Pramila Patten, United Nations special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, has had an impressive career advocating for women’s rights, social justice and gender rights.
On November 16, 2022, the University of Ottawa awarded her an honorary doctorate. In her acceptance speech, she paid tribute to her sources of inspiration and the countless women fighting for peace in the midst of war. She also issued a stark reminder.
“I do not believe that this honour has been given to me only in recognition of my past work. Rather, I see it as a wake-up call — a call to action to do more for humanity, especially at a time when conflict-related sexual violence is again in our daily headlines and its unabated use on 21st century battlefields continues to shock the collective conscience of humanity,” she said.
A long, distinguished career
The thoughtful advice of her father and grandmother still guides Patten today. They told Patten that her future was in her hands. For her, this meant pursuing a dual career in corporate law and advancing women’s human rights and gender equality for 35 years.
From 2003 to 2017, Patten served as a member of the committee monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. She also was chair of the working group on the UN’s general recommendation no. 30 on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations.
Patten has been a member of several high-level panels and projects, including advisory groups for the Global Study on the Implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security and the African Women’s Rights Observatory (AWRO) within the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. She was also a member of the International Commission of Inquiry into the massacre in Guinea Conakry on September 28, 2009.
A national of Mauritius, Patten has been a practising lawyer since 1982 and a member of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn.
A call to action
During the ceremony, Patten reminded the audience of the numerous and ongoing instances of exclusion and violence directed against women, and of women’s oppression in many countries. She accepted her honorary doctorate with the promise “to work tirelessly to turn women's aspirations into legal obligations, and policy statements into concrete results.”
She also issued a call to action. Quoting Nelson Mandela, her inspiration, she said, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
On November 17, Pramila Patten spoke about the evolution of her mandate as UN special adviser since 2009 and her strategic priorities in combating violence against women, as part of the Alex Trebek Distinguished Lecture Series.