Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to the Parliamentary Summit on Ending Violence Against Women and Girls.
It is a great pleasure to be here today - and to join so many of you in supporting the important work of Action Aid, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
I particularly want to congratulate Action Aid on the successful launch of their “Fearless” campaign. This campaign calls for an ambitious target to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls as part of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.
We are delighted to work with Action Aid on this campaign and indeed on all efforts to end violence against women and girls.
It should without saying that all forms of violence against women and girls are unacceptable but for too long this issue has been hidden in our political, cultural and social discussions.
The British Government is determined to reverse that.
Almost exactly one year ago, the UK hosted two landmark summits, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in June and the Girl Summit in July.
Those ground-breaking events brought together experts, decision makers, representatives from civil society, people in the room today - and most importantly the brave, inspirational women and girls - who too often are the victims of unspeakable acts of violence, many of whom have become the most powerful advocates for ending these appalling crimes.
For me, the scale of international support during these events for ending conflict-related sexual violence and Female Genital Mutilation and Child, Early and Forced Marriage is a remarkable reflection of a growing collective resolve. A resolve to see an end - once and for all - to these devastating practices.
Last year’s Summits and the UK’s campaign to end sexual violence in conflict which was launched three years ago, were not an end, they were just the beginning.
They were powerful demonstrations of the British Government’s resolve to build concerted international action.
Over the last year, I and my colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development have been working hard with partners around the world - to tackle this challenge head on and turn the commitments made at the UK hosted Summits into practical action.
Let me give you just a few examples. We have delivered training for:
- Documenting and investigating sexual violence in conflict in Bosnia, Nepal, Colombia, and the DRC;
- Human rights activists in Iraq and Syria; and
- Peacekeepers in how to protect the vulnerable and respond to these horrific crimes, through centres in Kenya and Bosnia - and the military in Mali and Iraq.
This is long-term work, and the fruits of this labour cannot come quickly enough - but it is precisely the sort of practical action that we can – and must – take now if we are to turn the tide against the scourge of sexual violence in conflict and all other forms of violence against women and girls.
I am very proud of our achievements under the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative over the last three years - but we are under no illusion about the scale of the challenges ahead. We can learn from you.
There is, of course, no easy solution to this ancient, ingrained, and extremely complex problem. Social norms in all areas of the world condone violence against women and girls - and normalise unequal participation and power between men and women, boys and girls.
Changing legal frameworks and political discussions only go so far. We have to find ways to shift entrenched cultural attitudes.
So what is my role? It is a great honour to succeed William Hague as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict.
I am passionate about this agenda and I am passionate about delivering even more progress by working towards three goals:
- To ensure that rape and crimes of sexual violence are recognised and treated as the serious war crimes they are.
- To ensure that addressing sexual violence in conflict is an integral part of our discussions on international peace and security;
- To drive forward our work to end impunity for perpetrators of sexual crimes in warzones
I know that my passion is shared by colleagues across government and I am delighted that you will hear from Secretary of State, Justine Greening later on today about DFID’s excellent work in this area. It is Important that we work together to identify practical work we can do.
However, I know from more than 30 years in political life that politicians and governments cannot fight a difficult issue like sexual violence alone.
Indeed, it is impossible for one government, one international organisation or one civil society group. That is why I am delighted to see such a broad range of participants in today’s discussions.
It is of crucial importance that we bring our collective ideas, our collective energy, our collective resources to bear so that future generations of women and girls are spared the life-long suffering and devastation so keenly felt in communities around the world today.
Some say we that cannot succeed. That we shouldn’t even try.
I fundamentally disagree. I say let them look at us here today. Let’s show them what we can do.
History has shown that it is possible to change barbaric practices in conflict – from the Geneva Conventions of 1949 to the international ban on the use of land mines of 1997.
We have both an opportunity and a responsibility - to do much more – not only to help heal the physical, psychological and societal wounds – but to end systematic violence against women and girls once and for all.
Today, we have a valuable opportunity to move forward and advance the agenda.
Together I believe we really can make a difference.