of women experience violence in their lifetimes worldwide2
women were killed in 2012 alone by family members or intimate partners3
girls worldwide have been married before the age of 18, many against their will4
- 2. World Health Organisation, Violence against women, intimate partner and sexual violence against women: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/ ↩
- 3. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Global Study on Homicide: https://www.unodc.org/gsh/ ↩
- 4. Prevention of violence against women and girls: what does the evidence say?, The Lancet: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)61703-7/abstract ↩ ↩
How economic inequality makes women more vulnerable to violence
On virtually every measure, women are economically worse off than men.5 Research by ActionAid has shown that the gender pay gap between men and women’s earnings and ability to participate in paid work amounts to US $17 million every year.6
Economic inequality increases women’s risk of being subjected to violence, by undermining their voice and bargaining power at home, work and in wider society, making it harder to leave abusive partners or work situations. Women who are poor, young, migrant, indigenous, from an ethnic minority, as well as domestic workers, sex workers and those who have been trafficked are particularly at risk.
Domestic violence is the most prevalent form of abuse suffered by women.
- 5. ActionAid UK ‘Close the gap! The cost of inequality in women’s work’: https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/womens_rights_on-line_version_2.1.pdf ↩
- 6. ActionAid UK ‘Close the gap! The cost of inequality in women’s work’: https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/womens_rights_on-line_version_2.1.pdf ↩
Tackling domestic abuse in Malawi
“I said enough is enough. I could not take it anymore.” After years of being beaten by her husband, 40-year-old Tiwonge Gondwe could no longer face the relentless abuse that he put her through. She had felt trapped in the relationship because of her lack of economic independence, but after receiving guidance and training from ActionAid’s women’s groups she was able to stand up to him.
This turning point in 2006 ignited a wider passion for fighting for women’s rights and mobilising others for change. Together with other women, Tiwonge has since campaigned for an end to violence against women at a local, district and national level in Malawi.
Thanks in large part to the unrelenting efforts of women’s rights activists and organisaitons, in 2013 Malawi implemented its first Gender Equality Act. In 2014, the country passed a bill outlawing child marriage and the President launched a three year national campaign to end sexual violence. The focus now turns to the implementation of these laws.
Gender-based violence at work
Reported abuses faced by women at work range from sexual, physical and psychological harrassment, bullying by managers and supervisors, body searches, beatings, forced pregnancy tests, dismissal of pregnant women and violations of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Appalling neglect of workplace safety standards, along with pressure to work long hours in toxic conditions, cause physical and psychological harm, injury and even death to many women. A stark example was the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, in which over 1,100 women lost their lives.
Women workers courageously seek ways to come together to challenge work-based violence and exploitation. However, they are frequently met with threats and further violence by employers.
Violence against garment workers in Cambodia
Kunthea is a 35-year-old garment worker in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She faces a daily threat of violence as she travels to and from work at a factory producing clothes for major high-end brands, for which she gets paid extremely low wages.
“I need to earn more money so I make myself work until 8 or 10 at night. I feel very scared cycling home in the dark. Some other garment workers I know have been raped,” she says.
Women make up around 90% of garment workers in Cambodia. Under pressure to support their families, women face a choice between no job or an exploitative, low-paid job that exposes them to increased risk of physical violence, and also mental violence from pressure from factory supervisors.
But many women are organising and standing up for their rights. Despite facing brutal repression and a crackdown on their right to protest, they successfully pushed for the minimum wage to be raised in 2014. These wages are still not enough to live on, and their poor working conditions and exposure to violence continues, but so does their fight to counter it.
When the Cambodian government set out their new National Action Plan on combatting violence against women last year, women’s groups actively involved. The plan was launched after nine months of consultation with women’s organisations and civil society, including ActionAid Cambodia and local partners.
Schoolgirls at risk of gender-based violence
Education is a crucial route out of poverty for future generations. But the World Health Organisation estimates that 150 million girls are sexually assaulted every year, with many of these attacks occurring on the way to school or at school.1
Violence against schoolgirls is part of gender discrimination in communities and wider society. Challenging prejudice in communities is central to stopping violence within schools, as is creating safe spaces like girls’ clubs within schools. Here, girls can discuss their needs and take concrete action to raise awareness of girls’ rights to education and to challenge violence.
Sexual violence against girls in Zanzibar
More than one in 20 women in Zanzibar reported experiencing at least one incident of sexual violence before the age of 18.1 10-year-old Zeinab knows of the dangers because of the experiences of her schoolfriends. “Someone I know was going to the shop and something horrible was done to her,” she says. “Another girl was going to school and a very bad thing happened to her, and then another was also offered some money and something horrible happened to her also.”
Zeinab’s mother, Maryam, believes that the work ActionAid is doing through girls’ clubs in schools is making a difference. “The girls club has helped the children a lot because after attending they come into the village and the community and they teach other children about the things that they’ve learned, like issues of violence,” she says.
Violence and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights
Domestic violence is more prevelant and more severe amongst girls who marry as children, than amongst women who choose to marry.1 Girls in many contexts are often married off to the perpetrators of rape or sexual assault. It is a violation of women’s and girls’ sexual health and reproductive rights, and perpetuates other forms of violence including denial of education and reproductive health access.
