Gerry Campbell MBE and Neelam Sarkaria discusss why education and health responses are essential at country, city and community levels
THERE ARE 20,000 reasons why we need to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG) in this generation.
There are 200 million (and growing) extra reasons why health and education should be at the forefront of any approach to eradicate VAWG.
There are also 750 million additional reasons why the global community must address gender inequality and one of its many manifestations, that is VAWG.
These startling statistics relate to the estimated number of honour killings, women and girls living with the consequence of female genital mutilation (FGM) and finally the number of women and girls alive today who have been forced into marriage. We must remember that behind these statistics there are / were real people, many of whom have suffered unimaginable and life-long physical and mental pain. The victims and survivors are not just numbers, but human beings.
VAWG, we contend, can only be eradicated with the law, education and health, working hand in hand with communities.
SO WHAT IS VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS (VAWG)?
The UN defines Violence Against Women (VAW) as: “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
The term violence against women and girls is often used inter-changeably with the phrase gender-based violence.
There is no country in the world unaffected by VAWG. It manifests and presents itself in so many different ways including as domestic violence/abuse, sexual exploitation/violence/abuse, forced marriage, human trafficking, honour-based violence, FGM, breast ironing and other forms of harmful traditional practices.
A World Health Organisation (WHO) prevalence study reports that:
Globally: over 30 per cent of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE PRACTICES?
VAWG can have a devastating impact on the lives of women and girls, often with lifelong consequences. Tragically for some women and girls this means death.
Globally: as many as 38 per cent of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner (WHO).
Whilst the physical signs are easily identifiable and steps are taken to address them, the cost of mental health problems such as PTSD is immeasurable. The societal costs are tremendous as undiagnosed conditions follow women and girls into later life. This also includes blood borne diseases such as HIV, contracted by girls from cutting implements that have been used multiple times to cut the genitalia of girls. A strategic approach to tackling the health of women and girls is therefore critical.
UNITED NATIONS DECLARATIONS
The UK is collaborating with UN agencies, civil society organisations and other governments to ensure international action, as agreed at the UN General Assembly in September 2015, to implement the Global Goal targets or Sustainable Development Goals, which have a direct impact on all forms of VAWG.
The UN, many Nation States and survivor-led organisations have led on raising awareness, preventing and tackling VAWG on a local, region, national, international and global scale. This recognised that the crimes associated with this offending do not respect borders. Women and girls are trafficked across, out of and into different countries. Perpetration of offences involves intimate partners, family members and organised criminal networks. Women and girls are traded, sold and abused as property across the globe. The transnational nature of this offending requires sustained transnational action to prevent and eradicate it.
At a nation state level, a focused and robust cross-government approach is necessary. This has worked with some success in the UK, particularly the best practice of bringing together ministries and their key frontline delivery arms, such as the police, criminal justice organisations, education, healthcare, social care and local authorities. In 1993 the UK adopted the UN definition to guide work across all government departments: ‘Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.’
This UN declaration enshrines women’s rights to live without the fear of violence and abuse and the UK’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) upholds this principle.
The UK has taken steps to implement European and international legal instruments on VAW and signed the Council of Europe Convention on Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention) in March 2012 to signal its strong commitment to tackling VAWG.
It is mission critical that such international declarations and nation state strategies are not simply ‘window dressing’ or words but drive real action with real determination of effort with key resources in place.
Many developed and developing countries throughout the world have made significant progress in preventing and tackling VAWG yet the practices and prevalence of it stubbornly remain due to deeply rooted gender inequality, discrimination and the inequality within socio-economic and political structures. So, what can be done to uproot and eradicate this practice?
WHAT IS THE PANACEA?
Every society requires laws to outline what is unacceptable behaviour to citizens – this has certainly been a theme in the UK where significant new legislation has been introduced since 2010. Specific new criminal offences have been implemented including stalking, forced marriage, failure to protect a girl under the age of 16 from FGM, a new domestic abuse offence of coercive or controlling behaviour, FGM Protection Orders, Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) and so forth.
Given our experiences, we believe that the law is the first building block and that sustainable solutions lie with communities – not with governments or institutions. Throughout the world, enforcement, enforcement and more enforcement has not worked. It will not work in isolation.
Indeed, an unintended consequence of rigorous enforcement and prosecution is that affected communities that practice VAWG in different forms have the potential to become more conservative and secretive, leading more people to practice their cultures including the more harmful elements in a more concentrated way, and drive some practices ‘underground.’
Changing entrenched attitudes, some of which have been nurtured from birth cannot and will not be easy to dislodge and change. Individuals and communities must be motivated to change, they must see the benefits to themselves, their families and to their communities through the health, social and economic benefits to driving lasting change. This is known as Community Driven Solutions. Community Driven Solutions are more sustainable solutions. Education therefore is key!
The challenge remains for us to deploy the tools we have available to bring about the step change required to eradicate violence against women and girls. Education and health services together with the criminal justice system need to work hand in hand with communities to deliver this common goal.
ADVICE AND SUPPORT IN LONDON AND THE UK
There are many well-organised support organisations in the UK who can provide guidance and support to victims / survivors of VAWG crimes and abuses as well as to professionals handling cases.
Further confidential support, guidance and advice can be obtained from:
Author Gerry Campbell, E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Neelam Sarkaria, E: email@example.com
NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HELPLINE:
0808 2000 247
HM GOVERNMENT FORCED MARRIAGE UNIT:
020 7008 3100
THE SHARAN PROJECT (VAWG): 0844 544 3231