End the Global Scourge of Violence Against Girls and Women

April 1, 2015| by Shireen Qudosi and Zainab Zeb Khan, UNA Women

The United Nations has been influential in shaping the current global policy framework on women’s empowerment and gender equality. The last of these significant milestones took place twenty years ago. In 1995, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action crowned the series of 4 “World Conferences on Women” that took place across four continents in the two decades prior.

However, the objectives and actions for advancement set forth in the Platform, which cover 12 critical areas of concern, are initiatives that must be supported and enforced in order to be realized.

It is a duty that falls heavily upon the UN. As a global organization and a powerful agent of change, it falls upon us to not only create an opportunity to discuss critical issues regarding women and to ensure that momentum for change is maintained, but to also realize two underlying disparities.

The Two Underlying Disparities Faced By Women Today

First, the need to still today have a conversation on the grim condition of millions of women is an acknowledgment that women are still facing innumerable atrocities. However, that acknowledgement can and does too easily shift into an objectification. Like war, drugs, and other exploitations, women become an objectified task on a long checklist of other priorities.

Women are not things or conditions. The sheer need for there to be any conference on women should be a glaring recognition of the long-road we have yet to lay the groundwork for in ensuring that there is never again a need for any conference on women. We never see a “World Conference on Men,” and until we can reach a day where there is no need for a “World Conference for Women,” we know that our work, our duty and our obligation as change agents is far from done.

Second, women today are facing a far wider and more aggressive threat against their well-being and interests than in the four decades prior. Laws enabling violence and gender disparity are the heavy-handed culprit enabling human rights transgressions against women. These laws, sometimes violent and always psychologically abusive in nature, subjugate women them to the state of cattle or livestock. The role of a second-class citizen would be a privilege to these women. These women are not even afforded “lesser” right; they’re often violated from having any measurable rights.

To put it into perspective…

  • Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18, primarily in South Asia (31.3 million) and sub-Saharan Africa (14.1 million).
  • Sexual violence against women has grown in the very region where there was promise of an Arab Spring. 
  • ISIS expert and former CIA Analyst, Nada Bokos, shares her expertise, adding, “The sexual violence has reached a level where they’re just ripping through the fabric of the society in the communities in Iraq and in Syria.”

BBC Middle East Correspondent, Yolande Knell, shared the story of one female survivor, 

“I was taken to a big house in Mosul. It was full of women. They locked all the windows and doors and surrounded it with guards every day or two men would come and take us, make us take off our headscarves so they could choose which of us they wanted. Women were dragged out of the house by their hair.”

The 6% Failure

In order to achieve gender equality, it is necessary to build a society in which women and men share equally in the distribution of power and influence and have equal access to education, health, safe environment and decent livelihoods. 

Studies show that more highly educated women have a smaller chance of victimization. Access to health care provides an opportunity to reach out for help and to gain life-saving information where women can then act as their own change agents. A chance for economic opportunity ensures women are not financially crippled or dependent on men for the livelihood of their children.

However, this means that studies, conferences and reports are only the first phase of commissions doing their part to ensure they serve as agents of change. A 2012 U.N. report entitled “Still a Long Way to Go,” showed the UN made 71 “recommendations for strengthening protections for Afghan women,” while a report released a year later showed that only four of those recommendations had been implemented. That is a shockingly low figure – just 6% of the ideas for generating change were actually adopted. The ideology of misogyny that is supported in such societies has been difficult to challenge, with the rate of progress much slower than initially anticipated.

The Singular Reason Why We Allow the Widespread Breach of the Beijing Platform

Cultural sensitivity is the singular reason why parasitic atrocities against women continue to spread at viral speeds. It is also the reason most of these atrocities are not highlighted by the victims. Reasons including shame, humiliation, and trauma, paired with a basic struggle to survive day-to-day, is the reason why most of the inhumane and violent acts against women are gravely underreported – and in most cases, rarely shared.

Enabling cultural sensitivity not only pardons the act, but it silences women. It is a two-edged sword that is detrimental to women and devastates the aims of the UN and its partner organization, while giving strength to barbaric, primeval and base elements in society that we should already have evolved past. Honoring cultural sensitivity is not an enlightened act of diplomacy; it is feeding a parasite. Our responsibility lies on the plane of both domestic and international collaboration, as we are paving a way towards actual groundwork that needs to be implemented to address gender disparity at its core level.