Women’s rights in FranceWith the rise of women’s rights movements in recent years, French citizens have mobilized to address gender issues, especially the prevalence of femicide and domestic violence. France has made much progress in the realm of gender equality, including the establishment of policies and programs promoting women’s rights in France under the Macron administration. However, there is still much to be done to reach true equality and to end gender-based violence.

Violence Against Women

In France, femicides —  the killing of women by a relative or significant other — have been a significant reason for protest in recent years. La Fondation des Femmes, or the Women’s Foundation, is one protest group that has formed around the issue as it believes government efforts to curb the violence are not enough to keep citizens safe. In a recent article from the BBC, the Women’s Foundation criticized the lack of adequate gun policy as firearms are one of the most common weapons used in femicides.

Additionally, pandemic-induced lockdowns have forced many women to be confined in the same space as abusers, resulting in a 30% increase in domestic violence reports, according to France24. Due to its continued prevalence, gender violence is a central concern for activists advocating for women’s rights in France.

The #MeToo movement also gained traction in France in 2017 under the French name #BalanceTonPorc. Though there were no significant convictions or resignations of perpetrators of sexual violence at first, the rise in protests and social media movements greatly increased the visibility of victims in 2020.

Efforts to Combat Gender-Based Violence

President Emmanuel Macron’s emphasis on gender equality provided much hope for feminist voters during his 2017 presidential campaign. As part of his pledge to support women’s rights in France, Macron implemented protective policies for women and has established the position of Secretariat of Equality between Women and Men, a role currently held by Marlène Schiappa. Under Macron’s administration, France scored 75.1% in 2020 in terms of the Gender Equality Index, ranking third-best among all members of the EU.

In response to protests and the advocacy of groups such as the Women’s Foundation, the French government implemented several pieces of legislation addressing gender violence. According to the BBC, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe held a domestic violence conference in 2019, during which he pledged to increase the number of temporary shelters for victims, improve the procedures of domestic violence cases and contribute more than $6 million to the cause. French parliament added to these measures by approving a law permitting doctors to reveal the identity of a patient if domestic violence is putting the patient’s life at risk.

Women’s Rights Progress

There has been some improvement as between 2019 and 2020 the number of domestic murders of women decreased from 146 to 90, a historically low number that the government believes to be a result of the work of its policies and law enforcement.

Despite government efforts to decrease gender violence, many individuals are still concerned by the alarming numbers of femicides. Protest groups in France are creating street collages highlighting femicide and sexual harassment. Caroline De Haas, the founder of the feminist movement NousToutes, told the Guardian that “nearly 100 deaths is no reason to celebrate.”

There are several hopeful developments for gender equality in France. However, despite an explicit government commitment to equality, the government must take additional steps to conquer disparities in female employment and leadership, gender violence, harassment and wage gaps. The continued protests asserting an end to violence against women demonstrate the need for more policy and execution of legislation for women’s rights in France.

Sarah Stolar
Photo: pixabay

Gender Violence and Domestic Abuse in AfghanistanGender violence in Afghanistan has reached epidemic levels. Due to a healthcare system in a state of crisis, victims are unlikely to come forward, and even less likely to receive care for injuries sustained from long-term abuse. Thankfully, many organizations are working to address this problem in Afghanistan.

The Facts about Gender Violence in Afghanistan

Eighty-seven percent of women have experienced one form of gender violence in Afghanistan, and 62% have experienced all 3 forms: psychological, physical and sexual. Impoverished victims are more likely to remain silent because they lack the ability to speak to a healthcare professional. Plus, they are less likely to be taken seriously. Long-term physical abuse can lead to burns, disabilities, internal bleeding and gastrointestinal disorders, among other physical and mental health problems. Sexual violence also often leads to STDs and unwanted pregnancies.

An often overlooked form of gender violence in Afghanistan is child marriage, which is extremely prevalent despite the multiple laws in place to prevent it. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that one in five girls will be forced into a union by age 18, with 5% forced to marry by age 15. The biggest concern for forced child marriages is the chance of a high-risk pregnancy, which often puts the victim’s life at risk and hinders any possibility of growth or education. Child marriage is born of poverty because impoverished families will marry their daughters off in exchange for money, or the chance of the girls marrying someone financially stable enough to provide for them. This practice dehumanizes young girls and effectively denies them human rights.

