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by Wayne Campbell
“We cannot let our determination to keep “pushing forward” for gender equality waver. Our goal of a world where violence against women and girls is not just condemned but stopped is possible. By pushing forward together we can attain it.”
– Sima Bahous, UN Under-Secretary-General.
Undoubtedly, violence against women and girls is the most pervasive human rights violation in the world. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women issued by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1993, defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” Importantly, 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is being observed from November 25 to 10 December. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is observed on November 25 annually. Historically, women have played an inferior role to men. Over the centuries, women have been oppressed and marginalized into spaces oftentimes associated with the domestic sphere. Unfortunately, it is oftentimes in the domestic sphere where most acts of violence take place against women. The UN adds that violence against women and girls (VAWG) is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today and remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it.
The UN further argues that the adverse psychological, sexual and reproductive health consequences of VAWG affect women at all stages of their lives. For example, early-set educational disadvantages not only represent the primary obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls; down the line they are also to blame for restricting access to higher education and even translate into limited opportunities for women in the labour market.
The UN opines that while gender-based violence can happen to anyone, anywhere, some women and girls are particularly vulnerable – for instance, young girls and older women, women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex, migrants and refugees, indigenous women and ethnic minorities, or women and girls living with HIV and disabilities, and those living through humanitarian crises.
This scourge on humanity manifests itself in physical, sexual and psychological forms, encompassing: intimate partner violence (battering, psychological abuse, marital rape, femicide); sexual violence and harassment (rape, forced sexual acts, unwanted sexual advances, child sexual abuse, forced marriage, street harassment, stalking, cyber- harassment); human trafficking (slavery, sexual exploitation); female genital mutilation; and child marriage
It is safe to say that many women regardless of their socio-economic background suffer from sexual violence during their lifetime. Sexual harassment encompasses non-consensual physical contact, like grabbing, pinching, slapping, or rubbing against another person in a sexual way.
It also includes non-physical forms, such as catcalls, sexual comments about a person’s body or appearance, demands for sexual favors, sexually suggestive staring, stalking, and exposing one’s sex organs. Rape is any non-consensual vaginal, anal or oral penetration of another person with any bodily part or object.
This can be by any person known or unknown to the survivor, within marriage and relationships, and during armed conflict. Corrective rape is a form of rape perpetrated against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is intended to force the victim to conform to heterosexuality or normative gender identity. Rape culture is the social environment that allows sexual violence to be normalized and justified. It is rooted in patriarchy and fueled by persistent gender inequalities and biases about gender and sexuality.
Public health information and advocacy
Often known as the Shadow Pandemic, violence against women requires a global collective effort to stop it. In every country and culture, more action is needed to ensure women in all their diversity live a life free of violence and coercion. Global estimates are troubling: about 1 in 3 (30%) women globally experience physical and/ or sexual violence, mostly at the hands of an intimate partner. Almost 1 in 4 (24%) adolescent girls aged 15-19 who have had an intimate relationship has experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner.
A significant aspect of gender-based violence is rooted in the manner in which we socialize our men and boys. We cannot expect to seriously reduce violence against women if we do not address the needs of men and boys. In the Jamaican context where most of our families are single parent families, women have an increased role to play in the direction our men and boys take. The socialization process in matrifocal societies is strictly along the female line. Gender inequalities are still deep-rooted in every society. The tentacles of patriarchy are pervasive and as such more of civil society needs to join the advocacy in dismantling the structures which facilitate violence against women. Sadly, women continue to suffer from lack of access to decent work and face occupational segregation and gender wage gaps.
In many situations, women are denied access to basic education and health care and are victims of violence and discrimination. They are under-represented in political and economic decision-making processes. The UN has achieved important results in advancing gender equality, from the establishment of the Commission on the Status of Women the main global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women to the adoption of various landmark agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Gender inequalities are still deep-rooted in every society. Women suffer from lack of access to decent work and face occupational segregation and gender wage gaps. In many situations, they are denied access to basic education and health care and are victims of violence and discrimination. They are under-represented in political and economic decision-making processes.
Renewal of Activism and Advocacy
This year’s theme is “UNiTE! Activism to End Violence against Women & Girls”. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women aims to mobilize more people to support efforts in ending violence against women and girls and to push back against the rollback on women’s rights; and kick start the activities of the 16 Days of Activism.
The Afghanistan government led by the Talibans has rolled back all women’s rights since they assume the reins of government. Girls in Afghanistan are forbidden to access secondary education and numerous limitations have been placed on women and girls in a backward step which will undermine the country’s development. In Nigeria schoolgirls are often kidnapped and sold in child marriages. In Iran, women and girls are often beaten and killed for speaking out for their human rights. Regrettably, all across the world women and girls are victims of gender-based violence.
The UN remarks that on an average day, women spend about 2.5 times as many hours on unpaid domestic work and care work as men, according to the latest data from 90 countries and areas collected between 2001 and 2019. As at 1 January 2022, the global share of women in lower and single houses of national parliaments reached merely 26.2 per cent, up from 25.6 per cent in 2021. Women’s share is slight over one third in local governments (in 135 countries with data). Well-designed legislated gender quotas, zero tolerance for violence against women in politics and gender-sensitive and safer political environments are key to fast-tracking and sustaining women’s equal representation in decision-making
Working women have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. They accounted for 39.4 per cent of total employment before the pandemic in 2019 but made up nearly 45 per cent of global employment losses in 2020. The share of women in managerial positions worldwide has shown only a slight improvement over the last two decades, rising from 25.3 per cent in 2000 to 28.3 per cent in 2019, and remained unchanged in 2020.
In Pursuit of a Safer World
As the international community observes The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women the urgent call is for governments to do more to protect our women. The government must invest more in providing shelters across all 14 parishes for women who might require short term living facilitates to escape violence.
Our education system must be revisited to ensure that the National Standards Curriculum becomes more responsive to the needs of women who face gender-based violence. Additional more funding should be given to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) which cater to the needs of women. Our churches need to be more vocal regarding this issue of violence against women. The magnitude of its impact, both in the lives of individuals and families and society as a whole, is immeasurable.
Conditions created by the pandemic including lockdowns, reduced mobility, heightened isolation, stress and economic uncertainty have led to an alarming spike in domestic violence and have further exposed women and girls to other forms of violence.
There is much work to be done. The Jamaican society is a violent place. Horrifyingly, the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of crime in a radio interview disclosed that since 2011 an average 126 women and girls have been murdered annually in Jamaica.
Many of us remember a time when women and girls were protected, desolately, this no longer exists. Do we need to do more to protect our women and children; the answer is in the affirmative. It bares thought that we require all hands on deck to work together to build a safer and more inclusive world where women are free from all forms of violence. Take a stance against gender-based violence.
In the words of António Guterres, this discrimination, violence and abuse targeting half of humanity comes at a steep cost. It limits women’s and girls’ participation in all walks of life, denies their basic rights and freedoms, and blocks the equal economic recovery and sustainable growth our world needs.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
[email protected] @WayneCamo©