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Today marks the start of 16 days of activism: raising awareness of - and tackling - gender-based violence against women. The abuse is indiscriminate and faced by women across the world, in the global north and south. Its effects are far-reaching damaging, and must be urgently addressed.
The pervasion of patriarchy means that gender-based violence is an issue women and girls of all socio-economic backgrounds face. economic inequality is a key factor in driving abuse. Pakistan has been ranked as having one of the lowest levels of gender equality, and around 32% of women in Pakistan have experienced physical violence, while 40% of married women are victims of spousal abuse.
The ‘shadow pandemic’
Around 1 in 3 women worldwide have been subjected to either physical abuse, sexual intimate partner violence, or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
The scale of gender-based violence can’t be overstated. As the previous UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says, Covid-19 isn’t the only pandemic women are facing. Men’s violence “predates the virus and will outlive it”, she says, and [insists] it too “needs our global, coordinated response”. Last year, 243 million women and girls experienced physical or sexual violence from their partners, and cases of domestic abuse, cyberbullying and harassment have drastically increased. In some countries, violence against women is estimated to cost countries up to 3.7% of their GDP. This is more than double what most governments spend on education.
There are glimmers of hope though. Domestic violence laws in the UK have been extended to include damaging and often ignored behaviours, like coercive control and the sharing of revenge porn. The female genital mutilation (FGM) bill, which was passed in the UK’s parliament in 2015, has also led to significant change. Around 200 million women worldwide have experienced FGM - but there has been a rapid increase in recent years of countries legislating against it.
The changes needed
Last year, 243 million women and girls experienced physical or sexual violence from their partners.
Legislative change is not enough to end gender-based violence. The negative social norms that perpetuate violence against women - from insidious catcalling in the classroom to overt sexualisation in the media - need to end in order to bring about lasting effects. Around 1 in 3 women worldwide have been subjected to either physical abuse, sexual intimate partner violence, or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. This is clearly about much more than policy and legal requirements.
In schools in Pakistan, 24 months of intervention have been found to reduce violence by around 28%according to a report by violence prevention organisation What Works. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a scheme that operated with faith leaders and community volunteers in 15 remote and conflict-affected communities encouraged groups to speak out and make violence socially unacceptable. As a result, cases of violence went down by around 58%.
Women’s experiences of sexual violence from a non-partner also reduced from 24% to 4% – a more than five-fold reduction. Leaders were trained to speak to people in their communities about the issue and were encouraged to raise the subject in sermons, prayer groups and youth groups, with both male and female participants. As well as women experiencing less domestic violence, the percentage of men reporting that they had carried out domestic violence dropped from 68% to 24%. These steps, in combination with transforming harmful behaviours and social norms, can help to eradicate gender-based violence.
Concern’s ‘Engaging Men on Gender Equality’ approach supports couples in transforming their attitudes and behaviours. Men and women are encouraged to collaborate to reduce gender-based violence in the home and community. Through using experiential activities and exercises, the sessions look at the root causes of abuse and create relationships based on equality. Facilitators have found that when equipped with information, women can help create a society that doesn’t permit gender-based violence, and promotes female autonomy without fear of abuse.
Concern also works with men and boys to alleviate harmful practices. In Lebanon, Concern Worldwide developed Protection Programme which is based on the belief that helping men recognise their own trauma is key to improving the lives of women. Through workshops and discussion sessions, men are encouraged to consider the impact of gender norms, alter their own behaviour and alleviate harmful practices.
Crucially, support for survivors should always be central to efforts to tackle abuse. It’s important to improve awareness of the devastation that comes with violence as well as tackle the attitudes and behaviours that cause it. Concern offers support to victims and works to campaign for their rights to ensure abuse cannot be left to perpetuate and to prevent it on a wide scale.
Moving awareness to accountability
Gender-based violence is the harshest expression of gender inequality.
As the CEO of Concern Dominic MacSorley said last year, we need a collective global effort to end violence against women. “We need to move awareness to accountability,” he says. “We must push for funding for recovery and response programmes.”
Perhaps most importantly, he’s keen to stress that violence is not inevitable: it’s a learned behaviour. “It can be unlearned, and it must be prevented. Everyone has a role to play,” he adds.
Research by the Department for International Trade (DFIT) has shown that with a concerted effort, gender-based violence is entirely preventable. Through pushing for legislative change, and working to break the norms that lead to abuse, it can become a part of the past. A holistic approach is needed to tackle the issue. It requires a buy-in from the whole of society, to protect survivors and other vulnerable women. Through government support and a concerted effort to alter behaviour, we can create a safer society for women. Every single one of us - whatever our gender, and wherever we are based - can be agents of change.
If you or someone you know has experienced gender-based violence, get help and advice via the National Domestic Violence Helpline (0808 2000 247) or find a specific resource using the UK-wide Support Organisations directory.
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