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Domestic Abuse in South AfricaThis fall, Microsoft and other NGOs will host a hackathon aiming to create solutions for women and children facing domestic abuse in South Africa. The announcement came out during Women’s Month, with the hope to spread awareness about issues surrounding women in South Africa. South Africa has always had an alarming presence of domestic violence, and the coronavirus quarantine has increased abuse reports. Microsoft’s hackathon, however, might produce an app that has the capability to save countless women and children in South Africa from violent households.

Statistics about Domestic Abuse in South Africa

South Africa has the “highest statistics of gender-based violence in the world, including rape and domestic violence.” Domestic violence incidents were scarcely reported before the last three decades because it was considered a private affair to be sorted out among households. However, available data affirms the severity of domestic abuse in South Africa. A 1998 study by the South African Medical Council revealed that 50% out of almost 1,400 men “physically abused their female partners at their homes.”

The World Health Organization found that “60,000 women and children were victims of domestic abuse in South Africa” in 2012. On average, women in South Africa who face abuse are usually unemployed and have an almost non-existent educational background. Moreover, the same study found that the women who were victims of violent relationships were usually from rural areas. The latter piece of information is important because most help-centers or other valuable resources for abuse victims in South Africa are located in urban areas. With Microsoft’s new app, the goal is to disseminate the necessary resources and information regarding abuse to those victims who live outside of South African cities.

Domestic Abuse: The Second Pandemic

As the coronavirus runs rampant across the globe, South Africa faces a second pandemic: a massive increase in domestic violence. Following the country’s lockdown procedure in March, South Africa’s national helpline for victims doubled its usual volume, putting the number of calls from afflicted women and children over 120,000. With fewer places to seek refuge during the lockdown, women and children facing domestic violence are trapped at home. The Jones Safe House is a non-profit shelter group for abuse victims in South Africa. It has been overwhelmed by the increase in abuse cases. Every day they try to make room for another victim who managed to escape from his or her violent residence.

Microsoft’s Hackathon Against Domestic Violence

Microsoft’s [email protected] hackathon will run from September 22 to October 19. The objective is to create apps that help those who are in abusive relationships or face any form of gender-based violence. The organization will account for South Africa’s gender-based digital divide, which leaves many women with less access to certain technologies. Namely, the hackathon has a list of considerations that developers need to keep in mind:

  • “Many of those facing gender-based violence are using 3rd or 4th generation phones that are obsolete
  • Users may not have access to applications like Whatsapp or other one-touch SOS tools or applications
  • Data is expensive and not always readily available – especially in emergency situations
  • Regular load shedding means that cell towers are not always operational
  • Many women in South Africa have limited or no airtime to make calls or send SMSs
  • Many women and children do not have access to transport to find a place of safety”

Also, Microsoft has outlined some possible directions app developers can take, which include assistance, empowerment and recovery. At the end of the hackathon, the top three teams of developers will win monetary prizes. Additionally, Microsoft will grant the first-place team a contract in order to collaborate for the app’s further development.

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the plight of South African abuse victims, but people have not given up hope. Those facing domestic abuse in South Africa have allies who will be working tirelessly toward virtual solutions. And by the end of the year, one might find an app online that can save thousands of lives. Microsoft’s initiative to develop an app-based solution to domestic violence is a step in the right direction, and their actions will hopefully spur other corporations to get involved.

Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in AfricaOn a world map of the distribution of COVID-19 cases, the situation looks pretty optimistic for Africa. While parts of Europe, Asia and the United States are shaded by dark colors that implicate a higher infection rate, most African countries appear faint. This has created uncertainty over whether or not the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is as severe as other continents.

Lack of Testing

A closer look at the areas wearing light shades reveals that their situation is just as obscure as the faded shades that color them. Dark spots indicate more infections in places like the U.S. However, in Africa these are usually just cities and urban locations, often the only places where testing is available.

Although insufficient testing has been a problem for countries all over the world, testing numbers are much lower in Africa. The U.S carries out 205 per 100,000 people a day. Nigeria, the most populous country, carries one test per 100,000 people every day. While 8.87% of tests come back positive in the U.S, 15.69% are positive in Nigeria (as of Aug. 4, 2020). Nigeria was one of 10 countries that carried out 80% of the total number of tests in Africa.

