Friends, we celebrate Rakhi, Bhaidooj, and also International Women’s Day. It should be a day to celebrate. But such days come and go but still millions of women get beaten by their husbands, boyfriends or by a stranger. It has to stop.
According to a report, 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence. Over 4 million women are victims of forced sexual exploitation. 133 million women have undergone genital mutilation. Untold numbers of women are subject to horrific violence in our world. They are murdered. They are sexually harassed. They are stalked. They are beaten. They are raped. They are trafficked. They are forced into marriage.
This does not only happen in developing countries or conflict-torn regions. It happens also in the most developed countries. It can happen to our friends and relatives, our sisters, our daughters.
Indeed, significant advances have been made in the struggle to eradicate violence against women. Criminalization now allows for the prosecution of perpetrators. Awareness has gone up. Recognizing that governments need to actively safeguard their citizens’ health, dignity and welfare, numerous activities are done on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. These agendas and laws not only outlines concrete steps to prevent violence, protect the victims and bring perpetrators to justice, but also seeks to change the discriminatory attitudes that are at the root of violence against women. Tradition, religion and culture should not be used to justify violence.
However, laws and conventions cannot do the job without the necessary actions and resources to ensure implementation. All countries must step up efforts to protect women from violence. Instead, during the recent economic crisis many countries have cut funding for services for victims or potential victims of violence, such as abuse hotlines and shelters. This is unacceptable, and illustrates why we need to fight every day for women’s safety, be it in times of crisis or in times of prosperity. Gender equality is a fundamental right. It is not a luxury that can be relegated to the background when inconvenient.
We also need better data and indicators to measure the extent of the problem and the effectiveness of countermeasures. Statistical data on violence against women are often unreliable because many victims simply do not report the problem. Studies in India showed that only 23 % of the women who suffer domestic violence report the incidents to the police. Cultural stigmas attached to domestic violence and sexual violence stop victims from speaking up. This is compounded by a lack of trust in police, which makes victims think that reporting is futile. It is alarming to think that the figure of 1 in 3 women experiencing violence may be an underestimate!
Careful elaboration of statistical surveys and indicators can mitigate this problem by asking the right questions. In its recently-released Indicators of Gender Equality, Indian Government addresses this issue and proposes solutions that can improve the availability of reliable and comparable data. Non-official data, from victims’ organizations and women’s groups, can also contribute to closing this data gap.
Putting an end to violence against women requires the mobilization of all actors in society: politicians, public authorities, the education system, civil society organizations, civic and religious leaders, etc. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us. Stop the violence against women.