Working Against Domestic Abuse

The World Health Organization, in a new healthcare protocol for gender-based violence, defines 22 forms of abuse and sets the standards of care for healthcare professionals. The report emphasizes the seriousness of gender-based violence. However, the lack of healthcare workers in Afghanistan limits its ability to respond to this problem. Healthcare professionals are the first witness for most victims, which means that they are extremely important in making sure that the victim doesn’t go home to an unsafe situation. Witnesses are also valuable to the prosecution of the offender.

The UNFPA has trained more than 2,500 new recruits in how to spot signs of violence and respond with sensitivity to victims in Afghanistan. Along with these recruits, the UNFPA trained 875 judges and 850 healthcare staff. The UNFPA has multiple Family Protection Centers with hundreds of trained counselors, whom they dispatch to hospitals and centers for emergency care. These new centers, which allow women and girls to make discreet reports, saw over 1,400 disclosures of violence in just one year after their foundation. This is a big step forward, since Afghanistan’s government did not formally make violence against women illegal until 2009.

The Future of Girls in Afghanistan

Violence against women in Afghanistan not only common but expected. In the current environment, it is up to the country’s health ministry and the public to take women seriously and give young girls a chance to thrive. However, solutions to domestic violence don’t just have to focus on the health care and justice systems. For example, by funding STEM and political programs for young girls, the Girls LEAD Act would give girls a chance to climb out of poverty and craft a future where violence does not belong. In addition to the work being done by the UNFPA and the WHO, this act shows the potential for international action to help reduce gender violence in Afghanistan.

Raven Heyne
Photo: Pixabay

domestic violence and covid-19

More than 50 female celebrities have pledged funds and support to actress Charlize Theron’s Together For Her Campaign. The campaign’s goal is to address additional cases of gender-based violence that could result from the lockdowns around the globe. When quarantine began, Charlize’s thoughts immediately turned to the people in her native South Africa. Theron had concerns regarding women and children experiencing domestic violence and how COVID-19 could potentially worsen conditions for these women and children.

Domestic Violence and COVID-19

According to the United Nations Population Fund, “Significant levels of lockdown-related disruption over 6 months could leave 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries unable to use modern contraceptives, leading to a projected 7 million additional unintended pregnancies. Six months of lockdowns could result in an additional 31 million cases of gender-based violence.” Although estimates, these numbers reveal the startling consequences that women could face.

There are two main ways the pandemic has led to increased domestic violence. The first is through the disruptions in services provided to prevent abuse and help those who have experienced it. The second is that the lockdowns are tying women down at home where their abusers are.

There have already been increases in abuse. In only the first two weeks of quarantine, calls to the National Hotline on Combating Domestic Violence increased by a reported 25%. Ghadeer Mohammed Ibrahim Qara Bulad, the director of the Women’s Development Project at the Islamic Charitable Association in Homs, Syria, has seen cases firsthand. While raising awareness for disease prevention, she witnessed husbands beating their wives, sometimes openly in front of their children.

Together for Her

Charlize’s organization, the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP), partnered with the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) and CARE to address increased domestic violence during COVID-19. Both were very supportive of the cause and Together For Her. So far, the CTAOP has donated $1 million to fighting the coronavirus, with $500,000 going to the Together For Her Campaign.

Funds from the Together For Her campaign are being distributed to “shelters, psychosocial support and counseling, helplines, crisis intervention, sexual and reproductive health services, community-based prevention and advocacy work to address gender-based violence,” said Charlize in an interview with Vogue.

The campaign has united women across the fields of film, entertainment, sports and more. Some figures that have pledged their support include Octavia Spencer, Amy Schumer, Lauren Conrad, Reese Witherspoon and Viola Davis. Many are survivors of abuse themselves. Viola Davis stated “I am a child survivor of domestic violence. It is the last of the acceptable abuses. It thrives on silence and metastasizes into lifelong trauma that can’t be quantified. The abused have been physically, emotionally and financially incapacitated as a result. They stay…. They are continually abused and, in a lot of cases, killed. Providing funds to give them the means to get out and the emotional support to know they are worthy is everything. They are worthy of better, of real love.”

In the midst of a chaotic pandemic, issues like domestic violence are often overshadowed. Fortunately, Charlize Theron’s Together For Her Campaign is working to ensure that victims of abuse can receive the help and protection they need.

– Alison Ding
Photo: Flickr

In the past few years, Kyrgyzstan youth have stepped up to address poverty reduction and promote the well-being of women and children in Kyrgyzstan. The U.N. has worked with Kyrgyzstan youth representatives to promote the Sustainable Development Goals and has partnered with youth who are passionate about using IT solutions to fight domestic violence. In addition, youth are raising awareness about human trafficking and investing in their own wellbeing in conjunction with local governments.

