November 25th marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. There is only one thing wrong about that – the fact that we have a need for such a day. It makes me angry.
I am angry, because according to the World Health Organization, 35% of women and girls around the world will experience intimate partner or non-partner violence in their lifetime. WHO is calling this ‘a global health problem of epidemic proportions’. I am angry because in the US, every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted – and nine out of ten victims are women. I am angry because in India, women and girls have a bulls-eye on their backs whenever they step outside their homes – and too often also within their homes. I am angry because there is an endless number of such examples, from all over the world. While the reasons behind violence against women and girls, as well as the form that such violence takes, vary between countries, one thing is common to all women and girls regardless of location:
No woman or girl is immune to this epidemic of violence.
The situation of my home country, Finland, also makes me angry. According to Naisten Linja (“Women’s Line”), an organization that works to prevent violence against women and girls and to help victims of such violence, over 40% of Finnish girls and women above the age of 15 have faced physical or sexual violence or have been threatened with violence. I’m angry because the risk for Finnish women to face domestic violence is twice the average of the European Union. Another thing that makes me angry is the backlash that this Day causes every year: what about men? Isn’t violence against men as important, why are there so many resources directed towards eliminating violence against women – why aren’t men getting the same attention? Of course the violence men and boys experience is equally important – but more often than not, it is not a case of gender-based violence. Gender-based violence and discrimination are issues that stem from the fundamental belief that the female sex is of lesser value, of lesser importance, than the male. Gender-based violence tells women and girls:
You are not worthy – you are weaker, less important, meaningless, powerless.
Gender-based violence doesn’t just cause physical pain and damage – it breaks, destroys, shames, violates, dehumanizes. Men might be over-represented as, for example, victims of gun violence – but this is not necessarily an example of gender-based violence. Almost always, the victim of domestic and sexual violence is a girl or a woman, and females across cultures experience more gender-based discrimination and inequality than males. It is important to recognize these distinctions, so that we can pinpoint the fundamental reasons behind violence against women and girls properly and therefore also respond to them with the right approaches and tools.
We all should be infuriated because images of violated and dominated bodies of women are used to sell everything from cars to shoes to men’s suits and perfumes. We should be livid because of what Google’s search engine reveals about the attitudes towards women and girls. We should feel enraged over the fact that when media reports rape cases, what the victim was wearing or whether she had been drinking is still often mentioned in the opening paragraph. Finns should be furious over the fact that the number of reported rapes in Finland has nearly doubled in the past ten years. We should be fuming over the fact that there are countries where rape victims are forced to marry their rapists, and countries where a husband can’t rape his wife because under the law, marriage is considered to equal “consent”. We should be enraged for the fact that freedom of speech is used as a justification for spreading images of bruised, battered and violated bodies of women and girls in social media, with captions such as “next time she’ll stay in the kitchen” – but images of breastfeeding mothers get censored, because they are considered offensive. Violence against women is a global phenomenon – an epidemic – that has become a tool for power, a tactic for war, a marketing strategy, form of entertainment, punch line of a joke. Those are reasons for being enraged, furious, angry, not only today, but every single day. Violence against women is a human rights violation, and there is never, ever any justification or excuse for it. November 25th also started a global campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, and there is plenty of work to be done. This issue touches us all – based on statistics, it is likely that we all know a woman or a girl who has faced violence – or that we ourselves are those victims.
I am infuriated, I am enraged – but I won’t take out that anger by attacking someone else, I won’t threaten or verbally abuse people online, I won’t punch anyone, and I won’t forcefully take something that isn’t mine. Instead, I will gather and harness that anger, and try to turn it into fuel for something positive. I will try to turn it into action, and from there into change. Will you do that too?
- Participate in the 16 Days of Activism campaign and #orangeurworld
- Tweet us @GirlsGlobe and let us know what you are doing to end violence against women and girls!
- Take part in #GivingTuesday next week – stay tuned for more information about how Girls’ Globe is giving back, and how you can join the movement
A version of this article was originally published in Finnish by Kepa, an umbrella organization for Finnish civil society organizations working on global development issues.