As a continent that accounts for 1.2 billion of the world’s population, the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is even more difficult to measure without additional testing. To improve this, the African CDC has set a goal of increasing testing by 1% per month. Realizing the impossibility of reliable testing, countries like Uganda have managed to slow the spread by imposing strict lockdown measures. As a result, the percentage of positive cases in Uganda was only 0.82% (as of Aug. 4, 2020).

A Resistant Population

COVID-19 in Africa has had a lower fatality rate than any other continent. Fatality rates may even be lower than reported. Immunologists in Malawi found that 12% of asymptomatic healthcare workers were infected by the virus at some point. The researchers compared their data with other countries and estimated that death rates were eight times lower than expected.

The most likely reason for the low fatality rate is the young population. Only 3% of Africans are above 65 compared with 6% in South Asia and 17% in Europe. Researchers are investigating other explanations such as the possible immunity to variations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as higher vitamin D in Africans with more sunlight exposure.

Weak Healthcare Systems

Despite these factors, the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is likely high. Under-reporting and under-equipped hospitals contribute to unreliable figures. Most hospitals are not prepared to handle a surge in cases. In South Sudan, there were only four ventilators and 24 ICU beds for a population of 12 million. Accounting for 23% of the world’s diseases and only 1% of global public health expenditure, Africa’s healthcare system was already strained.

Healthcare workers have the most risk of infection in every country. In Africa, the shortage of masks, equipment and capacity increases the infection rate further amongst healthcare workers. Africa also has the lowest physician to patient ratios in the world. As it can take weeks to recover from COVID-19, the recovery of healthcare workers means less are available to work.

Additionally, those that are at-risk and uninsured can rarely afford life-saving treatment in Africa. For example, a drug called remdesivir showed promising results in treating COVID-19. However, the cost of treatment with remdesivir is $3,120 – an unmanageable price for the majority of Africans. These factors will determine the severity of COVID-19 in Africa.

Economic and Psychological Factors

Strict lockdowns have helped some nations in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Africa but at a very great price.

Lack of technology often means that all students stop learning and many lose their jobs. More than three million South Africans have become unemployed due to the lockdown. The lockdowns have also resulted in much higher rates of domestic violence, abuse and child marriage. Many such cases go unreported and mental health services for victims or those struggling through the pandemic are unavailable. In Kenya, the U.N. has appealed for $4 million to support those affected by gender-based violence.

The slow spread of COVID-19 in Africa has allowed the continent and leaders to prepare, and the young population will lessen the impact. Although there’s reason to be hopeful, there’s no doubt that there will be an impact on Africa’s economy and future. This calls for the need of foreign assistance – not only in controlling COVID-19 in Africa but in the recovery of the continent for years to come.

Beti Sharew
Photo: Flickr

Kenya In the current climate of American culture, one has most likely heard or participated in a discussion about consent; but, in many nations and cultures, having a conversation about sexual consent can be quite foreign.

Global Conversations on Consent

Rape and sexual assault are pervasive parts of all societies. Currently, about 120 million girls worldwide, or roughly 1 in 10 of the women on Earth, have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts in their lives.

Contrary to many popular beliefs which imagine the perpetrators of these crimes to be strangers, it is most common that the person who commits sexual violence against girls and women are current or former boyfriends, partners or husbands.

Often women who suffer sexual violence at the hands of intimate partners do not consider these acts to be crimes. It can simply be seen as innate to such partnerships due to the cultural normalization of sexual violence. In 37 countries, perpetrators of rape are exempt from prosecution if they are married or subsequently marry their victim.

Ending the Silence

The historical power inequity between men and women has shown long-standing connections to sex. Interpersonal violence against a weaker partner is widespread and systematic, but sexual violence is rarely discussed within professional or familial relationships. Such silence occurs due to shame from the social stigmas attached to victims and widespread inexperience in conversing on such difficult and painful topics.

