NEW YORK — The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was commemorated Nov. 25, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is spearheading a global campaign, “UNiTE to end violence against women.”
In tandem with this, celebrity Nicole Kidman, in her role as Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), has been promoting an Internet-based global advocacy campaign for the past year with the slogan “Say NO to violence against women.” A week ago she presented more than 5 million signatures to the secretary general, reaffirming the need to treat this issue as a global priority.
There is no denying the gravity of the problem of violence against women, or VAW, as it has come to be known. Global statistics tell us that at least one of every three women, whether they live in Japan, Peru or Mozambique, is likely to be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
According to World Bank data, women aged 15 to 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria.
And in situations of armed conflict, rape and sexual abuse are no longer documented as simply byproducts, but as intentional military tactics used to humiliate, dominate and create fear in civilian communities.
Irrespective of country, religion or culture, violence against women continues to rear its ugly head with undiminished force around the world.
Forging a way forward to deal with this pervasive form of terror is not simple, but here are three points worth passing on: • Let’s recognize violence against women as more than a human rights issue or a criminal justice issue. It impacts health, family stability, and the well-being of children. It affects income generation and local economies; and it breeds hatred, distrust and long-lasting divisions between communities.
The unresolved legacy of Japan’s military sexual slavery during the Pacific War is a case in point, as it remains a thorn in Japan’s side with respect to its East Asian neighbors. For 18 years and counting, the former “comfort women” and their supporters have turned out for their weekly Wednesday Demonstrations in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in the expectation of achieving justice for past wrongdoings. Time is not necessarily a great healer. • The cooperation and leadership of men is absolutely essential to preventing and reducing acts of violence against women. This should not surprise, given that men occupy the vast majority of positions of power and influence in public, corporate and religious life worldwide.
Even if all the females on Earth — some 3.3 billion — were to hypothetically sign on to the U.N. petition, it would signal that we were only halfway there numerically speaking, and much further behind in a practical sense.
Encouraging discussions within families, and awareness-raising in schools for young boys and girls, are key steps to help lift the taboo against talking about the abuse of women. Developing more widespread, culturally sensitive strategies that engage men “to end men’s violence against women” such as The White Ribbon Campaign, is another practical measure. • There is an urgent need to strengthen data collection to inform policy. If we want our leaders to commit the kind of political will that this problem demands, resources should be better allocated to produce more comprehensive research and statistical capacity. It is crucial we create a supportive environment so that leaders make good on policy commitments.
Today, the silent war on women and girls is being covered up and tacitly condoned. This is another kind of inconvenient truth about human existence in the 21st century. We should all take responsibility and act to make sure that both men and women have the right to live free of violence and fear.
Johanna Stratton is academic program associate at the Peace & Governance Program in United Nations University. E-mail: Stratton@hq.unu.edu For related information go to: endviolence.un.org www.saynotoviolence.org www.whiteribbon.ca
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