25 September 2008Religious leaders from Africa, Asia and North America pledged today to help end one of the most pervasive human rights violations in the world by signing on to the “Say NO to Violence against Women Campaign,” organized by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Representing such diverse faiths as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam, the leaders added their voice to an ever-growing list of governments, civil society groups and individuals who want to eliminate a scourge that affects as many as one in three women and girls. “Violence against women and girls is a crime and an internationally recognized human rights violation – stopping it is one of the great challenges of our time,” said UNIFEM Executive Director Inés Alberdi. “Engaging religious leaders and communities of faith is essential to weaving a fabric of equality and respect for all persons, their potential, and their right to live a life free from violence,” she added. The leaders who joined the campaign are all members of Religions for Peace – the world’s largest and most representative multi-religious coalition – which today launched a new partnership with UNIFEM to engage communities of faith around the world to lead efforts to end violence against women. “People of faith around the world believe that it is a moral responsibility to end violence against women,” said Dr. William F. Vendley, Secretary-General of Religions for Peace. “While religious traditions vary, it is clear that religious men and women around the world are increasingly convinced that their respective traditions call them to work as partners to end this violence.” The “Say NO to Violence against Women” drive is designed to support Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s multi-year UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign.UNIFEM seeks to gather 1 million names through its “Say NO to Violence against Women campaign” website. The campaign will run until 25 November, when the signatures will be handed over to Mr. Ban in observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.Mr. Ban today renewed his personal pledge “to lead our worldwide campaign to stop violence against women, once and for all,” at an event on promoting gender equality and empowering women – goal number three in the set of anti-poverty targets world leaders have pledged to achieve by 2015, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). At the event, which coincides with the high-level gathering convened today to track progress towards the Goals, Mr. Ban was presented with the final MDG3 Champion Torch, which symbolizes the global call to action on gender equality.“By accepting this torch number 100, I commit to strengthening the United Nations’ ability to respond to the needs of the world’s women,” Mr. Ban said, as he joined a list of torch bearers from different walks of life – from international organizations to grassroots groups, from ministers to educators, and from CEOs to artists.“Women are not just the target of special measures to promote development – they are the driving force to overcome poverty, reduce hunger, fight illiteracy, heal the sick, prevent the spread of disease and promote stability,” added the Secretary-General. He stressed the need for strong political leadership and a major increase in resources for gender equality and women’s empowerment, noting that while there had been progress in some areas, much more needed to be done to achieve MDG3.