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Thank you very much.
First and foremost, I would like to thank António [Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations], Amina [Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations], Neven [Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development], but all of you because it is not so usual, I understand, to have a full house for a side event , but what a side event we have put in place!
Thank you all for coming, showing that this is a top priority for all of us. I believe that if we are here today it is because we believe that change is possible, but it requires action and determination.
I know if we look at the figures, and listen to the stories – terrible stories - it is very easy to despair. Few numbers: Seven hundred million women around the world have had to get married before the age of eighteen.
I have heard myself from migrant women and girls, something children, about the abuses they suffered along the route. We often see the dramatic situation in the sea, we forget about the dramatic situation in the desert. Stories that once you hear them, they are impossible to forget.
No continent is spared. Every culture, every country - including our own European Union – still harbours forms of discrimination and violence. Three out of four women in a professional job have been victims of sexual harassment, including through the internet.
And yet, things have begun to change, all around the world, all around the world. In thirty years, in South Asia, the percentage of girls married under the age of fifteen went down by half. In parts of Africa, the incidence of female genital mutilation has also decreased by 50 per cent.
This is progress – not enough, but this is progress. Real progress, progress that makes a difference in women's life and let me tell you also in men's life because when women are better-off, it is the entire community that is better-off; it is men, it is children who are better-off. And I would like to thank not the many women who are with us today, but also the many men who are with us today showing that this is not a battle for women, this is a battle for the entire society.
We know that this positive change was man-made, woman-made. We know the stories of community leaders who prevented hundreds of genital mutilations. We know of the girls that we have supported after they said "no" to an arranged marriage.
And we know that culture can change, social norms can evolve. It is a matter of education, legislation, persuasion, good example. Positive stories of women who managed to say 'yes' to life, 'no' to violence and women who have been empowered and who have empowered themselves. And I am glad to see so many good stories around the room here, from a President to the many courageous girls who have managed to speak out.
This is why the European Union is already by far the first investor in gender equality and change around the world. Let me just mention two recent initiatives:
First, the European Union has taken over the leadership of "Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies". It is a global initiative bringing together more than 60 States, international organisations and NGOs to make sure that all humanitarian actors work together to prevent and mitigate gender-based violence, from the earliest onset of a crisis.
Second, I am extremely proud, personally proud, of our recent decision to sign as the European Union the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention. When I still was a Member of the Italian Parliament - as António allowed himself to go back in time I do the same -, I sponsored the law in the Italian Parliament to ratify the Istanbul Convention. It was one of the first European Union countries to do so. And it is a real satisfaction for me personally to see that now the work goes on at the European Union level. Because laws are important, conventions are important. It is part of changing the mentality, the system, recognising the problem and facing it.
But the Gender Initiative we launch today - as António perfectly well said - it is the first of this kind. It is not only for the unprecedented amount of resources it mobilises - that is still quite remarkable -, but it will be run together by the United Nations and the European Union in all the different fields of action that António just mentioned. And let me say: we will mobilise all our full potential which is huge, different UN Agencies, all the European Union services involved. True, we are both complex entities, but there is something good about being complex, it means that when we move the machine it is really powerful. We will also work together with our 140 European Union Embassies around the world to make sure that this becomes reality everywhere. And we will need your presence here today to continue in partnership tomorrow to make real change happen.
When we talk about our commitment to international cooperation and in our belief in the UN system, this is precisely what we mean: we work together on a daily basis on anything, everything, from Libya crisis, to Syria and also on this. The European Union and the United Nations, I believe, it is a perfect couple. We can do great things together and I believe the world needs us to show leadership and produce change.
And we will engage beyond governments with civil society organizations and local communities. This is not going to be the traditional development aid because a change in attitudes, a change in culture, a change in lives can only grow from the heart of every society and community.
So let me thank António and Amina for their leadership, Neven for his personal, strong commitment to get this initiative off the ground together with all our teams.
Violence against women is very often rooted in ancient prejudices and attitudes. Change is possible, requires to be supported by a real cultural and social movement where everybody plays their part.
Women need to tell other women that it is right to speak up and that abuse is never, never their fault. Men have a big responsibility to carry. Men need to show courage, leadership and strength and tell other men what is right and what is wrong. This is courage, this is strength. And we, mothers and fathers, need to tell our daughters that they can be anything they want in life, and we have to tell our sons that protecting and enforcing – that very basic truth - is their duty and responsibility.
So change is possible and because of the great role models we have gathered here in this room. It depends on all of us. And I believe that with this initiative today we can bring change in many people's lives.
Thank you very much.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I143794