The United Nations galvanized the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25, kicking off 16 days of activism against GBV (#orangetheworld). The Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC) in Canada is supporting the international campaign to end gender-based violence (GBV) and was kind enough to reach out to me about creating a promotional video. The video is available on Twitter and Facebook and I posted it to Youtube below.

Here is the text of my longer message for the video.

For the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I’d first like to highlight that the single most significant challenge to eradicating gender-based violence is our inability to recognize different types of violence in all their varied forms and to see how they interact to harm women and girls. Most everyone recognizes explicit physical violence, and there is diminishing acceptance of it I think. However, we also need to recognize that not all harmful practices against women and girls are direct. For example, economic violence is any act that causes financial harm to women. It includes restricting women’s access to income-generating work or banking. It includes property damage and even denying economic rights, such as child support. Indirect violence can be equally as hurtful. Environmental violence is particularly problematic for women in rural areas because it denies them the right to use natural resources sustainably to improve their outcomes. Structural violence, across the world, results from social structures that prevent women and girls from meeting their basic needs. This includes sexism that hinders them in the workplace, traditional norms that keep girls out of school, poverty that restricts access to medical care, and psychological violence that damages their self-worth.

There are various pathways forward towards a future free of gender-based violence.

  1. First, we must implement programs and educational initiatives to end violence against girls in school. School is where children learn how they should behave once they’re adults. It is the public space in which adults outside families have tremendous power to teach respect and gender equality; school is a training ground for both boys and girls to learn to practice and expect kindness from others.
  2. Second, child and early marriage must end. Research indicates across the board that the longer a girl can delay marriage, the more likely she is to finish her education, to independently earn the income that statistically lowers her vulnerability to domestic violence, and make positive choices for her own children that help lessen intergenerational GBV.
  3. Third, we can train GBV specialists in at-risk communities. Poverty and violence are rife in both urban and rural areas. Rape cases are often ignored, and convictions rare. At the same time, some communities feel their only option is to settle their case with informal justice that can victimize those attacked or ignore the incident altogether. The best remedy is identifying and training locally entrenched social experts to act as champions of gender equality and stand up for victims. These local GBV experts may be traditional women’s councils, local governmental leaders, or even respected elders in a community.
  4. We can’t end the scourge of GBV without the engagement of almost half the population. In particular, young men are potent agents of change in transforming our narratives and attitudes towards violence against women and girls. Young men are some of the most worthwhile investments in peace education across the globe.
  5. We must embolden women and girls to speak out. GBV takes root in shame, and shame can only exist with secrecy. When women and girls talk about their experiences with violence, listen to them. Support them as they challenge rape culture, harassment, domestic violence, and marginalization. Empower them to share their stories if they feel they can. We can’t end GBV silently.

Thank you so much for your engagement on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and in the years to come.  

Additionally, the United Nations’s UNiTE campaign has published a concept note stating:

According to the latest estimates, nearly 1 in 3 women aged 15 years and older, around the world have been subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, non-partner or both, at least once in their lifetime, indicating that levels of VAWG/GBV  have remained largely unchanged over the last decade. These numbers do not reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and would be even higher if they included the full continuum of violence that affect women and girls including sexual harassment, violence in digital contexts, harmful practices and sexual exploitation.

COVID-19 has exacerbated all the risk factors for VAWG, including unemployment and poverty, and reinforced many of the root causes such as gender stereotypes and harmful social norms. It has been estimated that 11 million girls may not return to school because of COVID-19, thereby increasing their risk of child marriage. The economic fallout is expected to push 47 million more women and girls into extreme poverty in 2021, reversing decades of progress and perpetuating structural inequalities that reinforce VAWG. Emerging data from a recent multi-country rapid gender assessment on the impact of COVID-19 on VAW by UN Women, using innovative remote data collection methods, confirm an increase of VAW as a result of COVID-19 in Cameroon, Kenya, Thailand and Ukraine.

In addition to the impact of COVID-19, the global context of violent conflicts and humanitarian crises, including climate-related disasters, are affecting more people than ever before, with a disproportionate impact on women and girls, perpetuating all forms of VAWG. As we have seen in the aftermath of the recent earthquake in Haiti, 53.6% of women have already encountered difficulties in accessing health services while the lack of housing and shelter is perceived by 83% as a factor of insecurity and increased risk of violence. The current complex situation in Afghanistan has led to a disregard for the hard-earned gains in women’s rights. While the forms and contexts may differ across geographic locations, women and girls universally experience different forms of violence in public and private settings, in contexts of peace and in contexts of conflict as well as in humanitarian or crises settings. The most marginalized women, including women with disabilities, refugees or indigenous women amongst others, are at disproportionate risk and face greater barriers in accessing services and justice.

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that the world was unprepared to respond to the rapid escalation of all forms of VAWG. If we want to ensure that no woman or girl is left behind, we need comprehensive and inclusive approaches that can be adapted to rapidly changing contexts, preventing and responding to all forms of VAWG.