November 25 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This important day was established by the UN General Assembly Resolution 54/134 in December 1999. Violence against women and girls includes: "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."
Violence against women and girls has many faces. This ranges from violence perceived as less harmful such as psychological violence and extreme forms of violence that include sexual and physical violence.
Close to half of the women killed globally were killed by their intimate partners or family members in 2012. As a comparison, less than 6% of men have been killed by their intimate partner or family member that year.
According to statistics published by the WHO, 35%of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Worse, the numbers are as high as70% of women in certain regions. Approximately 120 million girls have experienced sexual violence.
Within the European Union where 43% of women reported having suffered from psychological violence by their intimate partners. Furthermore, 11% of women reported having been cyber-harassed. Cyber-harassment includes here unwanted and sexually explicit emails or text messages in EU countries.
Violence against women and girls can also be reinforced by way of human trafficking or child marriage. Women and girls continue to be the most common victims of human trafficking globally amounting to over 71% of all trafficked persons. Child marriage continues to be a common occurrence in many parts of the world, for example, in West and Central Africa where approximately 42% of girls before the age of 18 were married (or in a union), including 14% of girls who were married (or in a union) before the age of 15. Worldwide, it is assessed that almost 750 million women and girls (alive today) were married before their 18 birthday.
Many women remain silent about the suffering they endure caused by violence and this silence has wider consequences. As an example, women who were physically or sexually abused by their partners are almost twice as likely to have an abortion compared to women who have not suffered the abuse.
This takes us to the two major cases over the recent months of sexual violence against women: the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal and claims of sexual abuse at the UK Parliament.
Even though the claims made against Weinstein and others have not been fully investigated yet, they can already feel changes around them – some shows have been cancelled, their privileges stripped. This is not only a sign that the culture around sexual abuse is changing, but that many more are now keenly aware of the issue.
At the UK Parliament, the sexual abuse scandal is yet to be investigated after female Parliamentary researchers and aides have used a WhatsApp group to share information about sexual harassment and abuse at the Parliament. Even though the information within the allegations is still vague, it is crucial to remember the nature of the institution that the UK Parliament is. The politicians allegedly tangled in the Parliamentarian sexual abuse scandal are the very people that should be working on policies to combat violence against women and girls. How are they going to do so if their alleged sexual misconduct takes the question of equality of women years and years back? Despite the claims that the sexual abuse scandal at the Parliament is not even close to the expenses scandal from a few years back, one has to consider the irony of that statement. Even if in terms of numbers of persons involved in the sexual abuse scandal, it is nowhere near the expenses scandal, the nature of the accusations is much more severe as it involves unwanted sexual behaviour that some Parliamentarians were allegedly involved in. Hence, it is indeed more serious than the expenses scandal. However, as mentioned, this is yet to be investigated.
It cannot be forgotten that violence against women and girls is a human rights violation. This such violence is a direct consequence of discrimination against women and still ongoing inequalities. The position of women in society will not improve if any form of violence against women, whether sexual, physical, psychological, continues and is disregarded. Despite the persisting pandemic of violence against women and girls, it does not mean that the problem cannot be addressed. It can and must.
November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, is also the first day of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, a UN initiative, ending on December 10, that is the Human Rights Day. This year’s overreaching theme of the initiative is ‘Leave No One Behind: End Violence against Women and Girls’ that would reflect on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The organisers are inviting all to join their ‘Orange Your World’ movement organising events raising awareness about violence against women and girls globally (and ‘oranging’ the world at the same time).
Violence against women and girls has many faces. One does not have to look far to see these faces, they are all around us. It takes the will to see. It takes the courage to speak up against. It takes the strength to fight against. But inaction is not good enough anymore.