Cultural values no excuse for the violation of human rights

29 August 2014

The head of the United Nations women’s body has used a public lecture at ANU to say cultural differences are no excuse for the violation of universal human rights.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women and UN Under-Secretary-General, said it was time confront people about the rights and norms in their own society.

“When we talk about gender inequality, which is a universal human right, we need to be brave to look at cultural practices that are harmful to women and society as contradicting universal human rights,” she said.

“We actually have got to take the responsibility as global citizens to intervene on any cultural values that are harmful to women and children, otherwise we risk re-offenses.”

Ms Mlambo-Nguka said the ideal way forward is to invest in public education at a grassroots level and work with the communities to ensure they have the leadership to make a change.

“I think when it is all said and done, when all else fails, I think we have got an obligation to intervene when people’s rights are being grossly violated no matter what the situation is,” Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka, a former Deputy President of South Africa, has a long involvement in fighting poverty and inequality against women. She became the head of UN Women in August 2013.

Her address at ANU was sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the ANU Gender Institute.

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Research Training), Professor Jenny Corbett praised the Gender Institute for raising importance gender issues in the three years it has been operating.

She said the Gender Institute has collaborated with the Australian National Committee for UN Women, NGO’s and the Australian government.

On 23 September, ANU will host the second Civil Dialogue on Women, Peace and Security, in collaboration with UN Women Australia, the Australian Council for International Development and the Women’s International league for peace and freedom.

“The day will track the progress of Australia’s National Action Plan to realise UN resolution 1325, by supporting the political and human rights of women and girls in conflict situations,” Professor Corbett said.