[Opinion] International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
“Limited gains in gender equality and women’s rights made over the decades are in danger of being rolled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the UN Secretary-General said in April 2020, urging governments to put women and girls at the centre of their recovery efforts.
The United Nations General Assembly has designated November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (Resolution 54/134). The premise of the day is to raise awareness of the fact that women around the world are subject to rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence; furthermore, one of the aims of the day is to highlight that the scale and true nature of the issue is often hidden.
In 2020, COVID-19 touched our lives in nearly every way, everywhere, as countries went into lockdown and restricted movement to contain the spread of the virus. As doors closed and isolation began, reports of all forms of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, began to rise.
The pandemic of violence against women is not new. Even before COVID-19 hit us, globally, 243 million women and girls were abused by their intimate partners in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic intensified the violence, even as support services faltered and accessing help became harder. COVID-19 pandemic is compounding the issue, disrupting access to life-saving services and support for survivors and hindering their ability to report cases of sexual violence.
Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it. In general terms, it manifests itself in physical, sexual and psychological forms
- 1 in 3 women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most frequently by an intimate partner.
- Emerging data shows an increase in calls to domestic violence helplines in many countries since the outbreak of COVID-19.
- Only 52% of women married or in a union freely make their own decisions about sexual relations, contraceptive use and health care.
- 71% of all human trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls, and 3 out of 4 of these women and girls are sexually exploited
Violence against women continues to be an obstacle to achieving equality, development, peace as well as to the fulfillment of women and girls’ human rights. All in all, the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to leave no one behind – cannot be fulfilled without putting an end to violence against women and girls.
While VAWG can happen to anyone, anywhere, some women and girls are particularly vulnerable – for instance, young girls and older women, women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex, migrants and refugees, indigenous women and ethnic minorities, or women and girls living with HIV and disabilities, and those living through humanitarian crises.
Ghana has signed unto the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Target 5.2 is set out to “eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.”
To achieve this goal, government should work with partners to ensure that referral systems are in place to facilitate survivors’ access to health services, psychosocial support; safety and security; justice and legal aid; and socio-economic support. Government, donor agencies, Non-governmental Organisation, Civil Society Organisations and Church Based Organisations and all Human Rights and Gender Activists programmes should also focus on preventing and mitigating risks for women and girls, and meeting their unique needs.
Government of Ghana should strengthen the capacity of health workers to respond to gender-based violence, including for survivors of sexual abuse. This should include providing sexual and reproductive health services, mental health and psychosocial support to survivors, adapting referral pathways and developing gender-based violence referral guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Government response must not only be aimed at providing quality health and psychosocial services, but also justice and reparation. Concerted action is needed to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions. Government with its development partners should strengthen and resource the decentralized the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) offices personnel.
Also, routine training of police personnel, prosecutors and social workers on human rights standards in the investigation and prosecution of gender-based violence, including sexual violence.
As the world continues to battle COVID-19, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, I call on the government of Ghana to make battling sexual violence and its impact on women and girls a priority.
Ending violence against women is everyone’s business. Here are some ways you can make a difference, safely and impactfully.
- Listen to and believe survivors
When a woman shares her story of violence, she takes the first step to breaking the cycle of abuse. It’s on all of us to give her the safe space she needs to speak up and be heard. It’s important to remember that when discussing cases of sexual violence, a victim’s sobriety, clothes, and sexuality are irrelevant. The perpetrator is the sole reason for assault and must bear the responsibility alone. Call out victim-blaming and counter the idea that it’s on women to avoid situations that might be seen as “dangerous” by traditional standards. Survivors of violence are speaking out more than ever before, and everyone has a role to play to ensure they can have justice.
- Don’t say, “Why didn’t she leave?”
- Do say: “We hear you. We believe you. We stand with you.”
- Teach the next generation and learn from them
The examples we set for the younger generation shape the way they think about gender, respect and human rights. Start conversations about gender roles early on, and challenge the traditional features and characteristics assigned to men and women. Point out the stereotypes that children constantly encounter, whether in the media, on the street or at the school, and let them know that it’s OK to be different. Encourage a culture of acceptance.
- Call for responses and services fit for purpose
Services for survivors are essential services. Shelters, hotlines, counseling and all support for survivors of gender-based violence need to be available for those in need, even during the coronavirus pandemic. Every year, the 16 Days of Activism campaign calls for united, global action to end all forms of violence against women and girls. This year the United Nations are demanding four critical actions, summarized by the 2020 campaign theme: FUND, RESPOND, PREVENT, COLLECT.
As a Gender Specialist, I call on governments to bridge funding gaps to address violence against women and girls, ensure essential services for survivors of violence are maintained during this crisis, implement prevention measures, and invest in collecting the data necessary to adapt and improve life-saving services for women and girls.
- Understand consent
Freely given, enthusiastic consent is mandatory, every time. Rather than listening for a “no,” make sure there is an active “yes,” from all involved. Adopt enthusiastic consent in your life and talk about it. Phrases like “she was asking for it” or “boys will be boys” attempt to blur the lines around sexual consent, placing blame on victims, and excusing perpetrators from the crimes they have committed. While those that use these lines may have fuzzy understandings of consent, the definition is crystal clear. When it comes to consent, there are no blurred lines.
- Learn the signs of abuse and how you can help
There are many forms of abuse and all of them can have serious physical and emotional effects. If you’re concerned about a friend who may be experiencing violence or feels unsafe around someone, review these signs and learn about the ways to help them find safety and support. If you think someone is abusing you, help is available. You are not alone. If you’d like to talk with a trained advocate at a helpline, we compiled this list of resources around the world.
Rape culture is the social environment that allows sexual violence to be normalized and justified, fueled by the persistent gender inequalities and attitudes about gender and sexuality. Naming it is the first step to dismantling rape culture.
- Start a conversation
Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation that’s been perpetuated for decades. It’s pervasive, but it’s not inevitable, unless we stay silent. Show your solidarity with survivors and where you stand in the fight for women’s rights by oranging your social media profile for the 16 Days of Activism – you can download banners for Facebook and Twitter here
- Stand against rape culture
Every day we have the opportunity to examine our behaviours and beliefs for biases that permit rape culture to continue. Think about how you define masculinity and femininity, and how your own biases and stereotypes influence you.
From the attitudes we have about gender identities to the policies we support in our communities; we can all take action to stand against rape culture. Talk about consent, bodily autonomy and accountability to boys and girls, and also listen to what they have to say about their experience of the world. By empowering young advocates with information, and educating them about women’s rights, we can build a better future for all.
- Hold each other accountable
Violence can take many forms, including sexual harassment in the workplace and in public spaces.
Take a stand by calling it out when you see it: catcalling, inappropriate sexual comments and sexist jokes are never okay.
Create a safer environment for everyone by challenging your peers to reflect on their own behaviour and speaking up when someone crosses the line, or by enlisting the help of others if you don’t feel safe.
As always, listen to survivors and make sure they have the support they need.
- Know the data and demand more of it
To effectively combat gender-based violence, we need to understand the issue. Relevant data collection is key to implementing successful prevention measures and providing survivors with the right support. As gender-based violence has spiked during COVID-19, the gaps in gender sensitive data collection have become more glaring than ever. Call on your government to invest in the collection of data on gender-based violence.
To prevent and respond to sexual violence during and post COVID 19 the government of Ghana with support from donor agencies should conduct a rapid assessment of COVID19 on SGBV by collecting and disseminating critical data on those affected by the crisis, in accordance with safe and ethical standards to ensure the dignity, safety and respect of survivors.
Source: Dr. Miriam Rahinatu Iddrisu, Gender Specialist