Eliminating Violence Against Women

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Sarah Green  Jul 14Today is the ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women’.  

The United Nations (UN) declared a single global day of focus on ending all forms of abuse of women and girls because the problems of domestic and sexual violence, trafficking, stalking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), and now online abuse and harassment are so endemic, persistent and inextricably linked to women’s ongoing inequality in every country.

For young women in the UK the statistics are alarming and should be front page news every day of the week. Girls and young women aged up to 24 in the UK are more likely to be raped than older women – in a country where it is estimated 85,000 women are raped every year. They are more likely to experience abuse in an intimate relationship - the NSPCC has found that a third of girls report abuse in teen relationships. Girls at school are subject to high levels of sexual harassment and even assault – a recent story based on a freedom of information (FOI) request in the Independent newspaper found that more than 300 rapes were reported in England and Wales schools over the last three years, and the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) Coalition’s own YouGov survey found that a third of girls experience groping at school.

Too many schools have a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude and fail to provide the basic level of protection that women in the workplace can expect. In addition, in some communities in Britain it is girls and young women who are at serious risk of FGM and of forced marriage. We need urgent action of the specific targeting of girls for violence and abuse.

Experts, the UN and most Governments see that ending abuse of women and girls needs joined-up action and needs us to focus on challenging attitudes and preventing abuse before it happens rather than just catching perpetrators afterwards.

Part of the answer is coming from girls themselves.

There is currently a huge resurgence of women’s rights campaigning – from schoolgirl Fahma Mohamed who convinced the Education Secretary to write to all schools telling them what they should be doing to prevent FGM, to the fantastic online projects Everyday Sexism and Counting Dead Women which are cataloguing the day to day abuse and violence women and girls continue to experience. It is time for political leaders to listen to young women and respond with policy and action.

If we are really aiming to eradicate violence against girls we need a long hard look at what causes it and the excuses that are made for it. And we need to actively challenge some widely held beliefs and attitudes about women which make excuses for perpetrators of abuse and blame victims. For example, surveys commonly find that a quarter to a third of people will make excuses for a man who controls his partner by looking at all her texts and Facebook messages, or who will say women are partially to blame for being raped if they drink alcohol.

In some disturbing research the Children’s Commissioner did on young people’s attitudes to sexual consent last year, young people showed very strong tendencies to deny rape when presented with rape scenarios, again by saying victims brought it on themselves and by excusing perpetrators.

What needs to change? As a critical first step, all experts in this area and lots of young women campaigners like Yas Necati for example are calling for compulsory sex and relationships education (SRE), with an emphasis on relationships so that young people are guaranteed to get to talk to trusted adults about the confusing messages they receive about respect and equality between men and women and consent. The EVAW Coalition and Everyday Sexism are petitioning the party leaders to commit to this before next year’s General Election. The Greens, Labour and the Lib Dems are there but the Conservatives have yet to commit.

There needs to be a broader programme of work at every level of Government which sets out to join up the different kinds of abuse of women and girls and to prevent them rather than ‘mopping up’ afterwards. The EVAW Coalition has set out a ‘Women’s Safety Pledge’ for all candidates for election to sign up to which is summarised in our Women’s Safety Manifesto.

Young women have a right to live free from violence and abuse. They are leading the charge to get us there but the whole community needs to stand up and push for this too.