Youth Promoting SDGs

Between 2019 and 2020, the U.N. began an initiative allowing Kyrgyzstan youth to step up and spread awareness amongst their generation about implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs include things like “no poverty” and “zero hunger.” Through this program, 34 Kyrgyzstan youth have partnered with U.N. campaigns to advance the SDGs and show others what steps can be taken to achieve them. Each SDG is assigned to two youth representatives. Participants are passionate about the chosen SDG, as it often relates to the representative’s area of study in school or experiences growing up.

As Aibek Asanov, a youth representative for Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG 6) said, “I believe that youth can change the future. This is why I became the SDG Delegate.”

Youth Against Human Trafficking

Kyrgyzstan youth have also taken a stand against human trafficking. Through Kyrgyzstan’s 2017-2020 State Program against Trafficking in Persons, 80 youth ambassadors have represented 30 youth groups across Kyrgyzstan. These youth ambassadors work with local government and media groups, and gather for a yearly conference to discuss the goals and developments of the program. The program focuses on eliminating child marriage and forced marriage. It also provides access to resources for victims of human trafficking. In 2018, the program had positively influenced more than 600,000 people and utilized the work of 5,000 youth activists.

Youth Spearhead IT Campaign to Fight Domestic Violence

In 2020, the UNDP partnered with youth coders and designers to develop IT solutions that fight domestic violence against women and children. These solutions are especially needed for those trapped in quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In cooperation with the Spotlight Initiative, UNDP organized a two-day hackathon that addressed solutions in 4 areas:

  • Violence against women
  • Violence against children
  • Migrant children in difficult situations
  • Those with disabilities in difficult situations

Within two days, over 50 developers came up with 18 IT solutions to aid people in these four areas. Of these projects, the three winners created very different but useful solutions. One addressed recognizing domestic violence and connecting people to the necessary resources. Another focused on victims’ access to online psychologists. The third winner used fairy tales to track children’s mental health.

Youth Partnership with Local Governance

Since 2017, UNICEF has encouraged Kyrgyzstan youth to take initiative in advancing their own wellbeing by partnering with local governments. So far, the Youth and Child Friendly Local Governance (YCHFLG) program has reached 24 rural and 18 urban precincts to place importance on services for young people and ensure that local governments prioritize the needs of Kyrgyzstan youth. The program encourages the involvement of youth in decision-making and politics. Youth can share their insight and preferences, which are then taken into account by local governments when plans are put into place.

In just a few years, Kyrgyzstan youth have taken initiative. They have impacted poverty reduction by addressing the SDGs, raising awareness about human trafficking, using creativity and innovation to end domestic violence and becoming involved in the political process. Passionate, poverty-aware youth will continue to be instrumental to future progress in Kyrgyzstan.

– Anita Durairaj
Photo: Wikimedia

gender equality in el salvadorIn a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, El Salvador is cited as having one of the top rates of violence in the region, with a disproportionate amount of violence aimed at women and girls. Since many girls begin working at a young age, they are vulnerable to abuse and are often forced to leave school to provide for their families. However, in recent years, organizations such as the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos and the Salvadoran Institute for the Advancement of Women have established a presence in fighting for gender equality in El Salvador, particularly the freedom from violence and economic equality.

Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos

Established in 2008 in relation to the nonprofit organization Mary’s Pence, the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos works within the Salvadoran community to fight for gender equality, support women in pursuing financial independence and teach about sexual and reproductive rights. Now with over 300 members and 576 loans given to women in the community to begin their own small businesses, the organization boasts many successful women-owned businesses in agriculture, food service and the clothing industry.

In 2016, the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos held an assembly to share their growing knowledge of economic solidarity with other women. Along with members in El Salvador, women from Nicaragua and Honduras attended the event, creating a total of about 120 women. The event allowed attendees to discuss their business strategies with other women in similar business ventures and brainstorm ways to improve. By giving the women a space for discourse, the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos further empowered El Salvadoran women to connect with each other.

However, the women in El Salvador are still struggling with violence and freedom. Gangs threatened women who owned businesses, demanding money in exchange for leaving the women and their businesses alone. Teen pregnancy continues to run high, something this organization hopes to combat through open discussions about sexual and reproductive health. Through economic independence and transparent education, the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos is fighting for the rights of Salvadoran women.