Global conversations on consent are amazing ways to lift the burden on survivors and victims of sexual assault and rape. In many countries with available data, less than 40 percent of women who experience physical or sexual violence seek help.

Education and Support

In so many instances, victims internalize these assaults through culturally induced practices of self-blame. Opening platforms where survivors have room to share their narratives is a paramount aspect in the struggle to end violence against women.   

An incredible example in the fight to begin global conversations on consent can be found in the education programs provided by the non-profit, No Means No Worldwide in Kenya and Malawi.

No Means No

No Means No Worldwide is training instructors in high-risk environments to teach a rape prevention curriculum to girls and boys aged 10-20 in both schools and clubs.

Education has major links to the perpetration and susceptibility to violence in both men and women. No Means No Worldwide’s curriculum empowers both girls and boys to create cultures of mutual respect. Girls are taught to identify risk and that they have the choice to say “no.”

If that “no” is not respected, girls and women can also learn physical skills to defend themselves. Boys learn to challenge their perceptions by questioning rape myths. Boys are also taught to ask for consent and to intervene if they expect or witness predatory behavior.

The Right Direction

The results of these programs are astounding. In the areas where their curriculums have been implemented, No Means No Worldwide has seen a 51 percent decrease in the incidence of rape and a 46 percent decrease in pregnancy-related school dropouts.

Fifty percent of girls stopped a rapist within the first year after training, and there was a 73 percent success rate of boys who intervened to prevent an assault.

Speaking Up

Poverty and sexual assault are experiences that are inextricably intertwined; the existence of each fuel the other and back again. People living in poverty and lacking in economic power and resources are at greater risk for sexual violence. In a world where women continue to be economically dependent, less educated and poorer than men, their sexual dignity and human rights are eternally at risk.

Rape is preventable, but first, we need to admit that sexual assault is happening. Global conversations on consent are one step in the road to ending violence against women — so start talking.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow
Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality in Pakistan
Throughout the years, U.S. organizations and agencies have worked in cooperation with the government of Pakistan and other development partners to establish gender equality in Pakistan. These efforts work to ensure Pakistani women feel empowered to pursue opportunities just as brazenly as their male counterparts.

History: Relations Between Pakistan and the United States

Since Pakistan gained independence in 1947, the United States has provided considerable support in the overall development of the country. The U.S. was one of the first nations to recognize Pakistan as an independent nation.

For more than 60 years, Pakistan and the U.S. have forged a strong, cooperative relationship that has proven to benefit the people of both countries.

Achieving Gender Equality in Pakistan

In recent years, there have been important advancements in gender equality in Pakistan. Today, Pakistani women are more likely to participate in the labor force and access health and educational services than their mothers and grandmothers would have. Pakistan also has a relatively strong women’s political representation —  about a fifth of parliamentary seats held by women.

However, there is still significant progress to be made if Pakistani women are to be full partners in the development of Pakistan. Women comprise more than half of Pakistan’s population and yet only 22.7 percent are part of the labor force. Even those who are part of the labor force belong largely to the informal sector, receiving little pay and few legal protections.

Also, while Pakistan enjoys a high gross enrollment rate of 89 percent of girls in primary schools, that rate drops to about 41 percent of girls who are enrolled in secondary schools.

Female Empowerment

The empowerment of women and girls is a critical aspect of any prosperous, democratic society. Female empowerment in Pakistan will not only safeguard human rights but also further international peace and security while establishing a growing, vibrant market economy.

Through the efforts of a combination of many organizations such as the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pakistan is even closer to achieving gender equality.

USAID: The Gender Equality Program (GEP)

The Gender Equality Program (GEP) actively works to diminish the gender gap in Pakistan by supporting women’s economic, political, and social advancement. The program helps women become full and active members of their own society by providing access to information, resources and public services.

The GEP also works to change the derogatory societal attitudes towards women in Pakistan. This program educates women about their fundamental rights at home, at work and in society.

A staggering 32 percent of all Pakistani women have experienced physical violence; 40 percent of married Pakistani women have experienced spousal abuse. Even more concerning, one in two Pakistani women who have experienced physical abuse never sought help.

