This article observes The United Nations International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women, November 25, 2014.
In some countries, violence against women is the norm. It’s couched in terms such as “traditional” and “culture”. Often women don’t know they have human rights, such as the right not to be beaten by their husbands.
I spent a year in Swaziland, working for the Swazi Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA). In rural areas we visited, women would often cry as they listened to our presentations. A study done by UNICEF in 2007 found that one in three Swazi women had been sexually abused by the age of 18. Heartbreaking.
In Swaziland, the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women (November 25th) was the kick off to the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign in which SWAGAA and many other NGOs participated. Unfortunately, this annual event has been going on for years because the problem has not been solved.
Statistics like these are not confined to small African kingdoms. According to the United Nations, up to 70 per cent of women around the world experience violence in their lifetime. This day is about awareness and prevention, from the top down and bottom up. “I applaud leaders who are helping to enact and enforce laws and change mindsets. And I pay tribute to all those heroes around the world who help victims to heal and to become agents of change,” says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
From 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence galvanizes action to end violence against women and girls around the world. This year, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women invites participants to ‘Orange the Neighbourhood.’ The ideas is to take the UNiTE campaign to local streets, shops and businesses from 25 November to 10 December 2014. This means reaching out to neighbours, stores, food-sellers on the corner of your street, gas stations, local cinemas, barbers, schools, libraries and post offices and going orange. Suggestions include projecting orange lights and hanging orange flags onto local landmarks, tying orange ribbons where allowed, and organizing local ‘orange marches’ to raise awareness about violence against women. Public panels to discuss solutions that would work for the community could also be effective.
Why November 25? The date was chosen to commemorate the Mirabal sisters, three political activists Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961) ordered brutally assassinate in 1960.
The need for awareness about the brutality towards women is overwhelming. Between 500,000 to 2 million people are trafficked annually into situations including prostitution, forced labour, slavery or servitude, according to estimates. Women and girls account for about 80 per cent of the detected victims. More than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone genital mutilation, mainly in Africa and some Middle Eastern countries. Western countries are not immune. The cost of intimate partner violence in the United States alone exceeds $5.8 billion per year: $4.1 billion is for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly $1.8 billion.
In Swaziland, we had marches, newspaper information campaigns, and spoke about the problem on radio and TV. The Deputy Prime Minister attended our events, members of our Girls Empowerment Clubs did skits, prominent religious leaders preached against gender-based violence. A law was passed to specifically address these types of crimes, but it has yet to take hold. The need to speak up persists around the world. Only by uniting our voices against gender-based violence will decision-makers move forward and take steps to properly punish perpetrators. Violence against women must stop. Now.