On the second day of Royal Visit Rwanda last week, The Duchess of Cornwall gave a speech at a Violence Against Women and Girls event at the Kigali Convention Centre.
She took the opportunity to call for action and ‘solutions’ from Commonwealth nations to tackle domestic violence and sexual violence against women and girls.
The Duchess of Cornwall opened her speech by thanking ‘the people of Rwanda for the wonderful welcome’ that she and Charles had received.
She added: “Thank you for your kindness and generosity to us and to the whole Commonwealth family – we were all so sorry not to be able to gather here over the past two years and are delighted that we are now, finally, together.”
Camilla described how they visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial the day prior, where they heard about the ‘appalling, unfathomable events’ and how ‘the people of Rwanda have embraced peace and reconciliation’. They were told from their tour guide how ‘we all have a personal responsibility to fight the discrimination and ideologies that lead to the destruction of others’.
“It is in that same spirit of encouraging personal responsibility that I wish to speak today about a different evil that has led to the death of many thousands: violence against women and girls.”
The future Queen Consort highlighted how the global figures are ‘shocking’ as nearly 1 in 3 women have been abused in their lifetime.
“Across the Commonwealth, calls to domestic violence helplines have increased by up to 500% over the past two years. Whether we are aware of it or not, we all know someone who has endured sexual or domestic abuse. We can, therefore, all be part of combatting these heinous acts.”
Camilla said how she was profoundly touched by President Kagame’s powerful message on social media, which read, ‘Equality is a right, not a favour’.
“So let us bear His Excellency’s words in mind as we focus on violence in the home against women and girls today and remember that we are seeking rights, not favours.”
Her Royal Highness noted how she is raising awareness to improve the rights that have been previously denied to women and girls across the world such as ‘Joanna Simpson in the UK, beaten to death by her husband while their two small children were in the next room; Noreen in Pakistan, whose husband, a drug addict, routinely abused her and alternately threw her out of the house or forbade her to go outside; and Uwaila Vera Omozuwa, murdered in Nigeria as she studied in church.’
Whilst the stories are ‘heart-breaking’, Camilla highlights how they are ‘not unusual’.
Noting how the event has one purpose ‘to find solutions’, the 74-year-old spoke about the significance that ‘every single member state has unanimously agreed to support the “Commonwealth Says NO MORE” campaign and to implement initiatives to prevent domestic violence and sexual abuse’.
Camilla went on to talk about the importance and power in the alliance of the Commonwealth in tackling violence against women and girls. She commented: “In the strength of our unity, we, the women and men of the Commonwealth, stand with victims and survivors, who, despite the temptation to hide away in silence, speak up so that others know they aren’t alone – whether in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Pacific or the Caribbean and Americas.”
In turn, every member state has the ‘opportunity to end gender-based violence and those laws and practices that discriminate against women’, but says it can only happen if everyone takes personal responsibility not to let this opportunity be lost.
The Royal closed her speech, by quoting her 96-year old mother-in-law, from a speech she gave 75 years ago: “If we all go forward together with an unwavering faith, a high courage, and a quiet heart, we shall be able to make of this ancient commonwealth, which we all love so dearly, an even grander thing – more free, more prosperous, more happy and a more powerful influence for good in the world.”
“We, the women and men of the Commonwealth, stand with victims and survivors, who, despite the temptation to hide away in silence, speak up so that others know they aren’t alone.”
— The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall (@ClarenceHouse) June 23, 2022
HRH has been an advocate for preventing and addressing the issue of sexual violence and harassment. In 2017, she partnered with Boots to create wash bags for victims of sexual violence who undergo medical examinations as part of process of pressing charges. She has also spoken out about the taboo of domestic abuse, saying it is ‘everyone’s’ issue.
The Duchess of Cornwall gave a speech at the Shameless! Festival last year, where she paid tribute to the women whose lives have been ‘brutally ended’ and ‘endured unimaginable torment’ at the hands of abusers.
In her first interview with British Vogue to mark her upcoming 75th birthday, the Duchess was asked about her work with sexual assault and rape survivors. When asked if it is the sort of work she will continue when she is Queen Consort? She replied: “Oh, I shall carry on as much as I can. You can’t desert things that you’re in the middle of. There’s a lot of things to be done still.”