Through the support of the GEP, local activities are conducted to expand women’s knowledge of and ability to exercise their rights and obtain justice. The GEP helps women’s shelters provide legal aid, counseling and vocational skills that connect women to potential employers.

Empowering Girls Through Education

USAID also has programs such as the Sindh Basic Education Program and the Improving Education Quality Project to ensure more girls have the opportunity to pursue an education. These programs mobilize communities to increase girls’ school enrollment rates and train more female teachers, which encourages Pakistani families to send their girls to school.

USAID also provides scholarships to women pursuing higher education through the Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship program (MNSBP) and the Fulbright Program. MNSBP gifts university scholarships to academically talented, economically disadvantaged Pakistani students.

Major Accomplishments in Gender Equality in Pakistan

Pakistani women have experienced major improvements in regards to gender equality. The USAID has provided shelter, legal, health and economic support to nearly 40,000 victims of gender-based violence while also committing $70 million to help educate and empower over 200,000 adolescent Pakistani girls.

Although, societal beliefs of traditional gender roles may be difficult to break, raising awareness about women’s rights and supporting pro-women laws is a significant step towards achieving gender equality in Pakistan.

– Lolontika Hoque
Photo: Flickr

International Violence Against Women Act

On Feb. 15, 2018, Representative Janice Schakowsky of Illinois introduced the International Violence Against Women Act of 2018 to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The overarching goal of the bill is to stop violence against women, with a focus on women in other countries, particularly those who live in poverty.

Why the Bill is Necessary

The bill provides several alarming statistics to show that poverty and violence against women are closely intertwined, such as the fact that one out of three women around the world will face violence and abuse in her lifetime. Also, around 70 percent of women in other countries have said they have personally experienced gender-based violence in their life.

Violence, particularly sexual abuse toward adolescents and pre-adolescents, is significantly prevalent. Surveys in Swaziland, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Haiti showed that, on average, 28 to 38 percent of young girls and 9 to 18 percent of young boys said they had experienced sexual abuse before they were 18 years of age. Forced marriage of child brides is expected to occur to around 140,000,000 girls between 2011 and 2020. Furthermore, female genital mutilation/cutting has affected around 125,000,000 young girls and women alive today.

The Connection Between Violence and Poverty

However, these distressing statistics do not demonstrate the connection that exists between these forms of violence and poverty. The International Violence Against Women Act further notes that violence against women generally prevents women from engaging in their communities socially, economically and politically.

To be clear, the bill states that economies are affected because, around the world, women are often stuck working low-paying, insecure jobs where they are unable to have basic workers’ rights such as safe reporting systems, access to justice and legal and medical services. The subsequent lack of these rights and resources forces women in poverty to use dangerous methods in order to provide for themselves and their families, which often leads to them experiencing violence and abuse.

Furthermore, violence impacts a woman’s ability to work efficiently and be productive in the workplace and at home, which can hinder food production. As a result, this decreases food security and has the potential risk of subjecting women to more violence. The International Violence Against Women Act noted that research in India, Colombia, South Africa and Uganda found that women who have greater economic power and more control over economic assets are less likely to experience violence.

Strategies of the Bill

The bill aims to end violence against women in multiple ways. First, the bill will work through the continued implementation and monitoring of the United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. This strategy was originally passed into law by President Obama in 2012 and was last updated in 2016. The strategy works in three ways:

  1. Prevention of gender-based violence through working closely with a country’s local organizations and civil society, which includes educating men about violence toward women.
  2. Protection for victims of violence by providing related services.
  3. Accountability to create justice for victims and improving legal and judicial systems so that aggressors face consequences for their crimes.

The second strategy described in the International Violence Against Women Act is adding amendments to The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, a law that affirms the U.S.’s goal of helping developing countries achieve security and stable economies. The bill adds amendments that specifically include gender-based violence into the law.

Lastly, the bill seeks the creation of the Office of Global Women’s Issues, to be added as a subset to the existing Secretary of State’s office in the Department of State. The role of the Office of Global Women’s Issues will be to generally promote gender equality and ensure that the status of women and girls around the world remains included in U.S. foreign policy.

