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Minister for Foreign Affairs on "Call to Action on Protection from Gender Based Violence"


Swedish US Side Event, UNGA Week, New York, 1 October 2015

Secretary of State John Kerry, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning.

Transforming the way gender-based violence is addressed in humanitarian emergencies is a challenge which requires our strong, sustained and collective political commitment.

I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to Secretary of State John Kerry and the United States for the dedication and engagement shown as leader of the Call to Action. I am convinced that the Road map, which we are launching here today, will serve as a powerful tool in driving change.

I would also like to express my appreciation to the states and humanitarian agencies who, by joining the Call to Action, have committed themselves to making significant changes to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in conflicts and natural disasters. I truly believe that systematic and coordinated collective action is imperative in order to achieve real progress, both in policy and, most importantly, on the ground.  

Gender-based violence is a global structural problem that continues to plague every country on earth, regardless of economic wealth, culture or geographical location, both in times of war and peace. At the global level, it is estimated that one out of three women are subjected to violence during her lifetime, a completely unacceptable figure.

We know that in conflicts, natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies, the threat of gender-based violence increases.

In my previous capacity as the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict I met regularly with women and children who had been subjected to the most horrendous forms of sexual violence. In warzones, rape was often being systematically employed as a weapon of war. On my first visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo a young woman explained to me that in her country, “a dead rat was worth more than the body of a woman”.

But not only armed conflict leads to increased levels of gender-based violence. As natural disasters tear down the social structures of society and increase vulnerability especially women and girls face a heightened risk of exploitation and abuse.

What becomes clear is that despite increased international attention in recent years, adequate measures to prevent and respond to gender-based violence are still not undertaken.

We know that gender-based violence occurs in each and every humanitarian emergency. We also know that it is underreported due to fears of stigma and reprisals. Addressing gender-based violence from the onset of an emergency saves lives and must become an integral part of every humanitarian response. This is the promise and purpose of the Call to Action initiative.

Ladies and gentlemen, gender-based violence can be prevented and stopped.

Immediate preventive actions, such as ensuring that there is sufficient lighting in refugee camps, must be combined with more long-term strategies. We need to address the root causes of gender-based violence. Such an approach includes promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls.

Last week, here in New York, our leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Combatting gender-based violence will be of fundamental importance if we are to reach several of the development goals. For, ladies and gentlemen, let me be clear: there can be no sustainable development and no sustainable peace if women and girls continue to be systematically discriminated, excluded, abused and exploited.

I am pleased to be here today as the incoming leader of the Call to Action. Promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls are critical priorities for the Swedish government. Last year we adopted a Feminist Foreign Policy, which means that a gender perspective is applied to all foreign policy areas. Addressing gender-based violence constitutes an integral part of this policy and we will continue to give this high priority, not least in our humanitarian assistance.

Now is the time to act. Pledges and high-level political commitments on gender-based violence must be translated into funding and concrete actions on the ground. I assure you that Sweden is committed to leading and advancing the Call to Action initiative - by striving to expand the partnership, through strong political advocacy and by supporting the effective implementation of the Road map. We look forward to working with all of you in realising the Call to Action goal.

Thank you.