Ending violence against women | Daily News

Ending violence against women

The Vidya Sivaloganathan rape and murder case highlighted one of the most gruesome cases of violence against women in Sri Lanka in recent memory. But this case represents only the tip of the iceberg in terms of violence against women and girls in our society. In fact, violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today.

Violence against women is the most extreme form of discrimination. The UN defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental 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 can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health.

According to a recent UN report, on the basis of data from 2005 to 2016 for 87 countries, 19 per cent of women between 15 and 49 years of age said they had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the 12 months prior to the survey. In 2012, almost half of all women who were victims of intentional homicide worldwide were killed by an intimate partner or family member.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) too is fairly common – more than 200 million women alive today have been affected. Around 400,000 women and girls are also trafficked against their will each year for forced labour/slavery, prostitution and even the removal of body organs. Violence against women is a rights violation and a consequence of discrimination against women, in law and in practice, as well as of persisting inequalities between men and women. This violence impacts on progress in many areas, including poverty eradication, combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security. Research also shows that achieving gender equality helps in preventing conflict, and high rates of violence against women correlates with outbreaks of conflict. But violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Prevention is possible and essential.

This is the focus of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women which falls today (November 25). Women's activists have marked November 25 as a day against violence since 1981. This date comes from the assassination in 1960 of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, on the orders of the then Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo.

Sri Lanka has made substantial progress in eliminating violence against women in any form – verbal, sexual and physical. The relevant laws have been strengthened in the wake of recent high-profile incidents. One of the ways in which this scourge can be tackled is educating girls and young women. Fortunately, there is virtually no discrimination against girls in Sri Lanka in terms of education. The next step is to empower them politically. A start has been made with the mandatory inclusion of at least 25 percent women candidates for nomination lists at the forthcoming local polls. If women are politically stronger, they will be able to raise a bigger voice against sexual and other forms of violence against women.

But much more remains to be done. Incidents of domestic violence and sexual harassment of young girls by close relatives go largely unreported for reasons of fear and stigma. Women still do encounter many problems of “manspreading” in public transport. Gender inequality still exists, including unequal pay structures in many vocations and companies. The 30-year conflict has also resulted in thousands of women-led families struggling against poverty.

All these concerns should be addressed as we seek to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with regard to women and children. In Sri Lanka and elsewhere, one of the major challenges to efforts to prevent and end violence against women and girls worldwide is the substantial funding shortfall. As a result, resources for initiatives to prevent and end violence against women and girls are severely lacking.

This year has brought some good news in this regard, as the European Union and the United Nations have launched the “Spotlight” Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls. Another initiative helping to expose this scourge is the “UNiTE to end Violence Against Women” initiative launched in 2008 by former UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, which is also supported by his successor António Guterres.

UNiTE leads a 16 day campaign against Gender Based Violence campaign from November 25 to December 10, Human Rights Day. The theme of the campaign for 2017 is “Leave No One Behind: End Violence Against Women and Girls.” This theme reinforces the UNiTE Campaign’s commitment to a world free from violence for all women and girls around the world, while reaching the most underserved and marginalized, including refugees, migrants, minorities, indigenous peoples, and populations affected by conflict and natural disasters.

The first step towards ending violence against women is addressing gender inequality worldwide. Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will require more vigorous efforts, including legal frameworks, to counter deeply rooted gender-based discrimination. In our region, Sri Lanka must take the lead in this noble endeavour. 


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