She was pulled by the hair and dragged out from a dark alley, just off the boardwalk in Mumbai’s famous Colaba district. In the light from the sparkling interior of one of India’s finest hotels and across from the monumentous Gateway of India, this woman was beat, kicked and yelled at by a man, who might or might not have been her husband. This poverty-stricken woman was dirty from the street and her child came running, crying from a distance for his mother. A handful of spectators stopped to see what was happening, and a policeman stood and watched. My parents, who happened to be there at that time, were struck by the paralyzing indifference of the audience. My father, a foreigner, started to shout and approach the man, making the policeman finally take action. He took out his baton and beat the man to the ground. The show was over.
For a short minute, this violence was uncovered and we were given a glimpse of a hidden, global epidemic.
In the darkest of alleyways, in communal slum bathrooms, in the corrugated tin hut a girl calls home, on the way to school, in the long walk to fetch water, in the bondage of a dark, hot factory, and in the tent of the refugee camps, violence rages and destroys all efforts of women and girls to prosper and have hope.
Violence against women and girls is far from a matter only affecting those living in poverty. The World Health Organization (WHO) has described violence against women as a global health problem of epidemic proportions. 1 in 3 women and girls worldwide will be affected by violence, most often by the hands or bodies of an intimate partner.
Impunity, the exemption from punishment of a crime, is one of the largest problems of the global epidemic of violence against women and girls.
Impunity has been raised by the United Nations as one of the main factors of the raging rape levels used as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to terrorize communities and keep families living in fear.
For women and girls living in poverty (in places of “peace”), justice is a light they don’t have the wealth to see. Impunity is one of the main problems hindering development for the world’s poor. Crimes against those living in poverty are crimes that often go unpunished. Law enforcement does not work for the world’s bottom billion.
How can we achieve “development” if the work we do to ensure education, health, and economic empowerment is impaired and held back by this plague of violence?
This is exactly what Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros new book, The Locust Effect, is about. Through reports from individuals, families and entire societies in poverty, they uncover a hidden plague of violence, that is holding a tight grip on their everyday lives. So, why is it called The Locust Effect?
We must continue to raise our voices and work to end violence against women and girls, that is a weapon of war – even in the places where there is “peace”.
Violence against women and girls is a global epidemic and the violence becomes more rampant for those living in poverty. Nevertheless, there are no targets to end violence in the Millennium Development Goals. Goal 3 only specifies that, violence against women continues to undermine efforts to reach all goals.
For us to see a world where girls are able to finish school, where childbirth is safe, where children grow up healthy and young people have the knowledge, resources and services to live the lives they choose to live, for us to ensure that the investments we make in development are sustainable, we must eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.
In the Post-2015 agenda, let’s ensure that the world unites with the common priority to end violence against women and girls. It is a plague that affects us all, and we all have the responsibility to raise our voices and intervene. Let us not become paralyzed spectators at the sidelines of ensuring human rights and development. Instead, let’s take action and make our common goal echo across the world, into the darkest of places, and light them up with justice for all.
Take action and urge the UN to protect the poor from violence, and to include targets to eliminating violence against women and girls in the new development goals.
Don’t miss the Twitter chat on ending everyday violence, hosted by Girls’ Globe and International Justice Mission tomorrow, Friday, February 7, 1-2 pm EST. Join using #LocustEffect and #EverydayVAW.
Featured image: A family in a Kolkata slum. United Nations