Our 16 Days coverage was made possible by the generosity of Alec Reed.
Listening to the news last night, I was struck by a particularly depressing story - that of a British woman beaten to death by her boyfriend in August this year. Just one day after the official 16 Days Against Gender Violence campaign ended, news of yet another tragic and preventable death. The case was raised in the UK parliament, but, it seems, for all the wrong reasons.
Today is International Human Rights Day. When I started writing for this blog, it was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The 16 days in between have been packed with truly inspiring activism around the world. The Centre for Women's Global Leadership which originally launched the 16 days campaign in 1991 is currently compiling a full calendar of events which include actions from every continent.
The coverage on this blog has been similarly diverse and inspiring. The themes have incorporated the five I set out to explore (Rape and impunity, Healthy bodies, Coercion and control, Security, masculinities and the state, Women as trade) but also much much more.
by Kylie Thomas
In January of this year Nomawethu Ngalimani, a woman I would call my friend if that were not to disavow all that made real friendship possible between us, was stabbed to death in her home in Khayelitsha, a township outside of the city of Cape Town in South Africa.
I met Nomawethu in 2002 while I was working on a book project that told the stories of the lives of 13 HIV positive South African women. Over the course of several months Nomawethu was one of the participants in an art and narrative therapy workshop process through which she shared the narrative of her life. She also created a life-size self-portrait that conveys how the context of extreme violence in which she lived has made its marks on her body.
She had always been a loud-mouth, a fighter, confident and self-assured. As a teenager she had been attacked by a group of men. She had been stabbed but she refused to give them the money she was carrying. She had been carrying a knife of her own and she wounded one of the men in his chest and they had run away.
The last time I saw her, in December 2006, she had had an operation to remove the cancerous growth in her eye and it had been successful. She seemed different - she looked happy, more at ease in herself. She was wearing a green dress.
by Stella Victor
In Sri Lanka's tea estates most families live in line rooms. All of these have common pavement, and residents belong to all age groups, and can interact all the time. When parents go to work, the children who are not going to school are left behind with elderly people. Unemployed men also stay there during the day, and many boys try to follow their older companions. Young boys start to behave as the men they spend their days with and some start to control and harass their female counterparts, avoiding any involvement in "female" work.
Young girls follow their mothers, grandmothers and older sisters, and are compelled to do all kind of household activities including caring for their younger siblings and giving priority to their male counterparts. This is how the "gender socialization" in the tea plantation sector is rapidly growing and pervasive.
Human security in tea plantations
In this housing system women and girls do not have privacy, which presents a higher risk for sexual harassment against women and girls.
by Cath Elliott
There have been a number of articles in the UK press over recent weeks highlighting the increasing prevalence of sex selective abortions. Even though abortion on the grounds of gender is not permitted under UK law, there is currently nothing to stop women from travelling overseas to deal with unwanted female foetuses.
Female foeticide is illegal in India, but it still appears to be easily accessible, as this report from the BBC illustrates:
"Sex selective abortion - female foeticide, as it is known - has been illegal in India since the early 1980s. Having a scan to find out the sex is also against the law.
But the law has simply forced the practice underground and UN figures state that 750,000 girls are aborted every year in India."
I can understand why, in certain cultures, women are driven to female foeticide. In patriarchal traditional societies it's easy to see how girl children come to be considered a burden: when marriage still means a dowrie to be paid; when the family business is still the son's inheritance, and when the care and financial security of the elderly is the responsibility of sons and not daughters, what possible motivation can there be for families to cherish their baby girls?
by Sue Turrell
"The attainment of MDG 3 will require a comprehensive approach to overcome not only violence against women, but also gender-based discrimination in laws and policies, and deeply embedded social and cultural norms that perpetuate gender inequality." (WHO)
the recognition by the international community that violence against women is a serious and fundamental problem limiting progress in human
development, reading the UK Equal Opportunity Commission's new publication,
‘The Gender Gap', is depressing. It includes the stark statistic that
conviction rates for rape stand at 6%, making it understandable that 95% of
women never report an attack in the first place.
