No Rest for the Weary – Women Declare War on Gender Violence
Women from a dozen countries convened in New York last week to share their struggles to implement state legislation and empower women at the grassroots level to put an end to gender- based violence (GBV) worldwide.
Hosted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Nov. 4-5 high-level consultation entitled 'Delivering as One on Violence Against Women: From Intent to Action' addressed the triumphs and tribulations of the Inter-Agency Task Force's pilot programme on GBV.
Since Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched 'UNiTE to End Violence Against Women' in 2006, various U.N. agencies, civil society organisations and national coalitions have taken up the struggle, with renewed vigour.
The pilot programme, launched in Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Jamaica, Paraguay, Chile, Fiji, Jordan, Yemen, Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines, was based on the supposition that greater cohesion across regions and between organisations was needed to yield the greatest benefits for women's security. The pilot sought to connect multiple stakeholders through joint programming in the 10 countries.
"This all comes down to a question of empowerment," Aminata Toure, Chief of Gender, Culture and Human Rights at the UNFPA, told IPS. "We have to first turn victims into survivors and then into activists and advocates."
"You have to put the issue of VAW [violence against women] within the context of women's low status in the world," Toure added, "and of women being treated like disposable commodities. To challenge that perception, you have to challenge the very foundation of patriarchy."
According to Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary General on Gender Issues, "The joint programme allows stakeholders to jointly assess progress and decide what has worked and what has not."
"They allow multi-sectoral approaches to addressing issues that are often dealt with by a single entity," she explained.
Virtually every participant echoed this sentiment and expressed dissatisfaction with the bureaucratic nature of competing U.N. agencies that often replicate each other's work and fail to pool their efforts effectively.
The two-day consultation covered a lot of ground, touching on everything from Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) to the engagement of men and boys in ending GBV, and ended with several positive conclusions.
Representatives from each of the pilot countries discussed experiences across a range of regional, religious and cultural realms, highlighting the successes of the programme.
In Rwanda, this initiative led to the creation of the 'Isange One-Stop Center' based at the Police Hospital in Kigali, a shelter-cum-rehabilitation center for abused, battered women.
In Paraguay, several leaps were taken towards bringing issues of GBV and VAW into the mainstream, including a manual for journalists, round-table discussions at the national level on trafficking of women and children, and workshops for media personnel involved in TV and radio programming.
In Jamaica, an after-school programme focused on educating young men on the importance of working in solidarity with women towards ending violence. Boys came up with slogans like "Abusers are losers" and "Don't fight it out, talk it out."
This is a tremendous step for youth in a country that is saturated in the culture of 'dance hall' music, which posits women as sex objects and binds male identity to images of aggression, violence and masculinity.
Tom Minerson, executive director of the Toronto-based White Ribbon campaign, referred to the "disadvantages of the advantages of being a man." According to Minerson, educating young men on the harmful effects of the system of male power and privilege can transform gender identities and generate compassion and an enlightened sense of self for men.
But despite a few victories dotting the battlefield on which women wage a daily struggle for respect, equality and survival, the overall picture is still extremely grim.
Every single country reported a host of barriers to broader implementation of the pilot programme, including consistent lack of funds, disorganisation within U.N. agencies, cultural and governmental blockades - particularly in Asia, Africa and the Middle East - and low awareness on a national level.
Pamela Averion, the national programme officer for UNFPA in the Philippines, discussed the disconnect between legislation and reality on the ground. Although the Gender Development Index in the Philippines for 2010 was 99.6 percent of the Human Development Index, 90 percent of reported pregnancies were unwanted and ended in abortion.
And although the Philippines ranks 59th out of 108 countries on the gender empowerment measure, men dominate 90 percent of all political positions in the country.
The Philippines emerged 9th out of 134 countries in a study on the global gender gap, but one out of every five women experienced gender-related domestic violence and almost half of those women believed that husbands were justified in abusing their wives. These are only a few of countless disheartening yet unavoidable statistics. In Yemen, for example, a marriage bill was passed in 2008 making it illegal for girls under the age of 18 to be married. Imams across the country quickly collected over five million signatures of citizens opposed to such a constitutional change and the bill was quickly overturned.
Despite ongoing efforts by activists and ordinary women around the world, the road towards women's equality looms interminably ahead. Women, and their male allies all over the world, are weary from the march, but cannot afford to drag their feet.
"We can see the trends reversing," Toure told IPS, "but it is happening too slowly, much too slowly."
Minerson summed up the struggle by harking back to Martin Luther King's words on the "urgency of now."
"Women are dying now," he stressed, "and it is now that we must work to change that."