Gender inequality is both the cause and the consequence of violence against women and girls, said Oxfam today, as the international organization launches a new global campaign called “Enough: Together We Can End Violence Against Women and Girls” to stop one of the most prolific human rights violations.
A third of women will experience violence at some point in their life, according to Oxfam. Violence against women and girls knows no boundaries of geography or culture – it is a global crisis. However, marginalized women, including poor women and girls, are the most vulnerable to violence.
“At every minute of every day, violence is devastating the lives of millions of women and girls around the world. Violence keeps women and girls living in poverty, and women and girls living in poverty are the most exposed to violence,” said Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International’s Executive Director. “From child marriage to female genital mutilation to murder, violence against women and girls is deep rooted across the world. It is a vicious circle, but it can be broken as what has been learned can be unlearned. Enough is enough.”
Women and girls face violence throughout their lives: more than 700 million women alive today were married as children, 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation - with the majority of girls being cut before the age of 5 - and 30 percent of women will experience intimate partner violence. Studies have found higher rates of violence among women experiencing multiple discriminations, including indigenous women, lesbian and bisexual women, and women with disabilities.
This violence is the most extreme form of gender discrimination, rooted in inequality and in a belief that it is acceptable to treat women and girls this way.
To end these devastating practices against half the world’s population, Oxfam is kick-starting campaigns in Morocco, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Guatemala, South Africa and Zambia to coincide with the UN designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. More than 30 countries will join Oxfam’s campaign over time, mobilizing citizens and decision-makers to challenge the discrimination that drives this abuse against women and girls.
“In Morocco, there are many types of violence against women: physical, psychological, economic and legal, especially in the context of divorce,” said Saida, said Moroccan woman survivor of violence and women’s rights advocate who took part in life skills workshops to learn how to support herself and her daughter and who now advises other women on how to claim their rights. “I got divorced because my husband obliged me to do so as I did not accept him getting married to a second wife. I was forced to leave my home, which was officially owned by my husband, with my little girl. Despite the laws, mentalities change very slowly. Neither the lawyer nor the judge helped me.”
“Girls face struggles in all phases of their life. Girls are not allowed to get an education like boys,” said 12-year-old Komal from Hamirpur in India’s Uttar Pradesh. According to 2015 Indian government data, this region accounted for the highest number of violent incidents against women and girls nationally, and over 40 percent of females here are illiterate. Until a few years ago, girls here were usually pulled out of school to care for their siblings, support their parents in farming or to do household chores. Through Oxfam’s work, local girls are now in school and many are doing combat sports, like wrestling. “With the support of my teacher, my parents let me compete and I won the silver medal in a state competition. I proved to my community that girls can succeed,” said Komal.
In Indonesia, child marriage and domestic violence are common and tolerated. Cheper, who married a child bride, now campaigns to end child marriage and violence against women in his community. He told Oxfam: “Growing up, my mother was often beaten by my father. I wanted to take my father to the police because he bit my mother, but I did not do that. The local community considered it common.” Women are usually excluded from village meetings, but through Cheper’s work, this is changing, as well as his wife now having plans to work outside the home.
“Women’s rights organizations and movements have long been challenging the acceptance and prevalence of violence against women and girls, but as it is so unjustly ingrained in societies across the world, more of us need to take action. Oxfam is committed to ending this crisis once and for all, for the benefit of everyone, as women’s rights are human rights,” said Oxfam’s Byanyima, who is also a member of the UN High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.
“I’m calling for people to stand up and speak out against the violence. Men need to stand up too and say that violence against women and girls is not acceptable - in institutions and in the whole of our country,” said 20-year-old university student Nalishebo from Zambia, who is one of the many women across the world taking action to stand up for women and girls.
“We all have the opportunity to change and reject any violence and oppression. We should all have the chance to be happy,” said Maria Morales Jorge, who was part of setting up the Institute for the Defense of Indigenous Women in Guatemala, where indigenous women face violence and racism, women are tackling the root causes of violence.
Oxfam’s campaign aims to challenge and replace the long held misconception that men are superior to women and girls. To achieve this, Oxfam will support individuals and communities to understand the drivers of violence and build their capacity to say “Enough” to harmful attitudes and behaviors. Oxfam will also work to ensure women’s rights organizations and movements are supported, and to increase and implement laws and policies aimed at ending violence against women and girls.
“Before I thought marriage was everything in life: the present and the future. Now, I believe that life is much more than a husband. Life is also to have a job, to travel and to study,” concluded Saida.