Salvadoran Institute for the Advancement of Women

This agency was created to uphold the measures in the Domestic Violence Act and National Plan to Prevent and Deal with Domestic Violence, passed by the Salvadoran Secretariat of Social Inclusion in response to the high levels of domestic violence in the country. By recognizing domestic violence as a government issue, women suffering from violence in El Salvador were more likely to speak up and fight for their rights.

Like the Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos, the agency implements programs to encourage women’s education in business along with protecting those suffering from domestic violence. Although the government recognizes the gender disparity in business and economics, inherent sexism in communities challenges the progress of women in El Salvador. For example, the government can implement a program encouraging women into intellectual work, but the men working there have a preexisting bias of prioritizing and hiring men for such positions.

However, progress is being made. The Salvadoran Institute for the Advancement of Women recently provided over 100 hygiene kits of feminine products and clothes to women who were struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The mission of the agency is to support women in exercising their rights as citizens and bring the country closer to true gender equality; giving women the tools to be hygienic and safe is a start.

Seven in ten women in El Salvador are affected by some form of violence throughout their lives. The Concertación de Mujeres Suchitotos and the Salvadoran Institute for the Advancement of Women are taking a stand against domestic violence, arguing Salvadoran women have a right to live a violence-free life. Although slow, these organizations are seeing progress through their programs and fight tirelessly for gender equality in El Salvador.

– Kiyomi Kishaba
Photo: Wikimedia

Dilaasa Centre Remains a Resource During COVID-19

People all over the world have been in lockdown amidst the outbreak of COVID-19, and because of this, many things have changed. However, one thing that has received less publicity and protest is the rise in domestic violence against women. It is a basic human right to live in today’s world without experiencing physical or mental harm by those of the opposite sex, yet it is prevalent in today’s societies across the world, increasing even more during the battle against COVID-19. Thankfully, there are resources that women and girls can reach out to when they are feeling threatened, even during times of social distancing, such as the Dilaasia Centre. One of the places that have seen an increase in violence against women is India, a country with a population of over 1.3 billion people. The Borgen Project spoke with the Dilaasa Centre, a crisis center for women and girls experiencing gender-based and domestic violence, to find out more about just how COVID-19 is affecting India’s female population.

A Global Increase in Violence

According to an article in The New York Times, hotlines worldwide have seen an increase in domestic violence calls. Meanwhile, in the past 12 months, 243 million girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced sexual or physical violence.

According to the United Nations Populations Fund (UNPFA), one of the reasons behind the increase in global domestic violence includes the higher likelihood of violent acts when people are locked down in their homes with their spouses and family members. Another contributor is the reduced access to resources during lockdown that most victims of domestic violence can usually turn to, such as centers, hotlines or possibly even other places of refuge. Other reasons for the increase in domestic violence reports include stress, economic anxiety, the loss of people’s jobs, increased alcohol consumption and the lack of police response. According to NDTV, some Indian women have reached out to groups such as the National Commission for Women (NCW) who help fight gender inequality in India by offering help in domestic violence incidents.

According to a U.N. study, places that have seen the largest increase in domestic violence due to COVID-19 lockdowns include France (30% increase in domestic violence reports), Cyprus (30% increase in domestic violence hotline calls), Singapore (33% increase in domestic violence hotline calls), Argentina (25% increase in emergency calls based on domestic violence), Germany, Canada, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S.

The same study found that the COVID-19 pandemic will most likely result in a 75% reduction in the global progress to end gender-based violence. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally, 35% of women have experienced gender-based violence in their lives. The UNPFA study suggests that if the COVID-19 lockdown continues globally for another 6 months, the number of gender-based acts of violence could increase by 31 million.

India’s Gender-Based Violence

The women and girls living in India have experienced mistreatment for a very long time, partly because it is a patriarchal society and many laws are discriminatory against women. For example, The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act of 1956 says that the fathers of the family are the natural guardians of the children of the family.

Women also experience marital rape and find themselves victims of violent crimes. Every day in India, there are around 20 dowry deaths or situations in which husbands’ and in-laws’ continuous harassment over the dowry causes married women to suffer murder or forces them to commit suicide. Honor killings are also quite common, wherein the husband murders his wife because she brings some type of “shame” upon him. Between 2015-2018, India saw reports of 300 cases of honor killings alone. Other practices include molestation, torture and bride burning, all of which occur when the woman or girl is going to be a bride, but her family declines to pay a dowry, resulting in her murder. Meanwhile, according to an article, “31 percent of married women in India have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence by their spouses.”

