A 2008 International Women's Day demonstration in Delhi, India

A 2008 International Women's Day demonstration in Delhi, India

Conference Room B was packed with women this past Thursday morning. It was a wonderful sight – and sound – and a reminder of how impoverished our decision making bodies are when they exclude women from their chambers of power. For those women who are isolated in their own societies because of their championship of gender equality and human rights it would have been a rare moment of support and solidarity.

The UN is fortunate in having a current Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, who is dedicated to building gender equality and, in particular, to zero tolerance for violence against women and girls. It will, of course, be an even healthier institution when the wall of portraits of former Secretary-Generals includes female faces alongside the male.

Mr. Ban and others do bring the possibility of this day — International Women’s Day — a little closer through working to eradicate violence against women and girls, identifying this as both a consequence and a cause of gender inequality. Mr Ban reminded us that “real men respect women”, that only men can choose to change their behaviour, and that “the time to change is now.”

The Australian slogan of the White Ribbon movement of men against violence against women and girls was greeted with great enthusiasm: “Not violent. Not silent.” It would be a true celebration of International Women’s Day if this could be in the hearts, minds and voices of many men this coming year and beyond.

Then, please God, some year soon we will have no more stories like that of an 18 year old Congolese girl raped by 4 soldiers and ostracised by her family or a 14 year old Liberian girl raped by 5 soldiers and then married by their commander. Zero tolerance for violence against women. The time to change is now!