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Orange Ceremony to mark the 25 of November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Strasbourg , 

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55 years ago today, three sisters, living in the Dominican Republic…

…were stopped on their way to visit their husbands in prison.

The Mirabal sisters, known as ‘las mariposas’, the butterflies, were political activists…

…who openly opposed Rafael Trujillo, a brutal dictator.

He had tried to imprison them, too…

…but international pressure led to their release.

So, in the end, Trujillo ordered his men to drag the women from their car…

…into a sugar cane field, where they were violently beaten, before they were killed.

The bodies were put back in the jeep and pushed over a cliff…

…to make the deaths look like an accident.

But everybody knew.

And the anger at the fate of these brave women unlocked something in Dominican society.

Six months later, the dictator was dead. Assassinated.

And then began a long sequence of events which led, eventually, to freedom and democracy for a nation.

This story is why we mark today, November 25, as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Around the world landmarks will be lit up orange in a show of solidarity…

…with every woman who has been punched, raped, or tormented at the hands of a man…

…and the many who live, each day, with this fear.

I will never know what that feels like.

I will never understand what it means to feel less free…

…simply because of the gender I was born into.

But I do understand that here in Europe, we must be better than that.

We are a beacon of freedom and equal rights around the world…

…and yet it still goes on.

Grave acts of intimidation and brutality.

Every day, in each of our 47 member States.

This is why our Istanbul Convention matters so much.

It was, and still is, the first international legal treaty to criminalise all forms of violence against women…

…physical, sexual and psychological.

It says that no tradition or culture can be used as an excuse.

It outlaws acts like rape, stalking, forced abortion, forced marriage, female genital mutilation.

And it says that States must deal with these crimes:

No more turning a blind eye to what goes on behind closed doors.

20 European countries have signed this Treaty. 19 have ratified.

And today I urge those who have neither signed nor ratified to do so without delay:

Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Moldova and the Russian Federation.

I welcome the EU’s intention to join our treaty.

And I call on Europe’s governments to give special attention, right now, to protecting women and girl refugees, as our convention requires.

The danger is obvious:

That some of these women find themselves smuggled at one end…

…only to be trafficked at the other.

We need to get ahead of this problem.

And we should use today to remember that women’s rights are human rights.

It is as simple as that.

Minou Tavarez Mirabel was four when her mother was killed.

She grew up to serve as the Dominican Republic’s Deputy Foreign Minister.

The Ministry was in Rafael Trujillo’s former family residence.

And Minou worked out of an office which used to be the bedroom of the dictator’s daughter.

When asked how she felt about this, she said ‘I think about it all the time’…

…but I’ve decided that being here proves that ‘we are stronger’, than him.

She was right. The forces of liberty and equality are stronger.

But there can be no complacency.

No taking progress for granted.

We have come a long way – but we still have a way to go.