10 December 2009
Distinguished colleagues, UNRWA’s staff, women of Palestine, ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to be with you today in Ramallah for this final ceremony to commemorate the international campaign to combat violence against women. This event marks the end of a series of activities that UNRWA has organized over the past 16 days in schools and womens’ centers throughout its five fields of operation, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and here in the West Bank, to raise awareness in communities on the importance of joining forces to combat violence against women.
These efforts are part of a larger international campaign in which governments, institutions and individuals worldwide are ‘committing, acting and demanding’ an end to violence against women. In the occupied Palestinian territory, United Nations agencies have worked together to foster a joint initiative under the leadership of UNIFEM, the UN Development Fund for Women. I am thankful to all my UN colleagues, to UNRWA staff and to Palestinian institutions and centers for pursuing those activities together. [I am also grateful to the PA Minister for Women Affairs for being with us at this event.]
The opportunity to share a few words with you today is particularly significant for me as I will be retiring at the end of this month. From my nine years working in UNRWA, first as Deputy Commissioner-General and for the last four years as Commissioner-General, I have been impressed by the courage, compassion and resourcefulness displayed by Palestinian women, despite the unfavourable conditions under which they live in the occupied territory and elsewhere in the Middle East.
In the absence of the protection of a state, in exile or under occupation, in environments where human rights are often denied and socio-economic opportunities may be scarce or limited, the spirit of Palestinian women and their achievements are truly admirable. I would like to pay tribute to all of you this morning, UNRWA’s women staff, the women of Ramallah, the women of the West Bank and those of the Palestinian communities further afield.
The beautifully moving pictures, photographs, posters and other pieces of art that are on display in the showroom of the Training Center are testimony to your pride, your resilience and your commitment to a better future for your children, your families, your communities and your people. We in UNRWA are determined to support you as best we can through mainstreaming gender and protection into our programs and providing you and your families with quality services, notably in the education, health and social sectors.
In line with our protection mandate, we are also devoting attention, time and resources to promoting human rights for all, not least your rights as women. What the inspiring exhibition this morning also shows is that women and girls remain the prime victims of violence. Your strength and dedication are impressive, your talents are many, yet you need the support, care and love of your husbands, children and families. You need safe, violence-free neighborhoods in which your children can be educated, your ageing parents can be well looked after, your families can be at peace. This is all the more important because the environments in which you live may be so inhospitable, and at times of conflict, so hostile and painful.
This year, UNRWA commemorated its sixtieth anniversary since its establishment by the United Nations General Assembly in 1949 with the motto, ‘Peace starts here,’ accompanied with a picture featuring dozens of smiling children’s faces. I reiterate this message today. Peace starts here, with you, your children and your communities. Whatever the adverse external circumstances you encounter, whichever injustices you have been subjected to throughout your years of dispossession and exile, you must not give up hope, you must never stop believing in, and working towards, a better future for all Palestinians. You, the women of Palestine, play a particularly critical role in achieving that better future.
Finally, let us honor this day by re-committing ourselves today to combating violence against, not only the women of Palestine, but also against women all around the world.