Not long ago I was fortunate enough to spend time with some of the bravest women I have been privileged to meet. Their experiences not only touched their lives but also the lives of those around them, in the most tragic ways.

Thank you, Jude for your wise and wonderful words.  Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Women's Forum.  Thank you all for coming here today.

Domestic abuse remains a hidden problem in our society.  It is characterised by silence – silence from those who suffer, silence from those around them and silence from those who perpetrate abuse.  This silence is corrosive: it leaves women, children – and men - carrying the burden of shame; it prevents them from speaking out about their abuse and it prevents them from getting help.  And at its worst, it can be fatal.

Not long ago I was fortunate enough to spend time with some of the bravest women I have been privileged to meet.  Their experiences not only touched their lives but also the lives of those around them, in the most tragic ways.  

I spoke to courageous women that had survived abuse, as well as to mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends of those who had been killed. Their silence was broken - but only after tragedy.  I hope we can talk about what is happening behind closed doors across the world and I hope that these brave people have the courage to speak out - to be, in the words of one of those women, ‘victors not victims’.   And of course, in a room this size, with over 300 women here, we know that some of you will also have suffered or perhaps be suffering domestic abuse, and all too often in silence. I hope very much that today might mark a moment when we start to pull back that shroud of silence.

Of course, this is not just a problem that affects us in the UK.  In the past year I have visited Australia, India, Singapore, Malaysia and Canada – countries that are so different in myriad ways, but which share the scourge of domestic abuse which takes the lives of women and damages the lives of children all around the world. 

But new conversations are starting – sometimes in places where many might not have expected it.  In the UK, thanks to hugely popular radio show, The Archers, millions of people now have some understanding of what living with relentless coercive behaviour is really like.  Similarly, the Indian soap opera 'Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon'– "I, a woman, can achieve anything" – dealt with issues of domestic violence and had over 400 million viewers.  These are new ways and valuable ways of breaking the silence.

Now some of you in this room know, only too well, the terrible impact of domestic abuse.  Some of you are already working tirelessly to try to eradicate it from society.  I very much hope that all of you will find a chance to make significant connections today and find new ways to bring this problem out into the open – so that together we can make sure that the voices of those who are living with abuse today, wherever they live, are not silenced, but clearly heard.

Thank you very much.