16 days to focus the world on ending sexual and gender-based violence

By Zakia Shefayee  

The United Nations General Assembly named November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in 2000. The date was chosen to honour the Mirabal sisters, three political activists in the Dominican Republic. They were called “the butterflies,” after the code name of one sister. The women – Patria, Minerva and Maria Theresa – were assassinated on November 25, 1960 on the order of the nation’s dictator, Rafael Trujillo. 

The reputations of the Mirabel sisters spread throughout the hemisphere. In 1981, women activists in the region decided that the day of their killing would become a day to focus on the elimination of violence against women. Now, the UN commemorates the activities and bravery of Mirabal sisters every year on November 25 by asking its member states, international organizations, and non-government agencies to launch activities aiming at increasing public awareness on violence against women.   

Any violation of women’s rights is also a violation of human rights, so the international campaign for the elimination of violence against women continues to December 10, which is Human Rights Day. For 16 days each year, the core message of this world campaign for is that the elimination of violence against women and girls is a prerequisite for enjoying human rights.  

Violence against women is a result of the inequal power structures in the societies and comes from a patriarchal desire to want control women bodies and enforce discrimination against them. Violence against women exists in all cultures and countries, to some extent, and is often institutionalized within societies themselves.   

Statistics from the United Nations show that one in every three women in the world has been a victim of violence, while one in every five has been a victim of rape or another form of grave sexual violence. The most common forms of violence against women include physical violence (being beaten, strangled, injured, raped, and even murdered) as well as emotional violence (verbal assaults, tormenting, belittling).  

Researches show that the side effects of sexual and gender-based violence do not only harm women but also affect families and society. For example, violence against women negatively impacts the economy. One of the most common forms of economic violence imposed by husbands or male family members is depriving women of the ability to work. So countries invest in the education of females but then don’t benefit from their abilities in the economy. As well, as violence against women continues, the costs are born by all of society, including treating survivors, additional health care needs and legal proceedings. 

To create an equal, peaceful and nonviolent world, there needs to be changes in the political, social and economic structures of the world so that the human dignity of all people is guaranteed and all have access to the facilities and privileges of equal rights and opportunities. That requires empowering women on one hand while mobilizing legal and public support for gender equality on the other.  

Those goals mean that there can be no hope of changing the situation of women in Afghanistan while it is ruled by the Taliban, the most misogynistic government in the world. The Taliban are the perpetrators of the most heinous structural and systematic violence against women and other marginalized groups, and if they remain in power, we cannot hope to improve the situation of women in Afghanistan.  

Afghan society needs to become aware of the destructive and harmful aspects of sexual and gender-based violence against women and the LGBT community. Change starts on micro-levels like the family. Therefore, families and individuals must identify misogynistic social norms that control women’s bodies and thoughts, and then fight to change those norms.   

The duty of organizations, groups, social institutions, and writers who believe in an equal and nonviolent world is to research violence against women in all its forms and shapes, to challenge the normalization of sexual and gender-based violence, and to raise public awareness about such violence. Practical measures need to be in place so the world can eliminate sexual and gender-based violence.   

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