A universal alliance to counter gender violence | Daily News

A universal alliance to counter gender violence

The International Day for ‘The Elimination of Violence against Women’ is on November 25. The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an annual international campaign that starts on November 25 and ends on December 10, ‘Human Rights Day.’

It is also a reminder to the world of the obligations and the responsibility we all must own at both the private and the public level to ensure that every woman, every girl, in all corners of the world lives in a world free of violence and fear. They must be enabled to enjoy their most fundamental right to physical integrity and security.

The reality of the problem today is grim. In every country, in every city or village, in conflict zones and refugee camps, in health pandemics such as HIV or Ebola and humanitarian crises caused by cyclones or earthquakes the female population becomes totally vulnerable. In such circumstances one out of three women are beaten, abused, stalked, assaulted, tortured, raped, trafficked and sexually exploited, coerced into slavery or into becoming drug mules. They are also subjected to honour killings, burnt alive for dowry and sold or forced into child marriage. This means over a billion women and girls of all ages are affected by such unspeakable violations.

Violence against women and girls is a horrendous global issue. It remains one of the most persistent human rights violations and a threat to billions of girls and women. Violence against women and girls knows no social, economic or national boundaries. It affects women of all ages and arises in various types of settings - taking many forms including physical, sexual or psychological violence, as well as economic abuse and exploitation. At least one out of every three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex or emotionally abused in her lifetime, most often by a partner. Are you aware that globally, 47 percent of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner or family member, compared to less than six percent of murders of men? Or those women represent 55 per cent of victims of forced labour and 98 per cent of the victims of sexual exploitation?

The necessary global norms and standards to end violence against women have been set at various global conventions. But the actual shift came as part of the Gender Equality compact in the first ever, universal, comprehensive and transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted at the United Nations last year.

We know what the underlying causes of this very complex and pernicious phenomenon is. Harmful traditions, customs and cultural norms, gender stereotypes and inequality and patriarchal political, economic and social structures manifest themselves in this most egregious violation of women’s human rights. This in turn creates and perpetuates an environment of impunity for perpetrators. Men typically indulge in violence as an exercise of their inherent power, entitlement, superiority and a sense of ownership of women by them.

This is the mirror image of the sense of vulnerability, fear, shame, helplessness, resignation and dependence felt by women and girls who are victims and survivors of such abuse and violence. Enactment of Laws, policies and special measures and their effective implementation including through targeted institutions and interventions by governments is vital. Movement building for mindset change and change in social norms by all sectors of society including the private sector, women’s organisations and faith-based groups is a necessary complement. We now have insights on how we can change and demolish these structures that breed violence and despair for both women and their families and communities, hold them back from achieving their potential and leave them behind in every way.

All of this of course requires investment - of political will, social capital and financial resources. Apart from the immense emotional and psychosocial cost of violence against women and girls, there are high economic costs. Beyond the direct medical and judicial costs, child and welfare support, violence against women takes a toll on household and national incomes and budgets and poverty reduction efforts. This is on account of lost opportunities for education, income, productivity and employment of affected women and girls.

Experience has shown that when women are free from violence and have the power to make their own choices, the chains of poverty can be broken as families and communities grow stronger, peaceful and secure. Children are better protected and their chances of a better life become more viable while environmental awareness deepens and opportunities for civic and political engagement based on inclusivity and socially constructive values are able to flourish. As such, allocating adequate and significantly increased resources to ending violence against women is not only a legal obligation and a moral imperative, but a sound investment too.

This year, the UN theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.’ Despite the enormous progress since 1975, women are still underrepresented in too many sectors of society, undermining progress and sustainable development. It constrains creativity and talent and suffocates inclusion and pluralism. This does not just harm women – it weakens the very fabric of societies. For the celebration of International Women’s Day 2017, UNESCO will focus on ‘Women and Art,’ showcasing the work of young women artists and discussing the way forward.

To commemorate the 2016 theme for this day UNESCO drew attention to the effects of climate change and scarce resources in intensifying violence against women and girls. Climate change is a threat multiplier. It can contribute to crop failure and a decline in food production, the displacement of populations and species as well as increased economic pressure at home as a result of lost livelihoods following climate-induced natural disasters.

Although entire populations are affected by climate change, it is women and girls who pay the heaviest price. Most often due to the traditional roles they take up, women heavily rely on natural resources and are responsible for securing food, water and fuel for cooking. In times of drought, the search for safe water can take up to eight hours a day leaving them vulnerable to assault, rape or kidnapping. They face social, economic and political obstacles that limit their ability to deal with change that threatens their security.

When a country or a region faces a natural disaster, violence against women becomes less of a priority and mechanisms to protect them weaken. Women and girls often lose their support system after having been displaced and fall more vulnerable to trafficking. They are also disadvantaged in accessing a quality education, which makes them more likely to be unwitting victims of their environment. Women stand at the heart of communities. Their extensive knowledge on the management and use of natural resources are key to tackling climate change processes, in particular with water management and risk preparedness. Women and girls represent an enormous potential that must be integrated in the solutions to climate change. The full participation of girls and women - and their leadership - is critical to adequately respond to the effects of climate change. [email protected]

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