Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Why do we need such a day? Well, a recent report by Unifem found that among women aged 15-44, acts of violence caused more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. In the 21st century, violence against women is still at pandemic levels.
Women as Punch bags, and Worse
It is almost impossible to conceive the magnitude of violence committed against women, most of it at the hands of the men in their lives. The myth of rape and murder being committed by that stranger in the night belies the darker truth that women are being used as punch bags (and worse), by men they know and love.
The recent cases of public rape and violence against women in India has seen protest in the US, UK and Europe for India to change its ‘rape culture’. But if the role of women in these countries is the aspiration, we might want to double check what we’re aspiring to.
In the US:
- One third of women murdered each year are killed by their current of former male partner.
- Pregnant and recently pregnant women are more likely to die as victims of homicide than any other cause, and mostly by the hands of their male partners.
- One in every four US women will be raped or sexually assaulted by a current or former male partner in their lifetime.
- Nearly 1.3 million women each year are physically assaulted by their male partner.
- There are over 80,000 rapes of women each and every year.
The rape culture in the US has been epitomised by the Steubenville case. The Ohio High School football team carried a catatonically drunk 16 year old girl from party to party, apparently taking it in turns to rape and sexually assault her. They transmitted the whole thing on social media; tweeting pictures as they went, and finally sharing video in which they refer to the girl as ‘so raped’. Horrific as this is, more terrifying is that this public declaration and execution of rape went entirely unpunished.
Yes, Steubenville Ohio was quite happy to keep the first social media enabled mass rape on the quiet. But local blogger Alexandria Goddard, outraged at the complicity of a whole town in rape, posted the tweets and pictures in a blog condemning the rape. The story went national and Anonymous used their hacking skills to release the deleted video of the night’s events to the wider public. Thanks to these actions, a criminal investigation began. Two of the male students were later convicted of rape, and senior members of the school and local community now face charges related to perverting the course of justice.
Meanwhile in the UK:
- More than 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales each year
- Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted
- One in five women over the age of 16 has experienced some form of sexual harassment.
- One in four women is abused by her male partner.
- One in every eight calls to the emergency services involves a serious incident of domestic abuse.
And around the world:
The recent case of Oscar Pistorius shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp dead whilst she was locked in the bathroom (through fear or rage, he shot her dead) drew mass public approbation, yet in South Africa, a woman is killed by an intimate male partner every six hours. The tragedy of Steenkamp is rolled out to women four times each and every day.
Women and girls are not just being killed and assaulted, but sexually injured and traded.
Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting, with more than 3 million girls in Africa annually at risk of the practice.
More than 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18, primarily in South Asia (31.1 million and Sub-Saharan Africa (14.1 million). Women and girls comprise 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually, with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
The reality is that physical and sexual violence against women is both endemic in our states, and a pandemic across all states.
So…We Need a Day. But Why This Day?
Today also commemorates the anniversary of the brutal assassination of the Mirabal Sisters. Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabal were political activists from the Dominican Republic. They made an outspoken stand against the brutal dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, becoming figureheads for the campaign for freedom and democracy in 1960. They were frequently imprisoned and persecuted, along with their husbands, friends and supporters, for making such a stand. On November 25th 1960, Trujillo’s henchman were dispatched to assassinate the Mirabal sisters. As the sisters drove together to visit their husbands in prison, they were intercepted by the henchmen, separated, and clubbed to death. The bodies were then returned to their jeep and pushed from a cliff, to make the deaths look like an ‘accident’. This fooled nobody. The resulting uproar at this most violent assassination of three courageous, passionate women saw Trujillo himself assassinated within six months, and the Dominican Republic set on the long road back to democracy. After his fall, the true story of the political assassination of the Mirabal sisters came to light.
Ever since, the Mirabal sisters or the “Inolvidables Mariposas”, the “Unforgettable Butterflies”, have become a symbol against the victimisation of women. In 1999, the United Nations created the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, in honour of the Mirabal sisters.
What can you do?
Violence against women isn’t funny, it isn’t a fringe issue, and it isn’t something we have dealt with. Violence against women needs to be understood not only as an act of violence, but as an act of gendered violence. Women are still viewed as the bearers of familial honour, across the world. If they enjoy sex they are whores; if they don’t enjoy sex, they are frigid; if they are passionate, they are hysterical; if they are ambitious, they are unfeminine.
Women are still viewed as second class citizens – elevated to pedestals, or cast to the gutter – and in both cases, still object, not subject; still as a function of themselves to men on the sliding scale of mother, daughter, wife, sister, lover, punchbag, whore.
So what can you do?
Men – hold yourselves and your male communities to account for treating women as human beings. Don’t laugh along with the misogyny because you don’t want to feel the sharp end of it yourself when they brand you a “pussy”. You don’t need to be a hero, just be decent. Be human. And don’t do it because ‘you’d want your wife/daughter/sister treated that way’…do it because it’s the right thing to do, full stop.
Women – respect yourselves. You are all gorgeous, capable and worthy. If you are around people (including yourself) who tell you any different, they are wrong.
If you know a woman in your life who is facing violence, of word or deed, then don’t get angry, get involved. You can make a difference here. You can build the bridge, and she can choose to walk across it.
If you are in an unsafe situation, if you are being abused by someone’s fists or their cruel words and controlling behaviour, make today the day you act. This is your day. You can eliminate violence against you, today, right now. Do not wait, do not rationalise the violence against you. Leave, now.
If you are abusing a woman, you can eliminate that violence today. You can take yourself out of the equation. You can take control of yourself and remove the danger you present to her right now. Honour the possibility of another whole and complete version of yourself. Honour whatever love exists in your heart. Honour this incredible woman who you have injured. Get out, seek help, and send help to her.
Here are a list of organisations you can call, email, turn up at the door of – violence is always a choice. Today, and every day, let’s choose something else. Let’s choose love.
Domestic Violence Helpline – runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0808 2000 247. If you are in immediate danger, please call 999. Do not wait. You don’t deserve this.
Building Safe Relationships – For men who are using violence and abuse in their intimate relationships. Go the website, or call 0300 100 1234. You do not have to carry on hurting people.
Have you taken action today, or in the past to eliminate violence against women? Are you a man or woman who has suffered or perpetrated abuse and want to tell your story? Please use the comments section to do so.
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