Many consider males to be the preferred gender in India. Families often prefer having boys over girls because of the advantages they inherit from ideas that exist in society. This cycle continues the underrepresentation and lack of respect for women and girls in the country.

Since India’s lockdown on March 24, 2020, the number of domestic violence cases across India has increased. From March 23rd to April 16th alone, the NCW received 587 complaints of domestic violence or abuse. Thankfully, there are crisis centers that have remained open during the lockdown to help women and girls suffering from domestic violence.

India’s Dilaasa Centre

The Dilaasa Centre is a crisis-intervention center, established in 2000, located in the Municipal Secondary Hospitals in Mumbai, India. The first center emerged in the KB Bhabha Hospital in Bandra, Mumbai. The centers were a joint creation of the Public Health Department of Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and the Center for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT). In previous years, CEHAT worked towards four main goals to advocate for an end to violence against women and girls. The four goals are to help with women’s health and finances, health legislation and patient’s rights, women’s health and violence and health. Most focus on health because of the way violence impacts women’s health and well-being.

The Dilaasa Centre has two main objectives: to see that all women and children receive proper care during times of violence and to educate health professionals, such as doctors and nurses, to know the signs of domestic violence. The Centre told The Borgen Project that “The crisis center, in brief, provided psychological support, an emergency shelter in the hospital, police aide; legal intervention and of course medical and medicolegal support since 2000.” The other Municipal Secondary Hospitals with Dilaasa Centres are in Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Dehli, Kerala, Meghalaya and Gujarat.

According to the Dilaasa Centre, each of its facilities serves 250 to 300 women and children or girls between the ages of 6 and 80 every year, with some survivors of sexual violence being as young as 3-years-old. Most of the Dilaasa Centre’s patients are of low-or-middle income status. Some survivors who visit the Dilaasa Centre are married, separated or divorced. “Women approach Dilaasa with varied expectations,” the Dilaasa Centre said. “While most want the ‘violence to stop,’ the ‘husband to improve his behavior’ and to ‘live with husband peacefully,’ a significant number come to explore if they have any legal avenues to stop [the] violence.” Dilaasa said that when it comes to actual interventions, a very small number seek that kind of help, as well as only a few looking for shelter. The center also sees a large number of rape survivors since it connects to the hospital.

“As a hospital-based crisis intervention center, we play a crucial role in providing services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence,” the center said. In fact, statistics have proven that survivors of violence use health services more than those who do not experience domestic violence. According to WHO, women who experience domestic violence end up having more health issues than those who do not experience it.

Since COVID-19 began, there have been surges in domestic violence cases across the globe and in India. The workers and counselors the Dilaasa Centre are “essential,” just like the doctors and nurses in the hospital, and the counselors have begun doing virtual or audio calls to those suffering from domestic violence and are trapped at home. According to the center, many women no longer have access to phones or cell phones and are stuck in their homes with their abusers on a daily basis.

The center told The Borgen Project that “CEHAT strives to generate evidence on the role of [the] health sector and establishing services in a health setting for women.” The Dilaasa Centre hopes that in the future it can oversee the opening of more centers in hospitals when there is a need for educating others on gender-based violence in India.

The Good News

While women and girls in India are suffering from domestic violence during COVID-19 because of the country’s national lockdown, there are ways that Indian women and girls can still find help during these trying times. U.N. Women has written a domestic violence COVID-19 response, in which it outlines ways to reduce the impact the lockdown has had on women. It recommends that governments provide additional resources for women and girls in their response plans, governments make pre-existing resources even stronger for women and girls during the lockdown, police and government workers receive education about the facts regarding the rise in domestic violence cases during COVID-19, women and girls be the focus when looking at solutions to the pandemic and that government collect the correct types of data to ensure safer and better outcomes for females in future pandemics. The NCW has also developed its own domestic abuse/violence hotline number for WhatsApp, an app that allows people to make calls and text internationally. There are also crisis centers, like the Dilaasa Centre, that remain open during the lockdowns.

Gender-based violence has been occurring in many countries for generations, and unfortunately, patriarchal societies remain the same today. COVID-19 has presented a special set of circumstances where all families must remain at home together, which also presents a rare opportunity for people around the world to become more educated and aware of the prevalence of gender-based violence in our cultures. While the world waits for the day when women and men receive equal treatment and for women to no longer be in harm’s way, there are resources like the Dilaasa Centre that create a safe place of confidentiality, hope and refuge for women and girls suffering from domestic violence.

Marlee Septak
Photo: Flickr