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. There have been:
- Several posts on the media and popular culture
- Personal stories of resistance and survival
- Exposès on the specific challenges faced by particular groups of women such as widows in Nepal, weavers in India, and young women in South Africa
- Tributes to women activists as well as women who have lost their lives or are facing prosecution for their resistance
Some of the most interesting pieces for me were the ones that discussed how the core social structures of different societies facilitate violence against women including the way some people conceptualize marriage in India, the way some interpret Islam in Iran and the beauty culture in the UK. What struck me most about the dialogue was the way a sense of rights was conveyed virtually throughout, despite these seeming differences between contributors' societies of origin.
I began the blog by asking how effective the discourse on human rights is for eliminating violence against women on the ground. The resounding response seems to be that it offers the most useful tool yet for making the case. Unfortunately, its ability to actualize and deliver for women has not been demonstrated.
The theme for this year's 16 days of activism against gender violence campaign is 'Demanding Implementation, Challenging Obstacles: End Violence Against Women!' From the blog contributions it would seem that there are a number of concrete challenges that still need to be addressed before this can be achieved:
- Prioritizing the issue
- Understanding the links to other problems, including HIV and AIDS
- Providing adequate services to survivors
- Improving the accountability mechanisms for governments, including during times of conflict or poverty
Ultimately, the issue of violence against women is about the abuse of power. Not just at an interpersonal level between perpetrator(s) and victims and survivors, but also at the level of politics and democracy as Helen O'Connell outlines in her contribution. The failure of the state to protect its citizens from murder, mutilation and assault is, in the most literal sense, an abuse of power. It's the deliberate mishandling of power that systematically denies women's needs and entrenches gender inequality. I say deliberate because I know that, in the UK at least, the Government is not unaware of the issues or the solutions thanks to the annual Making the Grade report.
Disrupting this pattern of abuse at the level of politics requires similar tactics to those needed to disrupt abuse at an impersonal level: the active reclaiming of power by women so that they are empowered to take action. Make no mistake, more women in political office is a key and necessary ingredient to change as the Fawcett Society has discussed. To this extent, I stand in solidarity with all the many women who fight to secure a world free of violence against women from those resisting in their homes right through to those championing the cause at the highest levels of decision-making in the land.
Photo by She's in fashion, shared under a Creative Commons license
Get our weekly email