On 12 November at a joint event of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the United Nations and the Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of UN Women, called for concrete action to protect women and girls in emergencies. This was Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka's first official visit to the UK in her new role, which she took up in August.Speaking to a packed room of parliamentarians, UK government officials and civil society, Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “Women are on the frontlines of conflicts and crises, as caretakers for their families and agents of peace and recovery. Yet all too often their voices are silenced, their bodies are battlegrounds and they cannot play their full role in rebuilding their societies. We can and must take stronger action to ensure women’s full participation and protect women’s human rights before, during and after conflict.”
Click here to listen to Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka's speechAlso addressing the meeting was Zainab Hawa Bangura, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She urged the audience not to see sexual violence as “an inevitable by-product of war” but as “a war crime that can be prevented and punished like any other human rights abuse”. She too called for urgent steps to be taken: “We have it within our power to end this heinous crime once and for all, but it will take global commitment and global action to do so."
The speeches were followed by a comprehensive question and answer session, during which participants discussed the difficulty of addressing violence against women in its many forms, particularly when it is endemic in a society prior to an emergency. The issue of impunity and the need for much greater progress in holding perpetrators to account was also raised.
The event was convened on the eve of a major conference on the same issue, hosted by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and attended by UN agencies, donors and international NGOs.The conference is part of an international ‘Call to Action’ launched in 2012 by Justine Greening, UK Secretary of State for International Development, to address violence against women and girls, including by ensuring that targeted measures are prioritised at the start of any emergency response.
Photo: © UNA-UK (from left to right) Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Lord Hannay, Baroness Hodgson and Zainab Hawa Bangura