International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – What Will You Do Today?

Today, the 25th of November, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, ratified by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999.

Here are some sobering facts, taken from the United Nations site:

  • Up to 70 percent of women worldwide experience violence in their lifetime.
  • According to World Bank stats, women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria.
  • In Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States, 40 to 70 percent of female murder victims were killed by their partners.
  • In the Democratic Republic of Congo, an average of 36 women and girls are raped every day.
  • Between 500 000 to 2 million people are trafficked annually. 80% of them are women and girls.
  • More than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation, and 2 million girls a year continue to be at risk.

And lest we fall for the illusion that this is merely a problem in the developing world, here are a few stats that are a little closer to home:

In the UK, 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime, and an average of 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.

In the US, approximately 1 in 5 female high school students reports being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner. 74% of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

Even Sweden, one of the most gender-equal countries in the world, has a problem with gender-based violence. An Amnesty report in 2005 highlighted how incidents of domestic violence against women were climbing, and the country was urged to take steps to curb it.

This is a global problem, and it has to end. Whether it’s ritualized violence like female genital mutilation and honour killings, organized violence like trafficking, or interpersonal acts of rape and assault, it all stems from the same notion – that women are not so much human as objects, to be bought and sold, to be brought under control, to serve, to please, and to be disciplined when we step out of line.

Collectively, we have spawned these norms, and collectively, we can change them. But we must do more than simply not be violent ourselves. We need to question and change the underlying attitudes towards women, question and change the link between violence and the assertion of masculinity. For the men reading this, you might be interested in The White Ribbon Campaign, which brings good men together to call attention to these issues, and to help the next generation of boys and men learn that violence is never the answer.

Too often, people don’t realize just how much power they have. Do something today to help raise awareness of the plight of women throughout the world, and make your voice heard. You may already be in the ranks of the brave women and men who work against violence everyday, but even if you aren’t, simple things matter– write on your Facebook wall, start a discussion with a friend, drop a letter to your MP, tweet about it– you’ll be surprised at the impact it can have.