As the UN campaigns to end violence against women, European Correspondent Ann Cahill
writes that communities and national authorities must also play their part
‘ORANGE your neighbourhood” asks the UN to focus attention on the one issue that is common to every community in the world — violence against women.
They chose orange as the colour to raise awareness of the issue, and for the first time ever the iconic Empire State Building and the UN’s own headquarters in New York were bathed in the colour yesterday.
The UN readily admits that despite decades trying to address the problem, at least one in every four women continue to experience violence in their everyday lives and many more suffer the indignity of abuse — and that is apart from the systematic rape of war victims and kidnapping and sale of girls in the name of religion.
“We need this eye-catching colour everywhere so that the message is loud and clear. We all need to work together to stop violence against women and girls right now,” said the UN Women executive director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
“That includes men and boys standing up for what’s right and working with us and the women’s movement to tackle gender inequality. We have to end this universal violation of human rights. We know what works; now we are insisting on the commitment of political action and commensurate resources to that agenda.”
People everywhere are asked to tie orange ribbons to landmarks and to wear orange to raise awareness among both victims and perpetrators and everyone in a position to help change what the UN calls a pandemic.
In the EU one in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15. Most of the violence is at the hands of those who should be nearest and dearest to them — husbands, fathers, sons, and even employers.
Worldwide, half of all sexual assaults are on girls aged 15 of younger. One in seven girls are married before the age of 15 and their chance of dying in childbirth is double those in their 20s.
According to the UN: “Around the world, women are beaten in their homes, harassed on the streets and bullied on the internet. One in three women experiences physical or sexual violence at some point in her life — mostly by an intimate partner. Among all women killed in 2012, nearly half died at the hands of a partner or family member. Far too often, crimes go unpunished and perpetrators walk free.”
Problems that cannot be defined as gender based, such as the proliferation of small arms, also end up as being a greater threat to women than men, according to research. While the availability of guns increases the risk of murder by 41% generally, for women the risk is increased by 272% — and women are three to four times more likely to be victims of threats and deaths from small arms than men.
“The use of and the proliferation of small arms is an extension of normalisation of violence, violent masculinity, and militarism,” said the Rutgers Centre for Women’s Global Leadership.
But curbing or reversing such rates of violence will need action that goes beyond lip-service, legislation, or reform and instead focuses on the implementation of prevention, protection, justice, and services for survivors, the Rutgers Centre says.
The sheer scale of physical and psychological violence is such that even the progress made in some countries over the past few decades looks minuscule. From countries that see themselves as enlightened and developed to the most backward, women suffer as male society continues to see the subjugation of women as their way to attain power.
The methods used appear to become ever more sophisticated to deprive women of their human rights — and this is often linked to childbearing, affecting all members of society. The economic cost alone is enormous.
Anybody thinking that women are making real progress in the bid for equality should consider that in the past few days an Egyptian court found a doctor not guilty of the manslaughter of a 12-year-old girl he was performing an illegal genital mutilation on.
Meanwhile in Turkey — for years in discussions with the EU about possible membership — president Tayyip Erdogan declared women were not equal but should be accorded equal respect.
In Ireland, the poorest members of society continue to be single mothers, no longer having their babies stolen from them, but instead now losing their child support when their child is seven to force them into work, but they would need a second income to pay for child minding. The result is 65% of children in poverty have a single parent.
The misogyny of the past has not been reversed either as despite the UN human rights committee finding the state failing to take responsibility for past crimes against women and children, once again the government ties up in red tape any offer to compensate the victims of symphysiotomy and tries to figure out a “no-blame” system for dealing with the half of babies and their mothers who died in the mother and baby homes.
In the meantime the champions of industry and business battle in Brussels to ensure that extending maternity leave and pay are knocked off the EU’s agenda of good things to do, adamant that producing the generation is a private affair and should not impinge on their profits — while at the same time looking to the next generation to provide future profits.
In many ways it is easier to concentrate on the more obvious issues, such as female genital mutilation. However, the belief that this is a problem of societies far away is wrong. Multi-cultural communities bring this practice into all our societies — Ireland has had its own heroine, Ifrah Ahmed, the founder of United Youth of Ireland, raising awareness of the fact that there are at least 1,300 victims in Ireland alone.
In the EU an estimated that 500,000 women and girls are victims with another 180,000 a year likely to suffer the same fate, denying them sexual pleasure, having to be cut open for childbirth and even sexual intercourse, sometimes making even urinating painful.
The Council of Europe — which is separate to the EU — and Amnesty International have issued a guide to help governments and civil society understand how to use the Council of Europe’s convention and good examples to end FGM.
However, with this too, change cannot just come from above but must also be spread within communities. Community Empowerment Programmes in Senegal, for instance, resulted in more than 5,500 communities deciding they would abandon female genital cutting.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved