Violence Against Women: The Shadow Pandemic

Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world; irrespective of social, economic or national boundaries.

The International Day of Elimination of Violence against women aims to raise public awareness on gender based violence across the world, reminding everyone that we all have a role to play to achieve a brighter future free from violence.

The theme for this year’s celebrations, “Orange the World: End Violence against Women now!” draws attention to the urgency of eliminating all forms of violence against women now than ever.

Violence Against Women and Girls: A Devastating Shadow Pandemic

Violence against women has been on the low point over the years but it is and has been a shadow pandemic that is growing amidst COVID-19. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, emerging data and reports from those on the frontlines, have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence has intensified.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 3 women have been subjected to either physical or sexual abuse by an intimate or non-intimate partner violence in their lifetime.

A report from UN Women, data from 13 countries since the pandemic started shows that 2 in 3 women reported that they or a woman they know had experienced some form of violence.

Manifesting itself in physical, sexual and psychological forms encompassing intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation, violence against women and girls (VAWG) are some of the widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today.

According to UN organization, violence against women remains largely unreported due to impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it.

Violence prevents women from meaningfully and fully participating in all spheres of life including making decisions that impact their lives. This therefore poses a major barrier to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Violence against women continues to be an obstacle to achieving equality, economic and social development, peace and cohesion as well as the fulfilment of women and girls’ human rights.

For example, educational disadvantages in the early years not only represent the primary obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls; but are also to blame for restricting access to higher education and even limited opportunities for women in the labor market.

Moreover, victims of violence often suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted marriages, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula, Sexually Transmitted Infections including HIV and even death.

While gender based violence can happen to anyone at anytime and anywhere, some women and girls are particularly vulnerable.

These include girls and women who are marginalized from poor economic setting, those from communities with deeply rooted traditional beliefs that promote GBV, migrants and refugees, women and girls living with HIV and disabilities and those living through humanitarian crises.

Although pervasive, gender based violence is not inevitable; it can and must be prevented. According to UN Women, stopping this violence starts with listening to victims and survivors experiences and responding to their needs, adopting comprehensive and inclusive approaches that tackle the root causes, transform harmful social norms and empower women and girls through creating training and creating awareness on GBV and proper response mechanisms.

With survivor-centered essential services across policing, justice, health, and social sectors, as well as financing for the women’s rights agenda, we can end gender based violence.

The World Bank states that decreasing violence against women and girls require a community-based, multi-pronged approach and sustained engagement with multiple stakeholders.

As we celebrate the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women, we call upon the national and county governments as well as the private sector including NGOs to come up with and implement long lasting and sustainable interventions that revolve around eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

The national and county governments should ensure full implementation of SGBV policies at all levels as well as strengthen the justice system to ensure access to justice for the victims and survivors and enforcement of still penalties for offenders.

Moreover, gender based violence rescue centers and hotlines should be strengthened to ensure timely reporting of GBV cases and rehabilitation of survivors.

It is critical to invest in prevention strategies and in changing structures and systems that perpetuate gender inequality and discrimination as the root cause.

Addressing the risk factors for violence including social norms regarding gender roles and acceptability of violence are key in eliminating gender based violence.

The promise of the Sustainable Development Goals, “Leave no one behind” cannot be fulfilled without putting an end to violence against women and girls!

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