It’s been almost a month since I took office and one of my priorities for the upcoming years is absolutely clear: to fight as hard as I can to end violence against women and girls. As we commemorate the International Day of Violence against women, we have this week raised our voices and called on others to support us in combating all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls.
Shockingly, at least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime – usually by someone known to her. Poor women and girls in developing countries are disproportionately at risk of suffering from such horrific violence. 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not even considered a crime. Girls are often prevented from going to school, forced to marry too early and against their own will, half of sexual assaults worldwide are committed against girls under 16, and sexual violence remains a deplorable and widely used tactic of war.
The EU already supports numerous programmes to help victims of sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and cutting and/or early marriage. Some progress has been achieved. Senegal is close to totally abandoning the practice of FGM, Sudan has made some progress by engaging with communities and by adopting state laws against it, and in Eritrea, 200 circumcisers agreed to seek alternative ways to promote their culture. Yet much more needs to be done to ensure that neither custom, tradition, culture, religion or so-called honour are invoked to justify violence or discrimination against women and girls.
In 2015, the international community will agree on a new agenda to guide us towards the overarching goals of poverty eradication and sustainable development. I am deeply convinced that we will miss these goals unless we manage to eliminate violence against women and girls. 2015 will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put gender equality and women empowerment on the global agenda; I am determined not to let it pass.
At the European Parliament this week, Dr Denis Mukwege receives the Sakharov Prize For Freedom of Thought award ceremony. Dr Mukwege’s work helping victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is highly commendable and incredibly brave. He founded a hospital for rape victims and is a fierce advocate of women's rights. As his assassination attempt showed; this has meant putting his own life at risk. I am delighted that his individual commitment and bravery were recognised earlier this year with him being awarded Europe’s most prominent human rights prize. I trust that many across the globe will join me in congratulating him.