Violence against women and girls harms everyone

The Beijing Platform for Action, developed at a 1995 United Nations conference, set an agenda for women’s empowerment and identified 12 critical areas of concern. More than two decades after Beijing, ShareAmerica assesses global progress in each critical area. This article focuses on stopping violence against women and girls.

A serious global problem, violence against women affects public health, hinders women’s advancement, and generally impedes a society’s economic development.

Damaging and epidemic

Research reveals that violence against women is epidemic: Up to 70 percent of women experience it in their lifetimes. In many parts of the world, violence against women and girls has cultural and historical roots. Violence against women is most commonly perpetrated by men the victims know. Abuses are worst where victim support services are lacking and laws do not effectively protect female victims or punish offenders.

In many regions, sexual violence is systematically used as a tactic of war by combatants to further their political objectives. However it occurs, violence against women damages everyone.

Cultural factors

Higher rates of violence against women occur in countries where traditional patriarchal practices subordinate women. Women may be secluded in the home, excluded from the labor market, and restricted from owning and inheriting property. Violence is so deeply embedded in many cultures that millions of women consider it an inevitable part of life. Battered women remain silent for fear of retribution.

Protesters carrying signs (© AP Images)
Protesters in New Delhi, where brutal rapes and murders of women made headlines, demand change. (© AP Images)

Female genital mutilation is common in Africa and the Middle East. Mariya Karimjee tells of her personal experience of mutilation in this video.

Marriage-related abuses such as child or forced marriages, bride kidnappings and dowry deaths persist in Africa and South and Central Asia. In “honor killings,” women are murdered to restore family “honor.” Such killings have been carried out to punish women for talking to a man who is not a relative, having sex outside of marriage, refusing to marry a man selected by family, disrespecting a husband or seeking a divorce. Honor killings and genital mutilation have been exported by immigrant communities to Europe and North America.

Trafficking of women and girls

Trafficking for sexual exploitation, marriage, domestic servitude and labor is a modern-day form of slavery that affects millions of women and girls worldwide. Women are deceived and coerced by traffickers who promise respectable jobs. Girls are abducted by traffickers or sold by parents. Women and girls in poor and vulnerable communities are often targets, as are young women seeking to study or work abroad.

Concerted efforts needed

Change can come through awareness-raising campaigns; crisis centers and shelters for female victims that provide medical care, counseling and legal services; and laws that effectively protect women and punish offenders. Violence against women is preventable if governments partner with international and civil society organizations to safeguard women in all sectors of society.

Chouchou Namegabe in front of U.S. Capitol building (Courtesy of Vital Voices)
Women’s rights activist Chouchou Namegabe testified before the U.S. Congress about crimes against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Courtesy photo)

Committed activism like that of broadcast journalist Chouchou Namegabe succeeds. Born in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, she formed the South Kivu Women’s Media Association (AFEM) to fight violence against women, particularly rape, as a weapon of war. By informing the public and encouraging reticent women to talk about horrific abuses, she created strong community support against brutal militia seeking to evict people from their mineral-rich land.

Similarly, the Anti-Domestic Violence Network, a group in China, educates and advocates against such violence. “Ten years ago nobody would even think that beating up wives is a crime. Now many people know,” said co-founder Li Hongtao.