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Orange the world to end gendered violence

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Orange! The colour of joy and creativity which stimulates two-way conversations while offering emotional strength in times of difficulty. Orange helps one bounce back from disappointments and despair while assisting in recovery from grief. The perfect colour for a campaign to end violence against women and girls.

Today is the official launch of the United Nation's Orange the World Campaign! This annual campaign to end violence against women begins today, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25) and ends on International Human Right's Day (December 10). During these 16 days of action, people around the world are encouraged to orange their world in a show of support to end gendered violence.

This year's theme, Prevention, aims to increase public awareness around this international pandemic while mobilizing individuals, communities, governments and international organizations to engage in discussions, create meaningful change and take action to eradicate gendered violence worldwide.

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 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."

Violence against women includes physical, sexual, emotional, financial, and spiritual abuse as well as criminal harassment and stalking. Perpetrators may use one, or more, of these methods to exert and maintain power and control over women and girls.

Physical abuse may involve slapping, choking, or punching; using hands or objects as weapons; using a knife or gun to threaten; or committing femicide -- the intentional killing of women and girls because they are women and girls.

Sexual abuse includes the use of threats, intimidation, or physical force to engage in unwanted sexual acts.  Only 52 countries have criminalized rape in the context of marriage.  Over 2.6 billion women and girls live in countries where marital rape is not a crime.

In war, rape is a military tactic used to create fear, to demoralize and tear communities apart, to control the population, and to shift the ethnic balance by impregnating women.  During the Rwandan genocide 500,000 women were raped. In Sierra Leon 64,000.  In Bosnia and Herzegovina 40,000.  In Darfur hundreds of women are raped daily.

Emotional or verbal abuse includes threats of death, or threats to kill children and other family members.  Perpetrators may threaten to commit suicide. Abusers use humiliating or degrading comments about a woman's body or behaviour. They may forcing her to commit degrading acts.  Isolating her from family, friends and outside contacts is common and can be achieved by confining her to the house. Destroying possessions or killing pets is not uncommon. These actions demean her and restrict her freedom and independence.  

Financial abuse may involve forcing her to work or denying her the right to work. It can also involve stealing or controlling a woman's money or valuables.

Spiritual abuse is the use of religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate, and control a woman.

Criminal harassment or stalking occurs when the perpetrator follows a woman or watches her in a persistent, malicious, and unwanted manner. It's an invasion of privacy that threatens her personal safety. This criminal act can be perpetrated by the abuser alone; or with the assistance of his family, friends and associates; or via social media, the internet, and by phone.

According to the United Nations:

  • One in three women around the world experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.
  • Worldwide, up to 50 per cent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16.
  • 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime.  That's one-third of all countries.
  • As many as one in four women experience physical or sexual violence during pregnancy.
  • One in two women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family. One in 20 men were killed in the same circumstances. (2012)

No country is free from these abuses.  That's why it is a pandemic.

Violence against women is complex issue, but it really comes down to power and control.  Gender inequality is at the root of gendered violence.  The supports that keep it in place are numerous and include under-representation of women in government, very few women heading large corporations or sitting  on their boards, discrimination at every level in the workforce, pay inequity, stereotyping and sexualization in media, and subjection to a culture of rape on a daily basis.  When you are perceived as being less deserving and innately inferior there’s a far greater risk of experiencing violence simply because you are female.

Racism, homophobia, classism, ageism, ableism and religious persecution all stem from the belief that not everyone is equal.  Certain groups within society are deemed less deserving making it acceptable to exert power and control over them.  The more categories that a woman fits into the greater her chances of experiencing gendered violence in her lifetime.

Men and boys may be unconsciously, or consciously, indoctrinated to believe that they are entitled to better food, medical care, education, other vital resources, and special privileges simply because they are male. This sense of entitlement influences the way that men and boys treat the women and girls in their lives. Often, women and children are considered possessions for men to do with as they wish. When this is expressed as gendered violence it must be made perfectly clear that it is against the law and will not be tolerated. That's why it is imperative all countries adopt laws to protect the human rights of women and girls.

Universally, women and girls bear the blame and shame associated with the violence imposed on them.  There needs to be a conscious shift to place the blame and shame firmly on the shoulders of the male perpetrators.  Abusive men must be made to take ownership of, and be held accountable for, their decisions and actions.

Gender equality needs to become the global norm. Currently, 143 countries guarantee equality in their constitutions while 52 do not. Governments also need to use a gender lens when designing and implementing policies and laws.

Men and boys need to be encouraged to support gender equity within their own families, communities, and countries as well as globally. The United Nations created the HeForShe Solidarity Movement to help accomplish this goal. Globally, 508,142 men have joined the movement.  In Canada 16,861 men are already standing up for gender equity. That puts Canada in sixth place behind Brazil (19,005), Britain (38,629), India (41,765), China (56,865), and the USA (85,581).

On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women remember that gendered violence is neither acceptable nor inevitable and it can be prevented if we all take a stand!

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