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Violence Against Women and Girls: Are we moving in the right direction?
Regrettably, 2021 has not been a particularly good year for women and girls’ rights. On a national level, Covid19 and quarantining has seen domestic abuse increase between 7 – 9% in the UK(1). The murder of Sarah Everard sparked a nation-wide reaction amid a backdrop of questions about police handling of public gatherings and protests.
Whilst in March 2021, Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a European treaty designed to prevent violence against women and domestic violence, caused international outrage.
Although strides have been made over the recent years by way of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements which prompted conversation on workplace sexual harassment and exploitation by those in positions of trust, statistics still make for a troubling read both nationally and internationally. 86% of women aged 18-24 report that they had been sexually harassed in public spaces(2) and according to the World Health Organisation, a quarter of women had reported being sexually or physically abused by a male partner(3). Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male partner(4) and around 137 women are killed by their partner or a family member every day(5). As many as 150 million girls worldwide are raped or subject to sexual violence each year, usually by someone in their family circle(6).
But the question of violence towards women and girls is not isolated to issues concerning physical and sexual violence but rather discrimination, subjugation and a restriction of rights which would hinder the potential for development such as education. The international right to education for women and girls is encompassed in numerous international agreements and human rights treaties(7) yet 63 million girls worldwide still do not have access to an education(8). There are also disparities relating to the lack of women’s representation in public office and political life which hinder the ability for change and women’s views to be accurately heard(9). The World Health Organisation has also concluded that a lower level of access to paid education or employment is an increased risk factor for women to become a victim of both intimate partner and/or sexual violence(10).
Some of the most pervasive concerns surrounding these rights are issues such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage and child brides, restricted rights to property, employment and reproductive and sexual health.
Women and girls are disproportionately more likely to be victims of honour killings(11), modern slavery(12) and human trafficking(13). A shocking 71% of trafficking victims (including sexual exploitation and forced labour) are women and girls, with 28% of worldwide victims being children(14). 58 % of new HIV infections among young persons in 2015 occurred amongst adolescent girls and young women. Violence or the threat of violence affects the ability of girls and young women to protect themselves from HIV.
Disturbingly, between 80 and 100 million girls are ‘missing’ from the world’s population, presumed to be victims of gender-based infanticide, femicide, malnutrition and neglect(15). Whilst, infanticide almost always concerns baby girls rather than boys echoes the sentiments of the devaluation of women and girls in both a social and economic sense. In the UK it has been over 60 years since the Sexual offences Act, 1986 provided a definition of rape as a criminal offence and it was only in 1994 that rape within marriage also became a criminal offence.
Woman and girls remain more likely to be affected by domestic and international armed conflict and are most likely to be the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity including rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilisation, and other forms of sexual violence. So much was the International Criminal Court’s concern, that the ICC compiled a Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes in July 2014(16) in an attempt to tackle the issue on an international stage. The Policy Paper is helping to push international criminal law forward to a more complex and inclusive understanding of sexual and gender-based crimes.
At least 155 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, and 140 have legislation on sexual harassment in the workplace(17). But challenges remain in enforcing these laws, limiting women and girls’ access to safety and justice. Not enough is done to prevent violence, and when it does occur, it often goes unpunished(18). According to the UN, only 40 per cent of women seek help after experiencing violence(19).
The prevention of violence against women and girls must be challenged on numerous levels. Through access, to and the involvement of, educational programmes to ensure that children are made aware of what constitutes healthy relationships and when to seek help in an aid to dispel myths and stigma. Funding to front-line medical, emotional and social service providers or the establishment of such in countries where services are lacking is also critical in providing much needed support. Ensuring that resources are promoted and accessible to all women and girls from all economic backgrounds be it before, during or after incidents of violence or abuse either as preventative or supportive measures. The greatest of the challenges posed by the growing issue of violence against women and girls, is that of cultural expectation and customs where women’s rights are seldom warranted or considered as being valid. Inevitably, this would require customary and cultural shifts, which would prompt the need for governmental intervention at all levels, for there to be a long-standing and visible change in forthcoming generations.
Christina Warner LinkedIn
4 Brick Court