07/03/2012 19:01 GMT | Updated 07/05/2012 06:12 BST

How We're Tackling Violence Against Women: An Iceberg Under the Surface of Society

Violence against women is an iceberg under the surface of society. Every day millions around the world live in fear.

Violence against women is an iceberg under the surface of society. Every day millions around the world live in fear. A woman caught up in conflict in Eastern Congo dreads being raped. A girl in the Horn of Africa is forced into genital mutilation. A woman in London is threatened with violence but can't get anyone to take her seriously.

It is despicable that in the 21st century so many medieval practices and attitudes remain. And it is appalling that time and again, this is shoved under the carpet. People turn a blind eye and a culture of shame and secrecy is perpetuated.

That's why ending violence against women and girls is a priority for this government. We are challenging the behind-closed-doors mentality and shining a light under the rocks to root out violence and intimidation where it's happening - at home and abroad.

At home we've protected central government funding for tackling violence against women - £40 million over the spending review period, including funding for vital rape support centres.

We're consulting on how we can crack down on practices like forced marriage, sweeping away the cultural over-sensitivity which said we should just turn a blind eye.

We're piloting 'Clare's Law', which will help victims, or potential victims, of domestic violence by disclosing information about previous violent-offending by their partner. This is to prevent tragic cases like that of Clare Wood, who was killed by a man she had become involved with - because she had no idea he'd committed a string of violent offences.

And today we can announce another big step: making stalking a criminal offence in its own right. Stalking is an abhorrent crime. It makes life a living hell for the victims - breaking up relationships, forcing the victims to move house, making them feel they are being watched 24 hours of the day. That's why we are explicitly criminalising stalking, to make sure that justice is done, protect the victims and show beyond doubt that stalking is a crime.

We're acting abroad too. In Zambia we're providing thousands of survivors of violence with legal, medical and psychological support. In Ethiopia we're expanding a programme that has been massively successful in preventing child marriage - with the ambition of stopping 200,000 girls from being married out young. In South Asia we've launched a new anti-trafficking programme, which aims to stop 60,000 women and girls being dragged into modern-day slavery.

Everyone in this country should feel proud that because of British aid, fewer women and girls are going to be living in fear. But of course we're stronger if we act together with other countries. That's why today we can confirm we are working towards signing The Council of Europe's Convention on Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, before ratifying the treaty and so incorporating it into UK law. This is a landmark agreement between countries that together we're going to drag this problem into broad daylight and tackle it head-on.

So International Women's Day is vital as it forces people across the planet to focus on issues like this. But we have got to make sure that action to stamp out violence against women continues every day - and that's what this government is determined to do.