– Jennifer Jones

Photo: Google

women's empowerment in equatorial guineaLow rates in the labor force, poverty, discrimination and gender-based violence are just some of the adversities that women living in the Central African nation of Equatorial Guinea still face today. However, in the last five years, the government recognized some of these issues and agreed to develop new plans for women’s empowerment in Equatorial Guinea.

Employment

In 2015, the Equatorial Guinean government recognized the low rate of participation of women in the labor force. A report published by the U.N. in 2014 showed how vulnerable employment rates continue to be higher for women than for men. In a vulnerable working environment, women might suffer low incomes, fundamental rights violations and inadequate working conditions.

In 2013, 82 percent of the female working-age population was part of the country’s labor force, compared to 94 percent of the male working-age population. Today, women represent only around 45 percent of the total labor force, and their income is lower than men’s.

Access to Education

Gender plays a role in disparity in school attendance. According to the U.N. Millennium Development Goals report, girls are more likely to be excluded from education than boys and it is more common for girls to drop out of school among poor households. Despite free education, the ratio of school attendees is 92.1 percent for men and 76.4 percent for women.

Women’s empowerment in Equatorial Guinea was also threatened in 2016, when the Ministry of Education issued a ministerial order according to which girl pupils must submit a pregnancy test result prior to enrollment. Pregnant schoolgirls are not admitted by school authorities, forcing teens to seek abortions in many cases.

Gender-Based Violence

Instances of gender-based violence among women in Equatorial Guinea are very high. This includes domestic violence and sexual assaults. In 2011, 63 percent of women 15 and older had suffered some form of violence, with 32 percent being victims of sexual assault. The cultural acceptance of gender-based violence lowers the number of victim reports and legal prosecutions.

Rape is illegal and punishable by 12 to 20 years of imprisonment, but the law does not address spousal rape. Furthermore, in most cases, authorities fail to prosecute the guilty party. According to the U.S. Department of State, police and the judicial system in Equatorial Guinea are more likely to treat domestic violence as a private matter to be resolved in the home.

The Good News

Fortunately, positive steps have been taken for women’s empowerment in Equatorial Guinea. In 2015, the government recognized that, in the past, access to education and some specific careers were “traditionally man dominant,” and it committed to creating better educational and employment opportunities for women. Different projects have also been initiated by cooperation agencies, civil societies and women’s organizations in response to gender-based inequality.

In May 2016, the World Bank Group, in partnership with the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, invested $3.5 million to be spent over five years in different African continents. The investment is for projects which aim to prevent and respond to violence against women. Campaigns and mass demonstrations have also been created in Equatorial Guinea to address gender inequality.

Raising awareness and educating women about their own rights is the first step to obtain women’s empowerment in Equatorial Guinea. It is immensely important that the country’s government and other organizations continue the fight to end women’s inequality.

– Greta Ruffino

Photo: Flickr

Women’s Empowerment in South SudanOver the past several decades, South Sudan has experienced severe political division, violence and unbearable poverty. Millions of people have been forced to flee their homes to neighboring countries for asylum. The violence has been targeted at men, women, children, the disabled and the elderly. However, women and young girls are considered a particularly vulnerable population for violence, specifically physical and sexual violence. This sometimes includes forced marriages. In spite of the vulnerability and risk, women’s empowerment in South Sudan is growing. Here are some things to know about the empowerment of women in South Sudan.

Current Situation

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), approximately 475,000 women and girls are at risk for physical and sexual violence. Most recent estimates indicate that more than half of young women between the ages of 15-24 have experienced some form of gender-based violence. The violence women are experiencing in South Sudan is of serious concern and importance because it deeply impacts women’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health, and may also place them at an increased risk for contracting diseases, such as the incurable HIV.

Forced marriages are a frequent practice in South Sudan. Almost 50 percent of South Sudanese girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are married, and some are as young as 12. Forced marriages have severe psychological implications for girls and women, but experts also argue that it contributes to the high levels of poverty, gender gaps in education and the country having one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.

The perpetual gender-based violence and forced marriage create serious physical and mental health concerns, limits their potential for progress and improvement and strips them of their basic human rights.

