The need for data-driven storytelling is bigger than ever. With the growth of social media, where stories can go viral any second, it is crucial that we tell the stories right – to change perspectives, challenge the roots of patriarchy, create movements of positive change around the world, and ultimately to end violence against women.
Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – a day to highlight the importance to fight violence and discrimination that so many women are subjected to on a daily basis around the world. The United Nations defines violence against women as,
any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
When a President is elected, despite the fact that he has said that powerful men can “grab women by the pussy” or when a Swedish male politician calls a female minister “whore” in live TV, we are witnessing the gender power dynamics and culture that perpetuates gender-based violence. When refugees in Europe are blamed for all crimes of violence against women – when in fact, this violence in Europe has occurred for far longer than the refugee crisis itself – we need to understand the facts better, to know that we all play a part in the hellish story of gender-based violence.
That’s why I want to break down a few facts about violence against women for you today.
1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced violence from men.
When it comes to violence against women, I have noticed a “it doesn’t happen here” or “it would never happen to me” mentality. Yet, gender based violence happens everywhere and was acknowledged by the World Health Organization in 2013 as a major, global, public health threat.
“These findings send a powerful message that violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions. We also see that the world’s health systems can and must do more for women who experience violence.”
Most likely, several women and girls that you know have been affected by this violence – yes, even in Sweden, Finland and Iceland. Unfortunately, the intricacy of victimization and violence is very complex that many women don’t speak out, or lack the support they need to dare to do so. The male dominated, victim-blaming cultures that we live in, powered by gender inequities, make the problem of ending violence against women even more enigmatic.
Worldwide, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner. Far too often, violence goes too far – and we all have a role to make it stop.
Violence takes different forms.
One thing we must understand is that violence can take many forms – as stated in the description by the United Nations above. Violence can be physical and sexual, but it is often also psychological or economic.
An EU-wide study from 2014 shows that 43% of women in the European Union have experienced some form of psychological violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Violence against women can become even more complex with modern technology and communications. Social media paves the way for new forms of violence and the rapid spread of a culture that objectifies women.
The same EU-study shows that 1 in 10 women in the European Union report having experienced cyber-harassment after the age of 15.
Action: Support the production of NETIZENS – a documentary about women and online harrassment.
Some are more vulnerable to violence.
Although violence against women and girls happens everywhere, gender dynamics may differ in different situations, leaving some groups of women and girls more vulnerable than others. Data shows that transgender and lesbian women are more at risk of gender-based violence. Associate Director of Research at the Human Rights Campaign, Saurav Jung Tapa, writes:
The Human Rights Campaign and the Trans People of Color Coalition estimates that transgender women in the United States face 4.3 times the risk of becoming homicide victims than the general population of women. Factors such as poverty or belonging to a racial minority exacerbated the incidence and rates of violence experienced.
Further, gender-based violence, including child marriage and rape, becomes more rampant in conflict and post-conflict settings. UN Women reports that 1 in 5 refugee or displaced women have experienced sexual violence.
Action: Give a donation to Kvinna till Kvinna and support women in conflict, post-conflict or refugee settings.
Just like studying anything else related to human activity, to understand how to end violence against women, we must investigate the social norms that structure the way our societies function and dysfunction. Social norms that reinforce practices that discriminate women and girls, or groups of women and girls, need to be challenged as a whole, and that fight begins with everyone.
It is time for us to call it out.
Understanding that violence is complex, we must create support systems that enable women and girls to speak out, without the fear of shame or isolation. In the situations when women and girls feel unsafe, it is important for us to dare to say something to someone. Or if you suspect or even witness acts of gender-based violence, you have a responsibility to act.
I applaud all of you who have the courage to share your story. We can all be a part of creating safe spaces for stories to be told – the very stories that can change mindsets and ensure that we create societies that are safe for everyone.
Illustration by Elina Tuomi for Girls’ Globe.