We can only fight violence with deep-rooted and sustained efforts  

20May 2021
The Guardian
We can only fight violence with deep-rooted and sustained efforts  

The United Nations defines violence against women as ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or-

-in private life. ’Population-level surveys based on reports from survivors provide the most accurate estimates of the prevalence of intimate partner violence and sexual violence.    

Intimate partner violence refers to behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours.  Whereas sexual violence is ‘any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It includes rape, defined as the physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus with a penis, other body part or object, attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching and other non-contact forms.’

The report, conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UN partners, found that domestic violence started young, with a quarter of 15- to 19-year-old girls and young women estimated to have been abused at least once in their lives.  

When figures for non-partner violence are included, the WHO estimates that about a third of women aged 15 or older – between 736 million and 852 million – will experience some form of sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. The study analysed data on non-intimate – defined as perpetrated by a stranger or someone the victim knows – and intimate partner violence covering 161 countries, published between 2000 and 2018.  

The WHO report focused on physical and sexual violence, but noted that actual rates would be far higher if other types of abuse were included, such as online violence and sexual harassment. Levels of violence were higher in low- and middle-income countries.      

But unlike Covid-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine. We can only fight it with deep-rooted and sustained efforts – by governments, communities and individuals – to change harmful attitudes, improve access to opportunities and services for women and girls, and foster healthy and mutually respectful relationships.”

Comprehensive sex education and lessons on how to build healthy relationships, based on equality and mutual respect, were needed. Anthony Davis, policy advisor for gender at the UK branch of the children’s charity Plan International, agreed. He said it was important that girls had full access to resources and services to help prevent and respond to cases of violence.

But he added that gender-based violence was a cause and consequence of gender inequalities that needed to be unpicked. “An important part of that is working with men and boys directly to understand their perspectives, why they have certain views and really work with them over the long-term to dismantle some of these hardcore beliefs, as well as support and empower girls and women to achieve their potential.”

Funding to address violence against women has increased significantly over the past five years. A costed draft blueprint to address violence against women and girls, put together by NGOs, government officials and business leaders, will be unveiled at the first of two Generation Equality forums, convened by UN Women later this month. It will include a call for a 50 per cent  increase in funding to women’s rights organisations to address violence over the next five years.

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