UNHCR chief condemns culture of neglect and denial about violence against women
GENEVA, November 24 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Friday said there was a "massive" culture of neglect and denial about violence against women.
"That culture of neglect and denial exists everywhere," Guterres told staff of the refugee agency during a ceremony to launch the annual 16 Days of Activism to Eliminate Violence Against Women.
"I think we need to face this," the High Commissioner said, adding that sexual and gender-based violence against women was a global problem. He cited a report he had read earlier this year showing that a high percentage of girls in Geneva high schools had suffered sexually motivated violence.
Guterres said if the problem was bad in an advanced country like Switzerland, it would be much worse in societies with huge social problems and difficulties, adding that: "Refugee populations are in the front line of those difficulties."
The High Commissioner said there also needed to be more equality between men and women. "The key question, at the level of the UN system, at the level of an organisation, at the level of the refugee camp, is the empowerment of women, and that must be one of the central objectives of a modern, democratic system and a tolerant society."
Male staff and guests at Friday's ceremony wore white ribbons to symbolise support for establishing a world in which women and girls can live in peace and dignity. Wearing a white ribbon is a personal pledge never to commit, condone nor remain silent about violence against women.
The 16 Days of Activism is an international campaign originating from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute in 1991. This year's theme is "Celebrate 16 years of 16 days: Advance human rights and end violence against women"
UNHCR offices around the world are marking the 16 Days of Activism with activities and awareness-raising programmes. These are being organized in partnership with refugee communities, civil society, non-governmental organisations, governments and other UN agencies.
In Geneva, an exhibition opened Friday in the UNHCR headquarters of pictures by refugee boys and girls in Tanzania and Nepal reflecting their thoughts - and in some cases, experiences - on sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation and abuse.
In Liberia, where violence against women is a major problem, UNHCR is taking part in nationwide campaigns, workshops and community outreach programmes to inform women about their rights and to encourage men to change their ways.
UNHCR has also been involved in television campaigns to publicise the campaign in places like Croatia and Argentina. A minute-long spot by award-winning Croatian director, Ivona Juka, will be shown in the Croatian parliament next week.
Prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence is one of UNHCR's Global Performance targets for 2007. Last month, the agency's Executive Committee adopted a Conclusion on Women and Girls at Risk, which calls upon states, partners and UNHCR to identify and find solutions for those most at risk and to renew efforts to create secure protection environments. The agency is also working to increase participation by male staff in efforts to achieve gender equality and end gender-based violence.