outlined the latest figures: globally one in three women will experience a form of domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime. More than 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation and at least 2 billion women have experienced sexual harassment. Furthermore, during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, there was an alarming rise in domestic and sexual violence, and cases of harmful practices such as female genital mutilation – “it just got worse in some of our countries,” the Secretary-General said. “It went up by more than 500%.”
The Secretary-General underscored the need to work collaboratively through a whole system, multi-sectoral approach which involves all members of the society – not just government, but local government, businesses, NGOs, and individuals – and called on leaders to bring about the necessary changes to end the scourge, which is not only devastating for survivors and their families but also brings huge social and economic costs and amplifies inequality.
Commonwealth Says NO MORE
Eliminating violence against women and girls is a top priority for the Commonwealth and its member countries and it is one of the four Commonwealth priorities for gender equality.
In her speech, the Secretary-General highlighted the Commonwealth Says NO MORE initiative, the first-ever pan-Commonwealth platform to address domestic and sexual violence, which brings together the Commonwealth Secretariat and the NO MORE Foundation, as well as the toolkit which the Secretariat has provided to enable countries to undertake economic costing of violence against women and girls.
The Commonwealth also recently adopted the Commonwealth Declaration for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women by the Commonwealth Heads of Government, wherein Heads reiterated that all forms of discrimination and violence against all women and girls violate human rights and respect for human dignity and hampers the growth in the prosperity of societies, communities, and families.
Moreover, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2022, held in June in Kigali, Rwanda, the Commonwealth Secretariat and The NO MORE Foundation launched new guidelines for Commonwealth countries to stop and prevent violence against women and girls (VAWG).