On behalf of the UN family and on my own behalf, I wish to express delight at the presence of Her Excellency the President at today's event. This, for us, is clear testimony of Her Excellency's personal commitment to issues relating to women, their wellbeing and empowerment.
Today we celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and mark the launch of the 2010, 16 days of Activism Campaign against Gender-Based Violence in Liberia. Today also marks the launch of the second Anti-Rape Campaign.
Madam President, I wish to commend the Government of Liberia for putting together this impressive programme, and for taking the lead in raising awareness of gender-based violence and rape. The growing Government ownership of these processes should be encouraged and nurtured.
I am also pleased to observe the close collaboration of my UN colleagues and the Government. Gender is a cross-cutting issue, which is reflected in the support to this campaign by multiple UN agencies and UNMIL, through the Gender Theme Group. The diversity of the UN is truly its strength and, as we approach the Delivering as One status, we can anticipate greater cohesion and richness of our assistance.
The theme for this year's 16 Days of Activism 'when women benefit, the whole nation benefits: Act Now! Stop violence against women” has a special significance which inspires two key messages.
First message is: Not only do women play a crucial role in national development, but their success indeed becomes a national success. Marginalizing women or ignoring their needs, therefore, can be costly to nation building. I am reminded by what a famous Ghanaian educator Kwegyir Aggrey said several decades ago: “If you educate a man you educate an individual; but if you educate a woman you educate a whole nation.” Empowering women and taking care of their needs are therefore in the best interest of the nation. That should be the spirit as we ponder the critical challenges facing women and girls in today's world.
Ladies and gentlemen: gender-based violence and rape in particular, remains a critical challenge in Liberia. Among the different crimes against women, rape is number one, according to statistics of the Liberia National Police. Sadly, well over half of those cases involve children under 15.
Such crimes undermine women and girls' right to equality under the law and their capacity to participate fully in society: this hampers Liberia's development prospects. Until gender-based violence becomes a thing of the past, women's equality will not be truly realized. Unburdened, women will help to further advance poverty reduction efforts in Liberia.
Second message to you today is that the menace of rape and gender-based violence can be stopped when all of us assume responsibility. It is in the collective interest of all Liberian citizens to ensure that the lives of women and those of their children and families are safeguarded. This should begin at home, in local communities and the work-place. Every woman and girl should live in a home free from the threat of violence; every girl should attend school without the risk of abuse; and every woman and girl should be free and safe to participate fully in the affairs of this country at all levels.
To advance a shared responsibility for halting rape and gender-based violence and develop lasting solutions, the education process must start from the bottom-up. Right now we can increase efforts at the community level for greater dialogue within the family unit and between communities, and we can strengthen efforts to support victims and survivors.
Finally, I wish to reassure the Government of United Nations' commitment to support establishing mechanisms to protect women from gender-based violence. We are encouraged by the ongoing efforts to revise the Gender Based Violence Plan of Action and to see that the nationwide anti-rape campaign is about to commence again. Our efforts must remain relevant to the realities of Liberian women.
In conclusion, I wish to reiterate the words of Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon that: “Violence against women and girls has no place in any society, and impunity for perpetrators must no longer be tolerated” and that all of us should take responsibility for ending violence against women and girls. Securing peace dividends in Liberia will not be fully realized unless we end discrimination and violence against women and girls. We all need to contribute to this and should”.
About the Author: Mr. Moustapha Soumare is Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Resident Coordinator, UNMIL