Wednesday marked the beginning of the universally acclaimed campaign, “16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence” that will end December 10, the Human Rights Day.
The 16 Days of Activism campaign represent at the highest level the recognition that eliminating violence against women is a priority for the world today.
Violence against women for long has been hidden in a culture of silence. This campaign exists to break the silence and ensure that women’s voices are heard.
Statistics reveal that at least one out of every three women is likely to be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
Women and girls are every day at risk of violence– within their homes, while walking, taking public transport to work and collecting water or firewood.
Through the practice of prenatal sex selection, countless others are denied the right to exist. No country, no culture, no woman young or old is immune to this scourge. Far too often, the crimes go unpunished, and the perpetrators walk free.
Demanding the end of violence against women is not about demanding exceptional treatment. It is simply about letting women live in dignity. Most importantly, eliminating violence against women has socio and economic benefits.
The Millennium Development Goals will not be met unless greater attention and resources are devoted to women’s empowerment, gender equality, and ending violence against them.
We must pay particular attention to the most vulnerable women of all – to those women living in extreme poverty. Quite often such women are forced into degrading sexual activity such as prostitution and cross generation sex, putting their health and well being at risk.
The health consequences are often severe and long lasting; the results are the spread of HIV/AIDS, maternal and child mortality.
Violence against women is also linked to gender inequalities. By intention or effect, it serves to perpetuate male power and control.
This is deeply rooted in attitudes and cultural practices that treat women as “the second sex” while glorifying men. Men and boys can make a tremendous contribution by using their power for positive change.
By respecting and empowering women’s rights, families, communities and nations are enriched.
As we fight to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, we must preserve and nurture the human potential of every individual. It is clear that we cannot make poverty history unless we make violence against women history.
Over the years, government has made commendable progress in addressing gender based violence. This includes putting in place a law and setting a special desk at the national police headquarters to address issues related to gender based violence.
However, challenges remain specifically related data collection on cases of gender based violence at national level.
Data collection and surveys should receive the same level of importance as data collection on economic and social issues, such as poverty, work, health and education which were traditionally measured by national statistics.
This is critical for designing effective policy interventions to address violence against women.
There is also need to ensure that all those who respond to violence against women—whether they are police officers, judges, lawyers, immigration officials, health personnel, or social workers—are sensitized and trained to provide a response that is compassionate, comprehensive and effective.
Dealing with violence against women is an issue that cannot wait; together as a nation we can create a world where both girls and boys are raised in a culture of mutual respect, responsibility, and equal opportunity.
The author is a journalist with The New Times.