What is being done?

The United Nations Development Programme currently works to empower women in South Sudan through education and awareness. Awareness is one of the fundamental aspects of their work in South Sudan, as fear and stigma frequently prevent women from seeking the help they need. The program also provides additional support to women who have already experienced severe violence through counseling services and medical assistance.

The UNDP is also working with the government to encourage women’s empowerment in South Sudan. The government is working to address gender-based violence through mental health support programs and through national planning. South Sudan is in the process of developing a new permanent constitution and building new institutions that reflect the country’s movement towards gender equality and the empowerment of women.

What can be done?

Currently, South Sudan lacks severe governmental infrastructure, and overall the country has some of the worst human development indicators across the globe.  Many programs related to women’s empowerment in South Sudan are underfunded as gender-based violence is not considered to be a priority for government spending, due to the country’s high rate of poverty.

However, poverty and gender-based violence go hand-in-hand. If fewer women are subjected to violence and forced marriages, more women would then have the ability to work and find jobs; in turn, lifting individuals, and possibly families, out of poverty. Women’s empowerment in South Sudan needs additional awareness, coupled with increased funding in order to provide women with the best future possible.

– Sarah Jane Fraser

Photo: Flickr

Women-Only Villages of Kenya Defy Patriarchal Laws
In some countries, structural change fights systemic oppression. Historically disenfranchised groups will organize and work their way through the existing power structure in order to undermine the ruling class.

The women-only villages in the foothills of Kenya have a different approach. In order to fight the patriarchal laws of the Samburu region, they’ve formed gender-exclusive villages where their peers support the women and provide resources to raise their children without husbands or other family members.

Umoja, which means “unity” in Swahili, is the most prominent of the women-only villages in the southeastern region of Kenya. It is home to about 50 permanent residents who support themselves by opening up their village to tourists and selling handmade jewelry.

Chairlady Rebecca Lolosoli established Umoja 25 years ago with 15 other women. They had all experienced rape and abuse by British soldiers and felt unsupported by their communities. In Samburu tradition, women are considered men’s property and therefore not legally protected in cases of rape and abuse. A group of men brutally beat Lolosoli for speaking out against the patriarchal standards of Samburu culture; she was recovering in the hospital when she got the idea for Umoja.

Today, the women of Umoja share in the day-to-day responsibilities of maintaining the village and protecting it from angry neighbors. They build homes, operate a school for their children, conduct jewelry sales and sleep in shifts in case men from nearby villages come to claim their wives. Many of the current residents consider themselves refugees, coming to Umoja after escaping abusive marriages.

Another reason women come to Umoja is to escape the culturally-ingrained practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Historically, FGM is used as a mechanism to disempower women and enforce strict patriarchy.

Once “circumcised,” girls as young as eight can be given away to older men. Despite its reputation in traditional cultures for being safe and healthy, FGM frequently results in long-term health consequences, like urinary problems, menstrual problems, life-threatening infections and psychological trauma. The World Health Organization considers FGM a human rights violation and strongly advises against its practice worldwide.

Umoja provides a type of mobility that women of the Samburu tribe don’t have in a traditional setting. The opportunity to earn and save her own money liberates a woman from relying on her husband or family.

On top of that, living in Umoja allows women to raise their daughters beyond the confines of traditional Samburu culture, protecting them from FGM and forced early marriage. For single women who don’t wish to marry or have children, Umoja offers a safe environment in which they can work and live.

There are several other women-only villages in Kenya, including Nachimi and Supalake. In contrast to Umoja, men in Nachimi are allowed in the community, but they must respect the women’s authority.

In Supalake, gender rules still exist, but reversed; men complete chores like house maintenance and water retrieval, while women make the laws and conduct business. Each village serves as a place of refuge for women who have faced oppression or victimization of harsh Samburu traditions.

The women-only villages of Kenya are important to understanding the obstacles women face in traditional tribal cultures. Seeing how women live beyond the confines of patriarchal laws can help people understand the kind of institutional changes needed for gender equality. Places like Umoja, Nachimi and Supalake show us that economic independence is a requisite for social mobility.

