By Becky Owens Bullard
“This is not just a women’s issue, this is a responsibility for all of us. This violence is an outrage and it must be stopped. Time has run out for complacency or excuses. Let us show the will, the determination and let us mobilize greater resources to end what is a scourge of humanity, violence against women.” – Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Executive Director November 20, 2012.
Every November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, yet I’m always surprised at how little coverage this day and the issue itself receives. In some countries around the world, including my own, this time of the year is a time where most people are consumed with upcoming holidays and what presents to get our loved ones. So most often, this day of awareness is lost on these countries and the millions who inhabit them, but the importance of raising awareness to eliminate violence against women and girls can not be understated.
With some of the progress that we’ve seen in issues like domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, harassment, human trafficking, femicide, forced marriage and rape as a method of war, it may feel easier to overlook violence against women and girls as an issue deserving of serious attention at this time of the year or really at any time of the year. However, violence against women and girls continues to be incredibly pervasive, much more so than you might think. In a multi-country study conducted by the World Health Organization finds that in most countries between 30 to 60 % of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, with the highest proportion of findings at 71% of women in Ethiopia.
Additionally, people will often ask why the focus on women? And aren’t men affected by violence too? While a number of men and boys are certainly affected by violence, the unfortunate reality remains that violence disproportionately affects women and girls. This is a result of discriminatory gender norms that view females as the weaker sex, as property, as subservient to men, and as objects to be gawked at and grabbed whenever men please.
The most common number taken from the WHO study above and additional studies on the subject is that on average around the world 1 in 3 women will be affected by some form of abuse or violence in her lifetime. So if women and girls make up half the world’s 7 billion human beings, over 1 billion of these individuals have been victims of some form of violence. over 1 billion people. This constitutes a pandemic of very serious proportions. Nonetheless, it is an issue that is commonly placed behind other international, national and local priorities even though violence against girls and women between ages 15 to 44 cause more death and disability than war, cancer, malaria, and traffic accidents combined.
For example, in the U.S. during the most recent elections there wasn’t a single question in the presidential debates concerning this pandemic or the long overdue ratification of the Violence Against Women Act, even though 1 in 4 women in the U.S. are victims of domestic violence, 1 in 6 women are victims of rape and 1/3 of women murdered in the U.S. are murdered by their intimate partner.
Sadly, what we did hear were various comments about “legitimate rape” not causing pregnancy, rape being “something that God intended to happen” that girls don’t get pregnant from statutory rape or incest, pregnancy from rape being similar to “having a baby out of wedlock“, and that “some girls they rape so easy“. Disturbing comments like these show a troubling lack of understanding that half the world’s population is at very serious risk of becoming a victim of very real violence.
These persistent misogynist attitudes and the staggering statistics on violence perpetrated against women and girls clearly demonstrate why we cannot ignore this issue and the opportunity to raise awareness about ending this violence today or any other day of the year.
But why should you be bothered with this difficult and depressing issue, especially at this time of the year? Because you know her. You know a woman/girl who has been sexually harassed, you know a woman/girl who has been so terrified of her intimate partner that she’d do anything to calm him down, you know a woman/girl who has been a raped. While you may be thinking, “I don’t know anyone who has had that type of horrible experience”, these statistics aren’t just numbers and the prevalence of violence against women and girls is very real. You know her I guarantee you, you’ve just never heard what she’s been through.
So during this time of the year when we are supposed to focus on love, togetherness and humanity, do your part to raise awareness about this issue. Do your part to help the women/girls you know who have been affected by violence. And like with any issue, if we work together to educate ourselves, our children and our communities on the important role that every single one of us has, we can end the pandemic of violence against women and girls.
Take action against gender violence during the 16 days between today and December 10th (International Human Rights Day).
And finally – share this post on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women with your family and friends to raise awareness!