(Alleen beschikbaar in het Engels)
Your Royal Highness,
I am very happy to speak to you today as a guest of the Council of Women World Leaders - a Council which brings together brilliant and influential women leaders from all over the world. Because of your past or present positions of responsibility, you are in a privileged position to mobilize actions to advance the cause of women living and working in often precarious and very difficult conditions. Many of your members have taken initiatives to support and promote the qualities and talents of women to enable them to control their own destinies. I applaud you for it.
May I share with you my thoughts on an issue that I consider of the utmost importance -- I am speaking about "Violence against Women".
I am committed to adding my voice to all those who express deep concern about the pervasiveness of violence against women and girls. No country is immune from this scourge. The lack of empowerment of women and their marginalization, and the poverty in which they have to live, place them at a higher risk of violence. All forms of violence should be addressed in a holistic and effective way with focus on the empowerment of women in all its aspects. Increased participation of women in political and economic life, and above all a good quality education are essential if we want to break this cycle of violence.
Combatting violence against women and girls is a big challenge. Many initiatives and actions have been taken over the years. Unfortunately statistics show that discrimination and violence are still present on a huge scale in our societies. No custom, tradition or religious considerations can be invoked to justify acts of violence against women and girls: domestic violence -- something that also frequently occurs in our western societies -- female genital mutilation, honor crimes, femicide, early and forced marriages, sexual violence as a tactic of war and many others. Let there be no doubt, all of them violate human rights and the principles of human integrity and dignity.
During my travels, I have met many courageous women and girls living in difficult conditions. Each time I was struck both by the hardship of their lives and by their resilience, hope and strong determination to strive for a better future. We should help these less fortunate girls and women in their search for a better life by giving them a voice and a face.
A few weeks ago, I met an extraordinary man, M. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese doctor at the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu/East Congo. Dr. Mukwege was in Brussels where he was awarded the prestigious King Baudouin International Development Prize. I was deeply moved by the heartbreaking stories he told and by his unceasing efforts to help thousands of female survivors of sexual violence in that region. He is a true advocate for breaking the silence on this grave injustice. He is a source of hope and inspiration for many women and girl victims. His dedication and commitment are remarkable.
It is absolutely crucial that men speak up against the stigma with which many women and girl victims have to cope. Equality and respect will never be achieved without the full involvement of men and boys. They are part of the solution.
We also need to consider how men and women can play an equally important role in providing support for the protection of women in conflict areas. The issue of women's participation in peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation gained momentum, when the UN Security Council adopted several resolutions including the groundbreaking Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. That was ten years ago and today we can see that the participation of women in peace building still remains marginal.
Last year I visited Liberia, a country torn apart by civil war but committed to rebuilding and returning to the family of democratic nations under the leadership of President Sirleaf Johnson- another remarkable person deeply concerned with the position of women in society.
I also met with a female battalion of the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, very competent women trying hard to protect Liberian girls and women against violence and to prevent it from happening. A positive example. However, the involvement of women in peace making and post-conflict situations needs to become more substantive if a sustainable peace is to be achieved.
As I said earlier, every country is confronted in one way or another by violence against women and girls.
In Europe, our approach is based on the principles of prevention and prosecution, and the protection of women and girls. They form a reference for national policies aimed at eliminating violence and influencing the root causes and the behavior and attitudes that would lead to acts of violence. Impunity from punishment should be stopped by ensuring that women are specifically protected under the law and have equal access to justice.
To mobilize women on a governmental and European level, a European summit was held last year. This Summit gathered together the women ministers of the European Union, whatever their areas of responsibility. The aim of the event was to highlight the importance of fighting different forms of violence against women in the European Union and to break taboos.
Prevention and sensibilization are indeed key issues. Engaging all stakeholders, including the civil society, religious and community leaders, the private sector, youth, men, and the media is essential if we want to change social attitudes.
No country can reach sustainable development, if it does not include and engage half of its population. It is therefore vital to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
Once again, I thank the Council of Women World Leaders for giving me the opportunity to bring the issue of violence against women and girls to the attention of this distinguished audience. I am looking forward to listening to your experiences.