This injustice is a reality that all ESCAP member states are grappling with and continue to do so because it is a barrier to peace, progress and democracy. It affects the lives of women and men, - girls and boys it is not only a “woman’s issue”. -Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck
Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck keynote address during the opening ceremony of ministerial segment of the Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment on 19 November 2014 at UN Conference Center at Bangkok.
Excellencies, Ladies & Gentlemen,
I bring with me greetings and warm wishes from Their Majesties and the People of Bhutan. This conference is an important start for fresh efforts and joint commitments to make gender equality a reality for Asia and the Pacific Region. I acknowledge the ongoing efforts and unwavering commitment of all our Governments and civil society to respond to this challenge.
I am truly pleased and honored to join Asian and Pacific leaders and citizens who are gathered here to review progress and determine priority actions for accelerated implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
I consider myself very fortunate to be raised by loving parents who have always valued daughters as much as sons. I am also keenly aware that there are a significant number of women across the globe, including my own country who have not been so fortunate.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment is an issue that I care deeply about. I thank ESCAP for inviting me to deliver the Keynote Address.
I take this opportunity to thank the government of Thailand for hosting this Conference and commend the Executive Secretary of ESCAP, Dr. Shamshad Akhtar for her exemplary leadership in organizing this Conference. I would also like to acknowledge the UN Women's role in supporting the Beijing+20 review process and for working closely with ESCAP to prepare for this Conference.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bhutan as many of you know is- a country that is pursuing development and social progress to achieve Gross National Happiness. As all may agree, we have but one life to live; what’s more important than to live it in happiness?
Yet, the happiness of women and children in our Region and beyond; is hindered by one of the greatest obstacles to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, namely: violence against women and girls.
Notwithstanding, the many years of advocacy by numerous individuals and organizations, violence against women and girls remains one of the most pervasive forms of human rights violations worldwide.
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon very aptly stated that “There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable”.
Thus, among many issues relating to gender equality and women’s empowerment that are addressed in the Beijing Platform for Action, today I wish to highlight the issue of violence against women and girls.
This injustice is a reality that all ESCAP member states are grappling with and continue to do so because it is a barrier to peace, progress and democracy. It affects the lives of women and men, - girls and boys it is not only a “woman’s issue”. While it is true that not all men are abusive, it is also unfortunately true that, men are the main perpetrators of violence against girls and women. The primary cause of this unacceptable reality is societal norms and perceptions that continue to devalue the worth of the girl child and women.Failure to value women as equal to men, entitled to the same rights and freedom is unfortunate and dangerous.
It is dangerous because undervaluing women can mean that the violence perpetrated against them is likely to be trivialized. That in turn has negative implications for the positive growth of our societies. Another reason for my focussing on violence against women and girls today is because the physical, psychological, sexual and economic abuse of women is a violation of our fundamental and universal human rights.
It is a refutation of our claim that all persons have the right “to life, liberty and security of person”guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reflected in the Constitutions and laws of most countries including mine.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is important to highlight here that women are not passive victims waiting for their human rights to be violated. They are all pursuing their lives like any other human being in their respective countries, within their own socio-cultural, political and religious environment. Yet, far too many women in Asia and the Pacific fear and endure violence. Women are subjected to domestic violence by their partners who are supposed to love and protect them. Daughters are vulnerable to their inheritances being confiscated by male relatives. Girls are vulnerable when they are denied access to education, training or information. Thereby, they do not possess the knowledge that allows them to exercise their rights and pursue opportunities to be financially independent. Female infanticide, female genital mutilation, stoning and flogging of women, emotional and physical abuse, child marriage, rape, differential access to food, education and medical care, harassment in the workplace, and confiscation of property are just some of the abuses that women in our region are battling with on a daily basis.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
This need not be so. There is hope. Despite the magnitude and severity of violence against women and girls, putting an end to this violation of human rights and barrier to our development is possible.
It is possible because violence is something that is learned; it is not inherent to being human or to being a man. Learned behaviour can be unlearned and not learned in the first place.Violence against women can be eliminated if we make concerted and comprehensive efforts; if we give it the priority it deserves; if we genuinely believe that women and girls matter; and we truly value them.
