Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Around the world people are coming together to take a stand and say NO to violence against women. In Malmö, Sweden, a peaceful protest against violence against women was organized by several organizations active in the region to support women who have been victims to domestic and gender-based violence.

I was invited to speak on behalf of Girls’ Globe, and here is what I had to say on this day:

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Violence against women is a violation of women’s human rights.

It is one of the world’s most neglected public health issues, and one of the world’s largest socioeconomic problems. And violence against women is the strongest form of discrimination against women.

According to UN Women, 7 out of 10 women and girls are victims of violence sometime in their lifetime.

And violence occurs in many different forms.

It is estimated that a majority of the world’s women will be a violated by a partner some time during their lives. Domestic violence often takes place behind closed doors and it is difficult for society to pin down, and it becomes even more difficult when it is not considered to be a crime. Today, 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not a crime and therefore not punishable. This violence becomes even more dangerous when there are weapons in the home, as these weapons increase the risk that women and children are threatened, injured and even killed. Many legal reforms are required to criminalize domestic violence and stop the spread of weapons that pose a danger to women and children.

Of the cases of abuse against women in Sweden and many other countries is usually the perpetrator known by the victim, and very often in a close relationship. Furthermore, there is a great number of unreported cases as many do not report because of fear, stigma or shame.

Violence against women is also used in wars and conflicts as a tactic of war.

Last week I met with a surgeon who has been working in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where war has raged for almost 20 years. He told me that every morning when he came to the clinic where he worked, there was around 20 women waiting to get help after being raped during the previous night. Some of these women were raped with weapons such as knives and guns. The brutal violence against women occurring in eastern Congo is a war tactic. Sexual violence has been recognized by the UN as a strategy in war that occurs in many conflicts around the world. It is a way to paralyze and destroy resistance groups, a method of producing fear in an entire community. Today, it can be more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in war and conflict. Sexual violence is a major barrier to women’s security and participation in peace processes. Even when the conflict ends sexual violence continues to occur at very high rates.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is called the rape capital of the world and is one of the most dangerous places to be a woman.

Violence is also used by states and state actors to achieve political goals, where the perpetrators believe they can use violence with impunity.

An example of this is how women demonstrating during Egypt’s revolution, were subjected to “virginity tests” by the military as a way to scare women and expose them to stigmatization. In many countries the police becomes an additional threat to women. There are many examples where the police chooses not to intervene because they do not believe that violence against women is an offense.

In many parts of the world women are systematically discriminated against in society. Girls are not allowed the same education as boys, they may not have the same access to health care and food, and most often just because they are girls. In some parts of the world women suffer acid attacks, honor violence, or life-threatening genital mutilation because of the invisible rules that govern in society.

In many parts of the world girls do not dare to go to school because they are afraid of being exposed to violence. In some countries, sexual violence is used by teachers in exchange for good grades. In Togo 16 percent of school children say that a teacher has done a classmate pregnant. And 75 percent of school children in Ghana say that teachers are the main cause of violence in schools. Because of the long road that girls have to go to school early in the morning and the long way home in the evening is a great risk that they become vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence along the way. This increases the discrimination against girls in many parts of the world. When girls do not have the opportunity to go to school, it contributes to poverty and it paralyzes society.

I met another surgeon from Uganda. He is working to repair the girls and women who have suffered obstructed labor as they do not have access to any form of maternal or emergency obstetric care. These women develop a fistula, an internal injury that leaves women incontinent. The leak urine and feces, and usually have lost their child in the prolonged labor. Even though this horrifying injury can be prevented with access to care, and although the damage can be repaired, most women do not receive help. They are often ostracized from their family, ostracized by society and become victims of violence and discrimination within and outside the home just because they have become physically disabled and they smell bad.

Every two minutes a woman dies in the world during pregnancy and childbirth. The majority of these deaths can be prevented if women were given access to care in time. For every woman who dies, there are 20 others who are so severely injured that they will not be able to live their lives as prior to the pregnancy.

In Pakistan, there is a saying:

“To raise a daughter is like watering a flower in your neighbor’s garden.”

Girls are considered a burden on the family and a family should not rejoice when having a daughter.

The desire to have a son, and the idea that a boy is worth more than a girl, leads to an incredible amount of problems in society. In India it is illegal for a doctor or nurse to tell expectant parents the sex of the fetus. This is because couples choose to do selective abortion of girls, as the desire to have a son is so strong. In some parts of South Asia, this has led to the existence of a deficit of girls. The deficit of women leads to an incredible number of social problems. The sex trade is flourishing in Mumbai and trafficking across borders continues to grow.

Not to prioritize women in society is a form of violence against women’s human rights. If they are not regarded as equal citizens, their lives will not be worth saving and the fact that they are beaten, mentally abused, discriminated, raped and devalued will never be noticed.

Social norms, culture or tradition can not continue to be a defense of the violence that occurs against women.

Violence against women is not just a weapon used by men to show power, but entire communities enhance and constitute violence against women, as perpetrators are not brought to justice, as women who are victims of violence are also exposed to shame and guilt, and as the essential care a woman needs in her life is not given to her.

What if we could live in a world where a girl is worth as much as a boy

– where she receives an education, has the mobility, can own assets and land, and has access to the same care as boys and men. What if we could live in a world where women are aware of their human rights and where women were always valued as highly as men.

We all, women and men, have to smash preconceptions with facts. We need to educate politicians, police, hospital staff, and all other social actors so that they can respond to abused women in a positive way. We need to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. We must stand together FOR women in our country and around the world.

We shape our society and we shape our world!

Let’s get out of our comfort zones and take responsibility for the society we are building. Let’s stand up against violence against women. Together we can stop it!

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How are you saying NO to violence against women?

Want to read more? Here are a few links:

These are the organizations behind the event in Malmö today:

Share your thoughts

7 Responses

  1. Julia, this is an incredible post. I am especially struck by the Pakistani phrase about women. Wow. We still have a long ways to go but with incredible women like you and the other bloggers at Girls’ Globe, we can raise awareness and make a difference. I applaud your efforts. I have been shocked to learn about the violent acts that are committed against women.

    1. Yes! We still have a long way to go. But many organizations and dedicated people are working daily to make a positive change, and change IS being made!! Let’s join that daily battle to empower women and girls around the world!

  2. What a great speech, Julia!
    You did a really good job of covering the different ways that violence can be used to oppress women around the world. Especially moving and quite disturbing is the anecdote about the doctor working in the war-torn DRC. So often what we hear about are the generalizations and broad statistics on issues relating to women and girls, which are vital of course to understanding the issues; but firsthand stories told from people working in the field and actually witnessing these atrocities brings the reality of these issues home to those who hear/ read them.

    Glad to see that the peaceful protest was a success 🙂

    1. Thanks Sally! Yes, it was great to see how many people came out despite the rain and wind. Bad weather can’t stop burning hearts and passionate people! We all have a part to play in highlighting these horrific issues and taking a stand for women and girls!

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