Yesterday was the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. A bit of a mouthful for an ‘official day’ you might be thinking? Possibly. But an absolutely vital cause nonetheless? No question about it.
The day begins 16 days of activism to call for an end to violence against women across the world, concluding on International Human Rights Day. ‘Violence’ here includes physical, sexual, and psychological, and encompasses child marriage, female genital mutilation, and human trafficking. These acts of brutality, aggression, and murder are all too common in our news outlets. For me personally, it’s the really shocking cases that stick in my mind, that seem so ludicrous, so cruel, that it’s impossible to believe we’re supposedly living in the global, interconnected civilization of the 21st century. Only recently a headline caught my attention that shocked me to the core: Imelda Cortez, a 20-year-old woman from El Salvador who had been raped by her stepfather is facing 20 years in prison under the charge of attempted murder, as she’s accused of trying to abort the baby born by the abuse. The fact that a woman, younger than me, could be the victim of such horrific violence and then be the one facing accusation and sentencing beggars belief.
But while the laws and popular attitudes in some countries facilitate situations as dire as Cortez’s, the reality is that this culture of violence is at some level, tragically, global. Cortez’s case may have grabbed the headlines, but only last week the Office of National Statistics released figures relating to domestic abuse in England and Wales, and it makes for unpleasant reading. While the rate of conviction following prosecution is encouraging, the overall stats remaining depressing, and decidedly feminine-focused.
Women in England and Wales are twice as likely to face domestic abuse compared to men; in the last year, 1.3 million women reported abuse, compared to 695,000 men. The most common type of domestic abuse experienced was partner abuse, and again around twice as many women reported an experience of partner abuse in the last year than men (6.3% compared with 2.7%). While the scale of the issue is recognised by the government, the point has been made that this recognition, surprise to surprise, has not been backed with sufficient funding, waiting instead on charities to address the need.
Just yesterday new statistics revealed that ‘the home is the most likely place for a woman to be killed.’ 137 women across the world are killed each day by a partner or family member. That’s 87,000 a year. While the cultural context may change; estranged partners, killings, femicide, the violence remains as inexcusable.
In the face of such depressing statistics, it can feel sometimes feel like little can , . But of course, the core ethos of the nonprofit sector is that, no matter how insurmountable the crisis seems, no matter how dire the situation, something can always be done. And a result there are many, many voices and campaigns working to eradicate gender-based violence. In the UK Woman’s Trust, Women’s Aid, AVA and Tender are just some of the charities working to support women who’ve been affected by domestic abuse, as well as campaigning to end it. The movement against female genital mutilation meanwhile is gaining momentum as an international cause, with the British Government pledging £50 million to end the practice by 2030, and attitudes are catching on. One Sudanese village has eradicated the practice themselves, , and the health risks and gaining the support of religious leaders. ,
Violence full stop is abohrent, but the UN official day recognises the scale and rate of violence against women that occurs for the crime of having been born female. Looking back on humanity’s long history of human rights abuses, I think we sometimes like to think we’ve come a long way, that the 21st century is now a time of enlightenment, that we’ve never had it so good. But the reality is that much work remains to be done in so many areas, and the legacy of women being treated for over a millenia as a second-class citizen is going to take a lot more than a few hundred years to eradicate.
Words by Tessa Boyd, Charityworks trainee at Mind