Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is leading a United Nations call on world leaders to "make good" on pledges they have made to end violence against women, a scourge that affects millions of women and girls worldwide.
"Up to 70 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime (and) as many as a quarter of all pregnant women are affected," Mr. Ban said in message to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
"Millions of women and girls around the world are assaulted, beaten, raped, mutilated or even murdered in what constitutes appalling violations of their human rights," he added.
The UN General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in a 1999 resolution inviting governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to "organize activities designed to raise public awareness of the problem on that day."
The day harks to the 25 November, 1960, assassination of the three Mirabal sisters, who were political activists in the Dominican Republic, on orders of Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo.
"On this International Day, I call on all governments to make good on their pledges to end all forms of violence against women and girls in all parts of the world," Mr. Ban said.
The call reinforces a similar appeal made by the head of the UN agency committed to gender equality and the empowerment of women. UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet used a video message to announce the launch of COMMIT, an initiative asking governments to make national commitments that will be showcased globally.
"We must do better to protect women," Ms. Bachelet urged, as the agency noted in a press release that 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is still not a crime.
UN Women also administers the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which is the world's leading global grant-making mechanism exclusively dedicated to addressing violence against women and girls. This month, it announced plans to disburse $8 million to local initiatives in 18 countries.
In his message, Mr. Ban took the opportunity to shine a spotlight on additional outreach initiatives launched in his name. One is his landmark UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, launched in 2008. It gathers a host of UN agencies and offices to galvanize action across the UN system to prevent and punish violence against women.
"All too often, perpetrators go unpunished (while) women and girls are afraid to speak out because of a culture of impunity," said Mr. Ban, adding the initiative was "engaging governments, international organizations, civil society groups, the media and ordinary citizens."
He said his Network of Men Leaders initiative - which supports the work of women around the world to defy destructive stereotypes, embrace equality, and inspire men and boys everywhere to speak out against violence - was expanding.
The shooting last month of Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl known for opposing Pakistani Taliban restrictions on female education, is spotlighted in the messages from the UN human rights chief and the head of the UN agency mandated to advance education worldwide.
"The sad truth is that Malala's case is not an exceptional one and, had she been less prominent, her attempted murder might have passed more or less unnoticed," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a news release issued from her Geneva-based office.
"Despite all the advances in women's rights around the world, violence against girls and women remains one of the most common human rights abuses - and the assault on their fundamental right to education continues in many countries," she added, stressing how violence against women and denying them education were often "closely related."
From the Paris headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Director-General Irina Bokova said Ms. Yousufzai's story was "sadly, far from unique."
"Across the world, girls and women face violence as they try to exercise their basic rights," she stated in a press release. "Violence, and its threat, is one of the key factors forcing girls to drop out of school."
UNESCO will stage on 10 December a high-level advocacy event aimed at mobilizing a "deeper commitment" to educating girls and celebrating the "courage of young girls like Malala Yousufzai," Ms. Bokova said.