If violence is fundamentally about the abuse of power and privilege, we need to ensure that our responses empower women and girls. Actions and interventions must address – or redress – the patriarchal divisions of power, oppressive gender roles and the unequal valuing of women and men, of girls and boys.
Changing relationships of power between women and men, girls and boys, starts with public dialogue and education. What is too often invisible must be made visible through advocacy, awareness raising and research.
For women to be able to protect themselves from violence and to seek justice, they must be aware of their rights and what acts constitute the violation of those rights. We need to better understand the roles of our institutions, cultures, religions and political systems in sustaining violence against women and girls.
However, knowledge and awareness alone are not enough. We need to go beyond “sensitivity” to leadership; with everyone here today, women and men, speaking out against violence. We must advocate for change, foster understanding and encourage empathy.
It is encouraging to know that countries across our region have adopted and are implementing policies, legislation and national action plans to eliminate violence against women and girls.
I am aware that many of you have also made efforts legally, politically and socially to prevent, reduce and penalize violence against women. In Bhutan, we have the National Commission for Women & Children, which is an autonomous agency whose mandate is to protect and promote the rights of women and children. Violence against women is one of the seven critical areas for action in our most recent National Action Plan for Gender. RENEW, a non-profit organization that I founded in 2004, focuses mainly on eradicating violence against women and girls.
RENEW, an acronym for ‘Respect Educate, Nurture and Empower Women’ is dedicated to the empowerment of Bhutanese women so that they can become socially and economically independent.I am very grateful to all my friends and well-wishers who have supported RENEW’s efforts to improve the plight of women in the country.
Alongside placing violence against women and girls in Asia and the Pacific at the top of our agendas for action, we must also allocate substantial resources. With political will and adequate resources it will be possible to provide better health, psychosocial and legal services, as well as create a safe physical environment. Critical to the elimination of violence is the meaningful and substantive presence of women in leadership positions, along with a marked increase in the participation of women in political processes. This is something that we, as leaders in the Asia-Pacific region, can promote.
We must also put an end to the isolation of women and girls who are abused. We need to bring women – and men – together because networks, coalitions and organizations can wield substantial power; that can be empowering for women and girls. In coming together, women and girls, alongside men, can realize the strength, skills and support needed to effectively eradicate violence from their lives. We need to encourage more men to speak out against the abuse of women and girls. Additionally, through our police, judicial officers and customary law representatives, we need to prosecute the perpetrators of violence and enable their transformation.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The 20th anniversary of the Platform for Action is a timely reminder for every nation, institution and individual to strengthen our resolve and commitment to eliminate all forms of violence perpetuated against women and the girl child.
Eradication of violence from the lives of women and girls, along with peace, democracy and sustainable development in the region, will become possible when women and girls are valued, when their ability to fully and freely exercise their human rights is wholly supported, when there is equality in the exercise of power and when decisions are made to fully resource comprehensive and evidenced-based interventions.
Violence against women and girls is but one of the critical issues that you will be addressing in the coming two days. Alongside committing to the eradication of violence, this Conference offers a unique opportunity to advance understanding and action on the many important matters that are so well addressed in the Beijing Platform for Action.
This conference is an opportunity to build on the achievements of many years of dedicated work by countless men and women across the globe. We have journeyed long and far - we have made significant progress - yet there remains so much more to accomplish before we can declare victory. We must step up to the challenge, We must enhance efforts to realize all of the goals of this global agenda for gender equality and change the lives for women and girls – and for men and boys – for the better. .
We must ensure that gender equality and empowerment remains at the forefront of the post-2015 development agenda. Each one of us has a stake in the discussions that take place here today. Let us seize the opportunity and make this a reality, building on our diversity and remaining united in our purpose.
It is my earnest belief that this conference will add significantly to the momentum and will bring us closer to the realization of complete and comprehensive rights for women across Asia and the Pacific.I thank all those present here, for patiently listening to me.
Thank you and Tashi Delek!