VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia – On November 25, countries around the world marked the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This day is specially observed to raise awareness concerning violence against women and is the start of 16 days of global activism, climaxing with Human Rights Day on December 10.
In the city of Florence, 128 pairs of red shoes were displayed to remember the women abused and killed by a known male assailant. In another Italian city, cutout silhouettes of women were arranged on the pavement, to represent those who had been killed, with signs that read, “Palermo oppose violence against women.” In the heart of Madrid, the names of 45 women killed this year were read out aloud.
Violence against women has reached endemic proportions. The U.N. indicates up to 70% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime from an intimate partner. The international organization further estimates between five hundred thousand to two million people are trafficked every year into prostitution, forced labor, slavery or servitude, with at least 80% of the known victims being women and girls.
In some parts of the world, rape incidence is extremely prevalent, as is shown in the example of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In 2005, the New York Times had labeled it “the worst place on earth to be a woman.” According to the U.N., there are 1,100 rapes reported per month in the DRC’s eastern provinces, with an average of 36 women and girls raped every day.
As sexual violence is continually used as a weapon on women during conflict, more needs to be done to prevent this atrocity.
“Violence against women and girls directly affects individuals while harming our common humanity,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. “In response to this global challenge, I launched my UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign in 2008. Since then, partners around the world have joined our drive to protect the human rights of women and girls to live free from violence.”
In April of this year, G8 made a declaration on preventing sexual violence by a launching a sustained campaign under the leadership of the United Kingdom. It listed six steps and aims to build a global partnership to prevent sexual violence in conflict and hold perpetrators to account, including through the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The G8 also committed $35.5 million towards aggregating resources to combat sexual violence in conflict.
The U.N.’s Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) recently published the results of its rehabilitation program to stress why more is needed to help survivors of armed conflict and end impunity for perpetrators. The International Center for Research on Women’s (ICRW) evaluation report credited TFV’s success to include reaching out to over 110,000 war victims and providing a workable approach to address the physical, psychological and social harm done to the victims.
When a woman is raped during conflict, she often suffers severe physical and psychological wounds with limited medical and support services to render critical assistance. The most damaging are the invisible wounds such as shame and social stigma, which affect her ability to hold a job and perform her familial and community roles.
TFV’s intervention program has, however, helped reduce social exclusion and shame, as well as build the self-sufficiency and skills of victims. TFV also gives court-ordered compensations and assistance to conflict survivors, and is considered the first of its kind among global efforts to give recognition to the affected woman, address impunity and uphold justice.
A conflict survivor says she became stronger and went back to work for the sake of her children; another woman began to see herself as “equal to everyone else again,” according to the Guardian.
TFV’s rehabilitation program is making a concrete difference in the lives of women and girls as it bridges the crucial gap of time between atrocity and restitution, a time when most humanitarian agencies have redeployed and the remaining survivors of mass atrocities may have fallen between the cracks.
Another form of violence against women and girls centers around Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Although this practice is done for cultural or religious reasons, it is internationally recognized as a violation against woman’s right and as a form of child abuse. It has impacted more than 130 million girls and women in Africa and several Middle Eastern countries, according to the U.N.
This practice has also affected 500,000 women and girls in the European Union. The European Commission has identified FMG victims or women at risk in 13 E.U. countries, and is campaigning to eliminate it as a harmful practice, which has a profound physical and psychological trauma on its victims.
The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) indicates that gender-based discrimination remains the single most prevalent driver of inequalities and more than 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime.
A study places the economic cost of intimate partner violence in the U.S. at more than $5.8 billion per year, with $4.1 billion accounting for direct medical and health care services and close to $1.8 billion for productivity losses, according to the U.N.
“This [domestic violence]is not acceptable: better laws and their enforcement are needed,” said Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator, at the U.N. headquarters on November 25.
November 25 was selected by the U.N. General Assembly in a 1999 resolution as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The date was selected to remember the three Mirabel sisters, Patria Mercedes who was 36 years old, Minerva Argentina at 34 years old and Antonia Maria Teresa who was 25 years old, political activists from the Dominican Republic who were assassinated by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo on that day in 1960.
Violence against women is a universal issue, but it can be eliminated by providing an integrated approach to empowering women and girls; expanding their access to support services such as healthcare, legal and psychological aid, as well as strengthening the implementation of laws, policies and prosecutorial recourse with reparations for the victims.
– Flora Khoo
Sources: The Guardian, United Nations News Center, United Nations Women, United Nations, Euronews, Trust Fund for Victims, International Center for Research on Women, G8 Declaration
Photo: Bored Panda