“Transforming mentalities: engaging men and boys to address the root causes of violence against women” High-level Roundtable, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Distinguished speakers,

Honorable participants,

Welcome to this high-level roundtable on “Transforming mentalities: Engaging men and boys to address the root causes of violence against women.” I want to thank our dear Ambassadors friends of gender equality, and the Co-Chairs, the Ambassador from Iceland and from Oman. Welcome to the many speakers that join us today, infatigable champions in this battle. I also want to welcome our wonderful speakers, who have been championing this cause.

It is emblematic that one of the last events I held in presence last March was exactly to launch an Action Plan to end violence against women. At that occasion, we invited two survivors to share their experiences with us. Charlote kneer, a woman who endured violence for more than 10 years, and that when she found herself capable of killing her husband, she better left home and founded an NGO to help other women. We also heard Luke Heart, a young man campaigning against violence, after witnessing her mom dying in the hands of his dad. No human being should have this kind of experience!

I was already shocked at that time and we put together a meaningful agenda to increase the visibility of this problem and to take action.

Who would have told us, that 8 months later, today, we will be meeting to confront the harsh reality of a significant increase of this evil due to the pandemic? 30, 40 or even 50% increase in many countries? Who would have told us that the Secretary General of the UN would have called it the “other pandemic”?

The answer is simple. The COVID 19 magnified our vulnerabilities, our fragilities and violence against women is one of the worst expressions of what is wrong in our societies.  Hopefully, as with many other lessons, will also provide us with the opportunity to put an end as we build forward better.

The task is not easy. The worst of this problem is not the suffering it brings to people, or even its economic cost that is valued on the billions worldwide, as promundo has shown. The worst is that it is condoned, it is accepted, and even a large share of women justify when their husbands exert violence against them!

Our societies justify aggression. At the end, “boys will be boys”.

This is the only case where violence is minimized as a normal state of affairs, and institutions and legal frameworks seem unable to put an end.

This tolerance to violence, is also linked to the gender stereotyping, that reproduce dominant ideas and representations of what is considered appropriate behaviors and attributes for men. When boys are educated to be tough, to exert dominance, competitiveness, we should not be surprised that the finest expression of this education is violence against their own family.  

This is not only incredibly harmful to women and girls – it is also to men and boys. It is the reverse of the kind of stereotypes that tell our girls not to be self-sufficient or outspoken.

Promundo, whose Founder and CEO is with us today, estimates that if a social change occurs within societies and the current set of pre-existing harmful norms of masculinity was eliminated, then sexual violence could be reduced by at least 69%, and bullying and violence against women by 40% every year.

Therefore, to turn the story around, we should also change men’s mindset.  Men actually can become a powerful catalysts of change, by rejecting these harmful role-models, and play a positive role models to their peers and especially to younger generations. They can contribute to change the narrative of abuse and violence. They can publicly refuse to endorse or condone the harmful behaviors and attitudes that lead to violence against women and girls.

By changing this mindset, we will be contributing to the broader strategy to build more peaceful world. This is UNESCO’s core, and peaceful worlds start at home. Starts at school and in the textbooks when they are gender neutral. And when our institutions and legal frameworks deliver for good in all cases.  When incentives, and all stakeholders reject violence.

In UNESCO where gender is a global priority, we will be working on this fighting stereotyping for both, and to end discrimination and racism. We are also doing through the recommendation of ethics of artificial intelligence.

My question to you now is: What should we do to ensure the full success of our efforts to engage men and boys, transform mentalities and foster long-lasting change?

I am looking forward to your answers.

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