Jessica Levitan

Photo: Flickr

Gender-Based Violence in BrazilAccording to the U.N., gender-based violence in Brazil is a major issue. A woman in São Paulo is assaulted every 15 seconds. A group of girls from Maranhão, Brazil hopes to change that. The girls are participating in Plan International’s Girl Leadership Project. Part of the initiative entails getting involved in local government and petitioning congresspeople for change. Eighteen-year-old participant Luanna Natalia spoke her mind on the issue of gender-based violence and discrimination.

“No woman or girl deserves to suffer violence or prejudice just because they’re female,” Natalia said. “We can only achieve equality if we work together to build a better world and a better society in Brazil.”

Gender-based violence is not just a problem in Brazil. It affects women worldwide. According to the U.N., as many as 76% of women are targeted for physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes. This pandemic undermines the safety, stability and security of all women, not just those personally affected. It also presents a serious issue in terms of global poverty. Women generally make up half a country’s potential workforce. Gender-based violence can:

  • Prevent women from working due to illness, injury or fear;
  • Increase lost wages, as well as health care, police and legal expenditures;
  • Limit women’s access to reproductive health care and family planning, making work difficult after pregnancy;
  • Increase the likelihood of miscarriages, stillbirths or abortions;
  • Force women to have more children than they’d like (these children may also experience a lower quality of life, putting more strain on a developing country’s already sparse resources).

In order to more actively fight gender-based violence, the U.N. proposed a Millennium Development Goal to promote gender equality and empower women by 2015. In 2015, the U.N. reiterated this sentiment in its Sustainable Development Goals, reflecting the work that still needs to be done by 2030.

Plan International’s Girl Leadership Project represents a promising step toward ending gender-based violence in Brazil and elsewhere. By raising awareness and empowering girls to advocate on behalf of themselves and other women, Plan International and other organizations are working to convince world leaders that the problem of gender-based violence deserves more attention. In the words of Natalia, “If we stand together, it proves we are not in this fight alone.”

Sabrina Santos

Photo: Flickr

violence against women
In 1999, the UN General Assembly declared 25 November as International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women. The designation invited governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations to “organize activities designated to raise public awareness.”

On Monday, November 25, 2013, leaders around the world urged a re-commitment for ending violence against women and girls. This year’s theme focused on wearing orange to raise awareness. The ceremony involved commending leaders for their efforts to enact and enforce laws to ultimately help victims of gender-based violence.

One may wonder what kind of violence the day calls for. The gender-based violence takes many forms including physical, psychological, economical, and sexual. UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri described gender-based violence as “a gross human rights violation,” and a “pandemic.” Additionally, Puri points out how it is less safe for women to be in conflict or post-conflict times, than be a soldier, because rape is being used as a war tool. Finally, Puri explains the most common place for a woman to be raped is at home, and often under the veil of a cultural ritual.

A recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO) reported one in every three women have experienced violence—physical or sexual—from her partner in her lifetime. This shows this is not a regional problem, but a problem women from all over the world are facing. UNAIDS Director of Rights, gender, Prevention and Mobilization, Dr. Mariangela Simao says, “Lots of gender-based violence is sexually related. There is a lot of data right now showing that most of violence against women happens in the context of intimate partner violence—domestic violence. And many times it takes the face of non-consensual sex, which is a polite way to say rape.”

Closely related to sexual violence comes the forced infection of HIV/AIDS. According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, 50 young women are infected with HIV every hour. More than 603 million women live in nations where rape and domestic violence are not legally considered crimes. These facts can be hard to believe, and this is why the UN is calling for action.

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator said, “This is not acceptable: better laws and their enforcement are needed.” The Day also called for education in school that teaches human rights and mutual respect among all people regardless of gender. Leaders urged prevention must address gender inequality as the cause of the violence.

Looking toward ways to end the violence, officials agree empowering women, educating women about their rights will assist in the progress to ending violence. Furthermore, discussion of ending violence against women and girls must include men playing a role to solve the problem as well.

– Laura Reinacher

Sources: The Guardian, All Africa, UN, Voice of America