Violence against women continues on a large scale across the world, much of it hidden, ignored or silenced, says the top United Nations human rights official, stressing that no country has come close to eliminating the vice, while urging every member of society to act to stop it.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, cited recent UN figures which suggest that in some countries close to 60 per cent of women may be subjected to physical violence at least once in their lifetime.
Such figures, important though they are as a reminder of the shocking prevalence of the problem, risk numbing us to the damage each and every act of violence does to a girl or a woman. Numbers mask the personal pain of the individual, " Ms. Pillay said in a message to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, observed on 25 November.
Sixty per cent of a population of ten million women means six million individual private tragedies, physical and psychological scars, dysfunctional families, traumatized children. The numbers are of pandemic proportions " so large that, perversely, they distract us from the plight of the woman next door, " she said.
She said that much can be accomplished against violence against women if everyone took it upon themselves to take action whenever they witness or are aware of a woman being subjected to any form of abuse.
When we hear the woman next door screaming, we can intervene, instead of turning to the wall and saying `It`s their business, let them sort it out.` We can treat it like other crimes. Each and every one of us can make it clear it is not acceptable to leave it unpunished, " Ms. Pillay said.
She said that although violence against women is being addressed by an increasing number of institutions, the measures being taken are not enough.
The international legal and policy framework for eliminating discrimination against women is well-developed, but there is a wide gulf between the standards set, and actual practice at the national and local level. States have the primary responsibility to protect their women, and in most cases are clearly not doing enough, " Ms. Pillay said.
We need more recruits, men as well as women, to turn the internationally accepted standards into reality, to hammer away at social, cultural and state acceptance of violence and discrimination until those huge numbers drop, " she said.
In his message for the Day, Secretary-Ban Ki-moon urged the private sector to get more involved in efforts to end violence against women and girls.
Today is a call to action " action to eliminate Violence against Women, " he said. More and more people realize that gender-based violence is everybody`s problem and that everybody is responsible for stopping it. "
This year`s International Day focuses on promoting leadership by the corporate sector in ending gender-based violence, a theme Mr. Ban emphasized in his meeting on Tuesday with a number of business partners. He also used the occasion to highlight his `UNiTE to End Violence against Women` campaign.
Launched in 2008, the campaign calls for all countries to put in place strong laws, action plans, preventive measures, data collection, and systematic efforts to address sexual violence by 2015.