Statement of the UN Resident Coordinator at the Launch of the 16 Days of Activism Campaign

UN Resident Coordinator joins the Deputy Prime Minister to launch the 16 Days of Activism Campaign in Eswatini

Your Excellency, Hon. Deputy Prime Minister,

Government officials,

Esteemed Partners (SWAGAA)

UN Colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Brothers and sisters,

A very warm good morning to all of you.

Today, we are launching ORANGE ESWATINI with the theme: “Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect”. From today until December the 10th, Eswatini will act in solidarity with victims and survivors of violence and put the issue of Gender-Based Violence in the forefront of our engagements.

I want to pause and take this opportunity to recognise and appreciate our fierce, fearless, and dedicated chief advocate for gender equality and women empowerment, who is no one else but  the Hon. Senator Themba Masuku, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Eswatini. Although I have known him for about two years only, my impression is that he has never stopped being a fighter of other people’s rights and is not afraid of taking more challenges to protect the rights, the dignity and the personal growth of others.. We salute you DPM and thank yoy for your selfless dedication to the welfare of others, especially women, children, persons with disabilities and the elderly.

I also wish to take this opportunity to thank all partners, especially civil society organisations which  fought very hard and over many years for the promulgation of several key pieces of legislation, including the now infamous Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Act of 2018 – a milestone for the Kingdom of Eswatini.

The launch of the 16 Days of Activism campaign against Gender-Based Violence today brings a sense of hope. We know that the first step in addressing a problem is to acknowledge it exists.

GBV is a serious scourge across the world, including in Eswatini. It is deeply rooted in gender inequalities, the abuse of power and harmful norms. GBV exists in physical, sexual and psychological forms to encompass intimate partner violence, sexual violence and harassment, human trafficking, female genital mutilation (FGM), and child marriage.

Although GBV affects our brothers and sons too, we recognise that this violence is experienced by our sisters and daughters far more often than our brothers and sons. However, we also all agree that one person – whether male or female – subjected to violence is one too many.

Globally, one (1) in three (3) women experience gender-based violence in their lifetime. However, this figure does not include sexual harassment, which is estimated at a significant 70 percent of women experiencing sexual harassment in their lifetime.

The physical and psychological consequences of violence against women are far-reaching and devastating. Not only does violence undermine the health, the dignity, the security and the autonomy of its victims, it also happens in a culture of silence.

Less than 40 percent of women who experience violence seek help of any sort. Most victims turn towards family and friends, with less than 10 percent reporting incidents to the police. It is that culture of silence that ultimately protects the perpetrators and scorns the survivors. We cannot afford to remain silent any longer.

Victims of gender-based violence often suffer life-long sexual and reproductive health consequences such as traumatic fistula, forced pregnancies, unwanted and unsafe abortions, HIV, sexually-transmitted diseases and oftentimes, death.

It is estimated that, around the world, 137 women are killed every day by a family member. More than half are killed by a former or a current intimate partner. Our girls and women also account for 72 percent of trafficking victims; of whom most are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. I repeat: we cannot remain silent any  longer.

Gender-based violence knows no boundaries and can affect anyone, anywhere and at any time. However, particular groups of women and girls are extremely vulnerable to violence, including young girls and older women; women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex; migrants and refugees; indigenous women and ethnic minorities; as well as women living with HIV or disabilities, and those living through humanitarian crises.

It is during times of conflict and crises that women are most vulnerable. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerability of women and girls, as lockdowns are implemented and schools are closed. During the pandemic, calls to hot and helplines increased five-fold to primarily report cases of intimate partner violence.

Urgent action is therefore needed to protect our mothers, sisters  and daughters. With only ten years left to achieve the 17 Sustainable Goals and, in turn,

Agenda 2030, the world risks leaving behind the girls, women, mothers and sisters of today and of tomorrow.

In the Kingdom of Eswatini, 1 in 3 Swazi girls experience sexual violence before the age of 1, while, reportedly, nearly half of Swazi women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. 87 of every 1,000 teenage girls fall pregnant. Early teenage pregnancy is the leading cause of girl teens dropping out of school and brings many health risks such as birth complications. One girl losing her life to pregnancy and birth complications is one too many.

Our sisters living in poverty in the rural areas are more vulnerable to early teenage pregnancy, with 127 out of 1,000 girls giving birth before the age of 18, as opposed to 41 per 1,000 girls in urban areas. We should not forget that our strong mothers and sisters living with disabilities face stigma, discrimination and access and opportunities limitations every day.

Yet we gather today to acknowledge and celebrate the strength of women, who are on the frontline in so many ways: not only as mothers, caretakers and bread-winners at home; community leaders; peacekeepers in war zones, fighter-pilots and soldiers; but also as nurses, doctors, healthcare and essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women and girls fight on the frontlines for their communities and families, daring to start their own businesses, to teach and empower children, care for the elderly, run farms, provide livelihoods for their families and serve with strength, courage, tenacity and dignity. Let us not allow the girls and women of today and tomorrow to be left behind as the world recovers from COVID-19. Let us locate and expose inequalities, and turn them into opportunities.

As the United Nations turns 75 years of age this year, the UN Secretary-General, Mr António Guterres, has declared 2020 a year of dialogue and conversation to create a better future for all. The voices of the vulnerable, including yours are paramount to creating a prosperous Eswatini and world. Thank you for sharing with us your inspiring experiences, concerns and incredible solutions this morning.. 

Let us ‘orange the world’ together, “Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect” is a call for the Secretary-General to member states to:

1. Make urgent funding available for women’s rights organizations and recognize their role as first responders.

2. Support health and social services to continue their duty of care to violence against women survivors and to remain accessible, especially to those most likely to be left behind.

3. Ensure that services for violence against women and girl survivors are regarded as essential, remain open and are resourced and made accessible especially to those most likely to be left behind.

4. Place a high priority on police and justice responses.

5. Put preventative measures in place.

6. Collect data.

Let us respond to the call of the United Nations Secretary-General by taking individual and collective responsibility to end gender-based violence.

The UN remains dedicated to empowering women and advancing gender equality in the Kingdom of Eswatini. As I close, I’d like to remind you of the powerful words of former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Anan; “When women thrive, all of society benefits”.

It is in solidarity with one another that we will defeat the scourge of gender-based violence.

I thank you.

 

 

Speech by
Author
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
Resident Coordinator
RCO
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
UN entities involved in this initiative
FAO
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
IOM
International Organization for Migration
UNDP
United Nations Development Programme
UNESCO
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
UNFPA
United Nations Population Fund
UNICEF
United Nations Children’s Fund