Survivors must be heard, believed and supported, and new action is needed more than ever to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
That was the key message underscored through deeply personal and powerful stories shared at the regional commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women at the United Nations’ regional hub in Bangkok on Friday.
As the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence kicked off at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), storytellers and participants at the event hosted under the theme ‘Orange the World: #HearMeToo’ called for standing in solidarity with survivors, advocates and women’s rights defenders working to address violence against women.
Worldwide, on average, one in three women experiences some form of violence or abuse during her lifetime.
In many countries, that figure is considerably higher and far too often, survivors do not speak out or seek help, out of fear or shame that they often face from family, friends, employers, schools, police and communities. But that is changing.
Regional Director, UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Anna-Karin Jatfors said they stand by the many women across Asia and the Pacific whose voices have been silenced for too long and those who found courage to break the silence.
“We are honouring the survivors, activists, and women’s rights advocates who have been bravely telling their stories to prevent and end violence against women. This is a call to listen to and believe survivors, to end the culture of silence and impunity, and to respectfully put the survivors at the centre of our responses. It is a strong call to law enforcement to hold perpetrators accountableand prioritize the safety and wellbeing of survivors at all times.”
Regional Director, UNFPA Asia and the Pacific Regional Office, Björn Andersson said they are hearing from women who were previously afraid to speak up, women who were long silenced by powerful men and workplaces, women who did not feel they could ever be heard.
“In our region and around the world, we see that violence against women can be exposed and addressed, we see that genuine change is taking place.”
The storytellers shared their experiences of violence – at the hands of strangers, family members and intimate partners– recounting how they eventually felt compelled to share their experiences openly in order to bring about greater awareness, motivating governments and civil society alike into recognising that violence against women is a crisis that requires important conversations across all of society.
This requires creating ‘a new normal’ where violence is never acceptable, never excusable, and should never be kept silent.
The event was attended by over 100 representatives of UN agencies, the diplomatic community, Thai government officials, civil society organisations and the media.
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign, which mobilises governments and public alike, is commemorated by the UN under the Secretary-General’s campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women by 2030.