Sue Turrell is the executive director of WOMANKIND worldwide It can be easy for women in the UK to think that the equality debate has been won and that it doesn't concern us any more. But this ignores both the ongoing structural inequalities in our own country - and the fact that women's struggle for equality is only just beginning in many other parts of the world. For example:
- The World Health Organization has reported that up to 70% of female murder victims are killed by their male partners
- More than 60 million women are "missing" from the world today as a result of sex-selective abortions and female infanticide, according to an estimate by Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate
- At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, according to a study based on 50 surveys from around the world
by Marufa Akter
Ms. Marufa Akter is Field Researcher for the Pathways of Women's Empowerment Development Studies Programme at BRAC University Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is one of the signatories of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women signed in 1993. Yet today it is known that about 47% of women in Bangladesh are being subjected to different kinds of violence by men and male relations. Bangladesh is a country in which the structure of the society strongly upholds patriarchal values, norms and traditions. Women here have been subjected to exploitation and negligence for centuries. The status of women has been ranked the lowest in the world on the basis of twenty indicators related to health, marriage, children, education, employment and social equality.1 Women in Bangladesh are victims of inequality, abuse, oppression and exploitation, social customs and traditions, illiteracy and face a lack of employment opportunities which have hampered the total integration of women in the mainstream development activities in Bangladesh.
All these aspects have made women more vulnerable and maintained the unequal status between men and women. The value of women's unpaid work in Bangladesh needs to be critically addressed.
by Susanna J. Smith and Whitney Welshimer
The BBC's recent story on Tamali Mbogella, a Tanzanian woman who was beaten by her husband after she sought an HIV test ("Outcry at Tanzanian HIV beating"), sadly illustrates what we have known for too long: until we secure women's rights and respect within relationships, the world will fail at protecting women and girls against HIV/AIDS.
Globally, one in three women will be raped, beaten, or abused in her lifetime. In regions where the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is particularly high, violence against women puts them at a significantly greater risk for contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). For too many girls, their first sexual experiences are coerced or forced. In South Africa, 30 percent of girls say their first intercourse was forced, and 71 percent report being subjected to sex against their will in the past.
When women cannot control when or with whom they have sex, they cannot negotiate condom use or take the steps needed to protect their health. In South Africa, women who are in abusive relationships are 50 percent more likely to contract HIV. Violence may also lead women to engage in more risky behaviors such as having multiple, concurrent sexual partners. In South Africa, women who were abused by their partners were two to three times more likely to engage in transactional sex.
by Huda Jawad
Unlike other parts of the Middle East, Iraq was a country with significant advances in the spheres of health, education and academia, business, the arts and an expanding middle class: that is, up until the imposition of UN sanctions. Women's status and accomplishments in every sphere of life was something that was noted as a beacon for all the Middle East and the West to aspire to. Not only did they excel at the traditional roles of employment such as nursing, teaching and administration, but were found in significant numbers in non-traditional roles such as engineering, pharmaceuticals, medicine, science, the telecommunications industry, politics, the military - and they were entrepreneurs in their own right.
Huda Jawad is Program Director of Forward Thinking
As war gripped the country and the vacuum of power created opportunities for all kinds of desperate and fundamentalist doctrines, the horrors being inflicted on women and girls became increasingly apparent. But the violence and oppression of women in Iraq is not a new phenomenon. Whether administered by the state or ‘the clan' directly against women, or indirectly through violence committed against their husbands and sons, the often cited progress of women in Iraq was made despite such violence, not because of its absence.
Violence and fear aimed specifically
against women was a form of torture that was professionalised and refined
by the regime of Saddam and some Western countries are implicated in
the supply of torture ‘products' and training to the regime. It
is notable that the silence of Saddam's former allies on such abuses
did not break until late 2002 when the drums of war were being heard.
by Janet Veitch
The End Violence against Women Campaign was set up to bring together women working on this dreadful, invisible, issue. According to the crime statistics, stalking, domestic violence, and sexual harassment affect around half of all women, at a cost of £23 billion a year for domestic violence alone. Not a small problem, so why is it often ignored? Our members are working at all levels - grassroots service provision, public policy development and research - to change things for women.
Janet Veitch is the vice chair of the End Violence Against Women campaign.One of the ways we do this is by publishing "Making the Grade".
by Joanne Miller
WAITS' mission is to enable women disadvantaged by low self-esteem, status, poverty and domestic abuse to take a positive step forward in their lives and become role models in their communities.
Although violence against women and children is widespread, it is especially hidden in Black and Minority Ethnic women in the UK. Many of them still find it difficult to receive appropriate support, information and access to services. Many encounter specific barriers such as language needs, immigration and lack of financial status. Asylum Seekers and Refugee women are usually in total dependence on their spouse/partners or families because they do not having any recourse to public funds. These women may seek low paid work, or beg on the streets to support themselves and children. As the children are usually with their mothers they also suffer because of the mother's status and sometimes end up in care. When the woman leaves her husband, protection, housing and welfare benefits are restricted, hence they end up in the community living destitute lives.
