What is it and Why is it?
“Sexual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination. Let us not forget that the gender inequalities that fuel rape culture are essentially a question of power imbalances.” — UN Secretary-General António Guterres
November 25th is the United Nations’ International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls – also known colloquially as VAWG day. As a domestic abuse charity each year SATEDA have hosted and attended conferences, worn orange, organised awareness raising on social media and in high streets to mark the occasions – but I am sure many people are not even really sure what it is all about…
Let me first start by addressing the seemingly overlapping nature of “White Ribbon Day” which is also marked on 25th November. White Ribbon UK is part of the global White Ribbon movement to end male violence against women, by engaging men in the narrative, recruiting male White Ribbon Ambassadors to spread the word and challenge abusive behaviours. The White Ribbon Campaign have chosen to mark their campaign “day” on the same day as the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – this could be viewed as a little confusing. However, these two “days” are not the same thing.
Nor is International VAWG day the same as International Women’s Day – which is held annually on March 8th and is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.
Now that we have established what it isn’t, let’s have a look at what it is.
On 7th February 2000 the General Assembly (the deliberative assembly of the United Nations) adopted a resolution which officially designated 25th November as the International Day for the Elimination Against Women and in doing so, invited governments, international organisations and NGOs to join together, organise activities and raise public awareness for the issue every year. However, women’s rights activists across the world had been observing 25th November as a day against gender-based violence since 1981. The date was chosen to honour the Mirabel sisters, who were three political activists from the Dominican Republic, murdered in 1960 by order of their Country’s ruler.
Each year, the 25th November is followed by 16 days of activism which runs until 10th December – this being Human Rights Day. These 16 days began in 1991 and are utilised by individuals and organisations across the world, to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.
“It is widely accepted that globally men account for a much higher number of homicides than women, however women bare by far the greatest burden of intimate partner and/or family violence.” UN Women
In 1993 the UN General Assembly defined violence against women as:
“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.”
It is easy for many of us living in relative luxury – in a country where democracy prevails, laws exist to protect us, and the majority of us live safe and happy lives – to forget that there are women and girls across the globe who are subjected to all types of horrific treatment, simply because they are a woman or a girl.
Global statistic include the following:
- 1 in 3 women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most frequently by an intimate partner
- Only 52% of women married or in a union freely make their own decisions about sexual relations, contraceptive use and health care
- Worldwide, almost 750 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday; while 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM)
- 1 in 2 women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family in 2017; while only 1 out of 20 men were killed under similar circumstances
- 71% of all human trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls, and 3 out of 4 of these women and girls are sexually exploited
- Violence against women is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria combined.
Whilst in the Western world we are slowly winning the struggle for the social, economic and political equality of the sexes – it is vital that we must continue to openly acknowledge the power and the privilege that we hold – it is this which allows us to actively engage in this struggle. We must remember that some women face increased risk or reduced access to equality – for example young girls and older women, women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex, migrant women and refugee women, women from ethnic minority groups and indigenous women, or women and girls living with HIV and disabilities, and those living through humanitarian crises all across the world. We must put our heads above the parapet, seek out and listen to the experiences of women who live beyond our back yards, and ultimately try to understand the intersectionality of gender inequality.
In short, just because your life as a woman isn’t so bad, please don’t become complacent, stick your head in the sand and assume that your life experience is shared with all other women across the world. There’s a massive amount of work to still be done to save the lives of women and girls at risk due to their gender.
Let’s all join together on 25th November 2020 – for the 16 days of activism – and beyond – to widen our horizons and our knowledge of the risks faced by all women across the world.
Stay Safe and Be Kind
23rd November 2020