8th March 2014

Time to Act

Time to actInternational Women’s Day has been observed in different forms since in the early 1900’s. But in recent years it has gone from strength to strength and become a much more genuinely global and shared event. With such a history, we should expect to see more progress on women’s issues. But women are still not paid equally to their male counterparts; they are still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics; their access to education and healthcare is inadequate; and they are targets of violence across the globe.

The UK’s theme for this year is “women’s economic empowerment and raising girls’ aspirations.” Here in Addis Ababa, the British Embassy has joined hands with the European Union and other partners to mark the event with a women’s NGO Bazaar, an art exhibition, panel discussions and a debate. But I have spent my morning with the Centre for Creative Leadership and an audience of (mostly) girls and young women, who are interested in the linked areas of debating and leadership. In partnership with the CCL, the British Embassy has helped set up eight female “Debate Clubs” in seven Ethiopian Universities. The members will be the engaged citizens and maybe the national leaders of the future.

One of the subjects I spoke about this morning was our campaign on the Preventing Sexual Violence in conflict Initiative (PSVI), launched by our Foreign Secretary in May 2012. And tomorrow morning university students will be helping us to make this one of the themes marked in the annual Great Ethiopian Run’s Women’s Only Race – I shall be there to wave them off and meet the media.

PSVI aims to address the culture of impunity around the use of sexual violence in conflict by bringing more perpetrators to justice; strengthening international efforts and coordination; and supporting states to build national capacities to prosecute these horrific crimes. In September 2013 the UK put forward a new United Nations Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict – this has now been endorsed by 137 countries, over two thirds of the members of the UN (and including Ethiopia). Signatories have promised not to enter into or support peace agreements that give amnesty for rape. Suspects can be arrested in any of these countries, all of whom have now recognised rape and serious sexual violence as grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, so that the principle of universal jurisdiction applies.

In June the UK will host a Global Summit on PSVI, where world leaders but also relevant organisations and individuals will come together to galvanise global opinion and agree practical steps to eradicate the use of rape as a weapon of war and better assist the survivors. It is #TimeToAct.Time to exercise Zero Tolerance for sexual violence.

May I wish you all a useful and productive International Women’s Day.