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Women Speakers call for urgent action on gender violence

As announced by the IPU, Women Speakers of Parliament from 16 countries, including the UK’s Lord Speaker, Baroness D’Souza, have called for urgent action and commitment to ending violence against women and girls in conflict situations as they ended a two-day meeting in Geneva from 3-5 September 2014.

Highlighting deep concern over recent developments, Women Speakers said they were appalled by the “vicious crimes being perpetrated against women and girls” in a Declaration issued at the 9th Meeting of Women Speakers of Parliament organized by IPU.

They highlighted their concern that most of the 273 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram earlier this year remain missing four months after their abduction.

Citing the rape, kidnapping, forced marriage or enslavement for sexual abuse and exploitation of women and girls in conflict situations that included the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and Syria, they appealed to governments and parliaments the world over to make ending such violence a “fixed and urgent priority”.  Inaction on such crimes, the Declaration stated, was “unacceptable”.

It called for the Nigerian government and parliament not to forget the Nigerian schoolgirls and abandon them to their fate.  “All efforts to find and rescue the kidnapped schoolgirls must be pursued with full vigour and determination. The momentum for action must not be lost”, the Declaration stated.

Women Speakers reiterated that children in all countries needed to have their security and protection guaranteed. Education remained the “most powerful tool to end violence, poverty and to bring change.”

Violence against women and girls is a key impediment to their economic empowerment. The meeting held at IPU’s headquarters in Geneva focused on ways women’s economic empowerment can be enhanced and supported and on the role of women Speakers of Parliament in those efforts.  The women Speakers highlighted the need for a strong and effective legal framework that addressed all forms of discrimination and which supported women’s economic empowerment through land ownership, financing, technology, training and employment.

They identified means to facilitate and promote women’s entrepreneurship and acknowledged the weak representation of women in economic leadership as a challenge to overcome through concrete measures such as affirmative action.

As the most senior parliamentary figures in their countries, with Speakers often either the second or third highest political post in national politics, the Speakers underlined their responsibility to lead efforts on women’s economic empowerment by being effective role models, by taking bold decisions and by helping shape public opinion on the issue.

The Lord Speaker chaired a session on policy measures to facilitate women’s economic empowerment and delivered a speech on the regional and international dimensions of this issue.  The key outcomes of the meeting are available here and pictures of the meeting are on the IPU flickr site.