International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women 2023
Chiara Belfico (2023-24 College Ambassador from Drake University)
Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is one of the most widespread violations of human rights in the world. According to 2021 data from the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately one-third of the world's women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. This data reflects a longstanding problem of VAWG. On the 20th of December 1993, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women which describes 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 abitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occuring in public or in private life."
On November 25 each year, we celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women as an important step towards the recognition and prevention of the discrimination, inequality, and violence that women have been and still are subjected to. This day reminds us that VAWG, which violates fundamental human rights, cannot be ignored. In addition to violating human rights, VAWG negatively affects the wealth and economic growth of countries across the world. The violence and discrimination experienced by women stems from the social construction of gender. The fact that women are perceived as 'weaker' than men, often have unequal burdens to take care of the family, and are not allowed to work in some countries or face barriers to equal pay in other countries are all based on social constructions of gender with no basis in science.
Despite the condemnation of VAWG by the United Nations, it remains a significant problem in most countries. Women continue to be affected by violence at every stage of their lives, and this results in a violation of their human rights to education, freedom, equality, non-discrimination, life, and work. Violence can negatively affect women's physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health, and in some cases increases the risk of acquiring HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases. If this is not enough, VAWG also has social and economic costs, as women may experience isolation, inability to work, loss of wages, lack of participation in regular activities, and limited ability to care for themselves and their children.
Unfortunately, countries have not done enough to address VAWG. The UN reports that only 5% of government aid is factored for VAWG and that less than 0.2% goes to its prevention. Something needs to change if we want to see improvements. Furthermore, violence against women is also an obstacle to many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being), SDG 5 (Gender Equality), and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). Progress on these and other SDGs cannot be achieved by 2030 without addressing VAWG. In 2019, WHO and UN Women, with support from 12 other UN and bilateral agencies, published RESPECT Women-- a system for preventing violence against women aimed at policymakers. This framework is made of seven strategies: relationship skills strengthening; empowerment of women; services ensured; poverty reduced; enabling environments (schools, workplaces, public spaces) created; child and adolescent abuse prevented, and transformed attitudes, beliefs, and norms. To see a change, governments must develop and implement policies that promote all of the above strategies.
While governments must adopt policies to eliminate VAWG, you can also contribute to making a change. Since 2008, the UNITE to End Violence Against Women Campaign has supported 16-days of activism against gender-based violence. The campaign begins on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on Human Rights Day. Check out this link to learn more about this year's theme. You can join the campaign here and gain access to social media materials to advocate for urgent investments to prevent VAWG. As we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we recognize that everyone who supports women's rights and gender equity needs to stand up and take action. #NoExcuse #16DaysofActivism