Girls are usually physically and emotionally unprepared for sexual activity, pregnancy and childbirth. Globally, 16 million girls aged between 15 and 19, and 1 million girls under the age of 15, give birth each year.2 70,000 girls die during pregnancy and childbirth. This makes complications during pregnancy and childbirth the second highest cause of death for girls aged 15-19 worldwide.3
Reducing child marriage and the adolescent birth rate is necessary to not only improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls, but also to reduce domestic violence and other forms of violence against women.
- 1. Spencer, D. (2015). “TO PROTECT HER HONOUR” Child marriage in emergencies – the fatal confusion between protecting girls and sexual violence. 1st ed. [ebook] London: CARE. Available at: http://insights.careinternational.org.uk/media/k2/attachments/CARE_Child-marriage-in-emergencies_2015.pdf [Accessed 4 Jun. 2017]. ↩
- 2. World Health Organisation (n.d.). Adolescent pregnancy. [online] World Health Organization. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/ factsheets/fs364/en/ [Accessed 4 Jun. 2017]. ↩
- 3. World Health Organisation (n.d.). Adolescent pregnancy. [online] World Health Organization. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/ factsheets/fs364/en/ [Accessed 4 Jun. 2017]. ↩
Child marriage in Rwanda
At the age of 15, Clodine was forced to marry her sister’s widower. He was 57. When he died several years later from AIDS related complications, Clodine was left as the lone parent of four children. She contracted AIDS from her husband.
“When I think about the trauma I suffered marrying so young, it’s like a form of torture. It was my parents who made that decision with my husband. I wasn’t involved in making that decision at all,” Clodine explains.
Clodine has joined an ActionAid-supported cooperative. “The cooperative has helped my children and me a lot. Now I’m aware of both my rights and the rights of my children. I wouldn’t have married my husband if I knew what I know now about my rights.
“I want my daughter to marry after she’s 20 years old and not before. If she tries to marry before she’s 20 I will consider it a disaster. I’d go to the local government to get her back if I have to.
“Every evening I teach my children that child marriage is no joke. They have to be made aware that there are children who are still affected by this. I also teach them not to have underage sex. Many people have HIV here and it’s important that they protect themselves. We have free, open conversations about relationships and sex.”
Global threats to progress made on violence against women and girls
Political momentum has led to improvements in laws and national commitments. The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was a step in the right direction. Since then, there have been numerous initiatives aimed at combatting violence against women, notably the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action. In 2014, 76 out of 100 countries surveyed had laws on domestic violence, whereas only 13 out of 100 did in 1995.1 But hard-won women’s rights are at risk.
Increasingly states are closing down spaces which civil society, including women’s rights organisations, need to be effective. The quashing of unions, detention of activists, restrictive legislation, blocking of internet access and the use of militarised police against peaceful protestors are regularly deployed by governments.2 According to Freedom House, 2014 was the ninth consecutive year of an overall decline in levels of democracy worldwide.3
In addition, rising political and religious fundamentalisms are also undermining efforts to eradicate violence against women. Religious fundamentalisms can apply to many different religions, and they typically entail the reinforcement of rigid traditional gender roles that place severe controls over women and their bodies.4
Another threat is posed by the austerity measures imposed in many countries following the financial crash of 2008. Women’s social and economic inequalities have worsened, putting them at increased risk of violence. Cuts in services have left many women struggling to access support at the time they need it most.5
Women’s rights organisations leading the way
But women across the globe are organising and resisting. Many are putting their lives on the line to tackle gender inequality.
Women’s rights organisations are at the forefront of the struggle to end violence against women, and they hold the key to achieving transformational change. Because their work is strategic, lasting and cost effective, it has successfully transformed the lives of many of the most marginalised women and girls.
- 1. ‘Women, business and the law 2014 — removing restrictions to enhance gender equality’ http://wbl.worldbank.org/~/media/WBG/WBL/Documents/Reports/2014/Women-Business-and-the-Law-2014-FullReport.pdf?la=en ↩
- 2. CIVICUS ‘State of civil society report 2014’: http://www.civicus.org/index.php/socs2014 ↩
- 3. Freedom House, ‘Freedom in the world 2015’: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2015#.WKMpsbaLRBw ↩
- 4. AWID, ‘Key learnings from feminists on the front line: summaries of case studies on resisting and challenging fundamentalisms’ https://www.awid.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/key_learnings_from_feminists_on_the_frontline.pdf ↩
- 5. True, J. ‘The political economy of violence against women’: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-political-economy-of-violence-against-women-9780199755912?cc=gb&lang=en& ↩
Women’s movements supporting domestic violence survivors
Nimah, 40, is the volunteer chair of a local women’s coalition in Somaliland. The coalition support domestic violence survivors by giving them access to safe houses, as well as helping with legal and emotional support.
Nimah says, “Sometimes we tell the survivor: ‘You will be okay, everything is going to be okay.’ For younger women who have no idea what their future will hold and continue to suffer, we help them to feel calm again.”
Nimah does this at great risk to her own personal safety. Angry husbands often tell her not to interfere, and one man even threatened her with rape. But she says she continues her life-saving work, despite the danger to herself. “When I see a man beating his wife, I feel like he is beating me. I can’t tolerate it if a woman is beaten,” she says.
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