Joanne Miller is WAITS' Women's support and Development Officer I am a survivor of domestic violence for 24 years and I have worked at WAITS as a lead support worker for nine years I now. I have developed many life-skills and self-awareness training programme and deliver the workshops to women WAITS supports - women who have left violent partners or husbands, and have said that they feel abused all over again - but this time by the system. Violent partners have been given access to their children through the court system, even if the children have witnessed abuse and said that they don't want to have contact because they are afraid. When the non-violent parent expresses this concern to the local authority they are sometimes blamed for leading the child's thoughts and emotionally abusing the child and risk the child being put on the Child Protection (CP) register or removed from the non-violent parent. CP is one of the main issues that is affecting the women we support - nearly 80% of our clients have CP orders against them. One result of this is that when we meet women who are suffering domestic violence, we are unable to get down to the issues of her experiences and why her self-esteem and confidence is low because her main issues are everything but! Straight away we are having to deal with CP and civil courts actions, housing, and financial issues, rather than with her safety and well-being.
Much of the inertia around taking action on the abuse of women in its form as prostitution appears to me to frequently be the result of a problematic conception of the nature of choice.
Opponents of the criminalization of prostitution argue that prostitution is a legitimate occupation that women should be able to choose. They believe that 'sex work' is something a woman is entitled to take on as it is her body and her decision to trade it for money. Yet according to Madeleine Bunting:
In the UK, more than half of prostitutes have been raped or sexually assaulted. Three-quarters have been physically assaulted, 95% are drug users, and 90% want to get out.
This obviously means that at its maximum, only 10% of women working as prostitutes in the UK actually want to be doing the 'work'. The rest, it would seem, have no choice.
By Farah Mihlar
Earlier this year I was in my home country Sri Lanka on research. The little Indian Ocean Island in the last year has plunged back into war leaving more than 3500 civilians dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. The recent battles fought mainly in eastern Sri Lanka between the government and the Tamil Tigers - the militant group fighting for a separate state for ethnic Tamils - shattered a five year cease-fire that had given a breather to the country plagued by over two decades of conflict.
In the outskirts of the eastern town of Batticaloa the bare land is lined with thousands of tiny white tents housing some 290,000 people who fled their homes. Families, some with four of five kids, live cramped in each one of the tent.
When we visited the camps it was mostly women who were there. They talked of their harrowing experience of fleeing their homes dead at night whilst explosives rained down on them. As we spoke explosions could be heard in the nearby villages. At the time, the government faced with severe criticism over the huge numbers of displaced and the subsequent humanitarian crisis, had decided to repatriate these families to some villages deemed safe. The women told us they did not want to go back. 'As long as the army is there we don't want to go back. They have in the past attacked us and raped women....and as long as they are there the Tigers will try to attack them and we will be in the middle,' they said.
The many contradictions of anti-abortion arguments serve only to reinforce to me the extent to which the anti-choice agenda is actually about undermining women's right to have control over what happens to their bodies.
Take the argument that anti-abortion is about being pro-life put forth by the Catholic Church or the government of Nicaragua. In August Amnesty International, after two years debating the issue, took the decision to
'support access to abortion for women in cases of rape, incest or violence, or where the pregnancy jeopardises a mother's life or health'.
In response, the Vatican asked all Catholics to boycott the organization, likening abortion to murder. As Cath Elliot points out this effectively means that the Catholic Church values a woman's present life less than the potential life of the unborn. I fail to see how condemning a woman who is currently alive to death-by-childbirth is pro-life. Forcing such a woman to term in full knowledge that it will kill her is anti-life just as surely as asking her to sit on a ticking bomb is.
By Naana Otoo-Oyortey
As we all mark the 16 Days of Activism, we should all recognize that gender based violence has received all the necessary global attention and recognition as a human rights violation and a form of discrimination. The special needs of minority African women and girls in the UK continue to be an uphill task in bringing our issues onto the mainstream agenda on gender based violence. African women's experiences of gender violence are compounded by the multiple discriminations they face as immigrants with varied ethnicity and cultural practices which do not fit into the definition of domestic violence.
The UK Government defines domestic violence as 'Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.' This includes issues of concern to black and minority ethnic (BME) communities such as so called 'honour based violence', female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage.