This year 25th of November has marked the first day of the 16 days of activism against VAWG (Violence against women and girls), which will end on the 10th of December (International Human Rights Day).
Despite awareness about the issue — 155 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, and 140 have legislation about sexual harassment in the workplace — data, legislation and resilience to fight against such violence, as well as preventive measures, are still insufficient to protect women in a world where 1 in 3 will experience violence first hand. Many people still regard this scourge as a minor issue. They are wrong. This violence looks increasingly like a global war against women.
It is important to point out that violence is never limited to physical assault. Verbal, sexual and psychological assaults, and even unequal treatment, are also categorised as violence and should not be considered distinct from each other in normal circumstances. As is clearly stated in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women:
“Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
Another significant factor that must be underlined is that the laws and regulations tend to be formed around punishing or responding after the assault has taken place. Unfortunately, data in many countries has proven that this is ineffective, especially if loopholes in the laws prevent the perpetrator from being rehabilitated. Punishment without rehabilitation is rarely effective. Even how these laws are narrated may result in the perpetrator being considered a hero for specific acts of violence. Thus, preventive measures become even more vital to eliminate violence before it happens since this action requires finding the root cause and the risks associated with violence. VAWG is fundamentally based on stereotypical ideas, discrimination stemming from social and cultural norms that deem women “the weaker sex”, and obedience to strictly outlined gender roles. Many factors feed into this understanding that are too long, deep, historic, and comprehensive even to begin to be discussed here.
Although issues around violence against women and girls revolve primarily around women, they are not the only group hurt by this. Women, who have fundamental roles in all areas of life, are a significant part of society, wherever they are and whatever they do. Their well-being plays an important part in many areas as they take on the main burden of responsibility, especially during times of conflict. Violence has an adverse effect on women’s general well-being, resulting in their exclusion from fully contributing to society within their roles. Moreover, this exclusion has a domino effect on the family, community, society, and the state at large, as it has dire consequences on the economy, productivity, and sanity. For example, preventing girls and women from receiving an education is a form of violence threatening nearly all stages of both individual and social development, economically and intellectually.
Simplifying the impact of violence, tolerating acts of violence against women, or even justifying violence against women will have adverse consequences on the next generation, as stated by the Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the 14th of August 2012:
“Impunity for violence against women compounds the effects of such violence as a mechanism of control. When the State fails to hold perpetrators accountable, impunity not only intensifies the subordination and powerlessness of the targets of violence, but also sends a message to society that male violence against women is both acceptable and inevitable.”
Children who witness domestic violence at home may fall into the cycle of violence as either the abuser or the abused. Constant narrations that shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim, especially in mainstream media, create a wrong idea of justice, equality, and access.
Despite the constant repetition of VAWG being the most pervasive human rights violation worldwide, there is no real and concerted action to end this scourge. Although experts and NGOs repeated ad-nauseam that 1 in 3 women experience gender-based violence during their lifetime, such figures fail to mobilise the society at large to do something about it. Statistics show that an average of five women or girls are killed every hour by someone in their own family, and yet little or no action ensues to stop this violence. Even when it is emphasised that around 40 per cent of victimised women seek help, no effort of note is undertaken as a result.
Worse still, these numbers have increased with the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to elevate with ongoing global conflicts and economic instabilities that make women further vulnerable. This state of affairs shows that we need to change our narration, we need to change our perspective, and we need to change our stance. We need to teach women their rights, and we need to teach men those rights too. We must modify the systems that present a discriminatory discourse to our children if we are genuine about wanting to break the cycle of violence. States need to introduce preventive measures against violence as a matter of urgency, and punishments must include a rehabilitation process. We need to expose the abusers rather than the victims: without the perpetrators, there would be no violence against women and girls. It is clear, therefore, that the perpetrators are the problem, not women and girls, and it is towards the perpetrators that efforts must be directed in the first instance. It is not violence AGAINST Women that is the problem; it is the PERPETRATORS of violence TOWARDS Women that are the problem.
This article originally appeared in the opinion section of the website Middle East Monitor.