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The Elimination of Violence Against Women Day (November 25) exists to give taboo a backseat and deliver information on the topic of gender-based violence. An issue we all need to talk about more.
The United Nations define gender-based violence directed at women as:
“Any act of gender-based violence that results in… physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts… occurring in public or in private life”.
There are various forms of gender-based violence, they include intimate partner violence, sexual violence and harassment, human trafficking, female genital mutilation and child marriage.
These forms of violence are incredibly damaging and completely life-changing. Often when one form of violence occurs, it can be a gateway for other acts of violence to happen. An example of this is child marriage, which often leads to sexual violence and harassment. The UN estimate that 37,000 girls under the age of 18 are married every day which exemplifies the mass scale of these issues.
Worldwide, one in three women are victims of at least one form of gender-based violence. This statistic may come as a shock, but I want to challenge you to rethink how you might understand gender-based violence.
We have been led to believe that perpetrators of violence against women are a certain type of person in a certain type of setting. Stereotypically, a stranger attacking in the dead of night. Most commonly in a public, outdoor setting. This story is then spread throughout newspapers and this rhetoric is what keeps us walking a little bit faster once the sun has set. However, newspapers never focus in on the homely father figure, or the loyal husband. They don’t focus in on the ordinary – or on people just like you and me.
We have also stereotyped the victim – a young, fun-loving, party girl. The story goes that she has drunk too much and was walking home from the nightclub at four in the morning alone; until our stereotypical perpetrator mentioned above approached her. Note that the story in the newspaper is never written about a sober and retired mother of two children, or a ‘happily’ married middle-aged, middle-class daughter. The story also sometimes suggests the victim is in some way responsible , when the reality is that no matter what she was wearing, drinking or doing she is not to blame for crimes committed against her.
Our culture has created these stereotypes to help us feel safe, make sense of the senseless or to apportion blame. Instead, we must realise that perpetrators and victims of gender-based violence cannot be defined by social or economic status, and that gender-based violence happens in the richest countries in the world as well as the poorest.
In stereotyping both the perpetrator and the victim, it diverts our attention away from how wide-scale the issue of gender-based violence is. However, the breadth of the issue should not lessen the invasive and distressing acts that happen to women and girls, all over the world, every day.
All We Can work in the Rohingya refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh where women and girls are faced with gender-based violence at an alarming level. A report revealed, “Gender-based violence is so widespread that the authorities receive between 100-400 complaints every week.” There are a range of issues within these camps, including domestic violence, women being forced into labour intensive work and girls as young as 13 being trafficked for sex or made child brides.
Yet, there is something to be said about the strength of the women and girls who are facing these issues. They refuse to be kept as silent victims of violence. Rather, they are speaking up about their challenges, because the sheer number of women affected by gender-based violence cannot go unnoticed. This cannot be a taboo topic. This cannot be normalised. These women realise speaking up creates the hope for change.
All We Can support Rohingya women and girls who are facing gender-based violence by providing safe spaces within refugee camps. Here, the women and girls can talk about the challenges they are facing, together, without the risk of being harmed.
These women are beginning to stand up against violence and the culture within the refugee camps is changing.
We need to follow the example of our Rohingya sisters and speak up. Understandably, this is a difficult thing to do, especially when you consider the delicate issue that is gender-based violence. Our culture has allowed these issues to become normalised or silenced for too long. Yet we should push forward. We must follow in the Rohingya’s footsteps and step outside of what is comfortable in order to create change.
Not only can we take inspiration from the Rohingya women, but someone I take inspiration from in addressing this issue is Jesus. I believe he was radical and proactive towards women’s rights. In the second part of this blog series I will explore occasions throughout the gospel where Jesus acted counter-culturally and set the standard for how women should be treated.
Part two of this blog series can be found HERE
If you feel challenged you can use these prayer points to help you reflect on some of the issues in these blogs:
You can also donate to support women and girls in Rohingya refugee camps here. Your donation could contribute to the safe spaces that are being made to address gender-based violence.
If you have been personally affected by anything you have read you get further support by visiting these websites:
As part of a year-long internship with the One Programme, Zoe Carruthers is working for All We Can as its Communications Officer. Zoe studied International Development and Media at the University of East Anglia and is passionate about social justice and womens' rights. Zoe is from Northern Ireland and is keen for others to discover what a beautiful place it is.