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UNiTE to end violence against women

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Image: UN Women/Niels den Hollander

Over the years my wardrobe has expanded to include a purple skirt, several purple blouses, dresses, pants, amethyst jewellery, and of course scarves. November 1 each year I light up my porch with strings of purple mini lights. I do this to draw attention to the fact that November is Woman Abuse Prevention month in Ontario.

But, on Friday, November 25 I will be wearing my favourite orange turtle neck sweater along with my purple infinity scarf as I do my part to Orange the World to end violence against women and girls.

Friday marks the start of the UN Women's 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence -- from International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25, to Human Rights Day on December 10.

Violence against women and intimate partner violence is a human rights violation. All women and girls have the right to live free from all forms of violence and the fear of violence. UNiTE to End Violence against Women uses orange as a unifying theme symbolizing a brighter future. Buildings and significant structures around the world will be lit orange every night.

During these 16 days and nights, women, men, girls and boys, politicians, and citizens will stand in solidarity to show support for women's rights. They'll also be reinforcing the rights of victims and survivors to full protection from the law including perpetrators accepting responsibility while facing appropriate legal consequences under the law.

Interventions must consider the immediate and ongoing safety of survivors; empower her to make her own decisions; recognize and meet the language and cultural needs of diverse backgrounds and communities; acknowledge and support the rights of individuals to information and resources to change violent circumstances.

This is a tremendous mandate to achieve, but as Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director has stated, "The price of no change is unacceptable. We believe in and work for a world where women and girls can flourish and prosper peacefully alongside men and boys, sharing in and benefitting from societies that value their skills and accept their leadership."

This year's theme, Orange the World: Raise Money to End Violence against Women and Girls, brings the issue of sustainable financing for initiatives to the forefront. Sustainable financing is imperative to effectively prevent and end violence against women and girls here at home and around the world.

A systemic problem to achieving sustainable ongoing funding to eradicate gendered violence is the universal invisibility of women. The invisibility of women and the magnitude of gendered violence are amplified when intersecting oppressions are part of the equation. 

Ableism, racism, discrimination based on poverty, heterosexism, sexism, classism, ethnocentrism, transphobia, homophobia, and ageism are a few of the persecutions that keep women trapped in the cycle of violence.

Colonialization, capitalism, politics, globalization and war compound the oppressions women face and make it increasingly difficult for them to exercise their human rights.

Even when there are laws prohibiting certain practices often local rituals override the laws. Child marriage is a case in point. According to the UN, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year. That is 28 girls every minute or one every two seconds. That looks like this, one in nine girls is married under 15 years of age while one in three girls is married before 18. And, don't kid yourself, child brides happen in Canada. Think of Bountiful, B.C.

Often, the practice involves kidnapping, raping and then marrying an under-age girl. Once raped she is damaged property and no other man will have her so she is forced to marry her rapist. This often ends her childhood, access to education, chances for a better life, and puts her at heightened risk of dying in childbirth, living in poverty, and living with intimate partner violence.

Should the young woman escape she will most likely be sent back to live with her abuser. Should she kill him she will most likely find herself on trial for murder.

Often there are laws in place which make it illegal to rape women with the intention of forcing them into marriage, but often these laws are overlooked or not enforced and so the practice continues unabated.

Here in Canada we have a similar situation when it comes to rape because the laws in place are not necessarily enforced by the police or the legal system. Perhaps more disturbing is the reality that rape is not always seen as a crime and even when it is, the victim is put on trial rather than the rapist.

Each year there are 460,000 sexual assaults in Canada. For every 1,000 sexual assaults 33 are reported to police; 29 are recorded as a crime; 12 have charges laid; 6 are prosecuted; 3 lead to conviction; and 997 assailants walk free.

We live in a society where there is systemic discrimination against women and a rampant rape culture. Often bystanders are reluctant to play that pivotal role of interrupting the rape or at the very least, contacting police.

Femicide is the ultimate form of violence against women and girls. It exists in every country and takes many forms. It is when a woman or girl is killed simply because she is female. It occurs because violence against women continues to be accepted, tolerated and justified. It is rooted in gender inequality, gender expectations, and systemic gender-based discrimination.

Femicide takes many forms and crosses cultural, religious and racial divides. A woman or girl may find her life threatened if she:

  • is born female (female infanticide)
  • marries for love
  • brings an insufficient dowry
  • has a relationship outside of marriage
  • has a relationship outside the approved group
  • loses her virginity before marriage
  • becomes pregnant outside of marriage
  • spends time without the supervision of a family member
  • reports domestic violence
  • attempts to get a divorce
  • tries to get custody of her children during or after a divorce
  • refuses to divorce when ordered to do so by family members
  • has an abusive intimate partner
  • is singled out by a mass murderer as was the case at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal (1989)
  • is considered disposable by men as in the case of Aboriginal women and sex workers

In Canada, our Aboriginal sisters have a long history of living with the fear of femicide dating back to first contact. It took international pressure from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as well as demands from Aboriginal leaders, Aboriginal women and ordinary Canadians to get a national inquiry into our missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. Let’s hope the government gets this inquiry right and implements the recommendations in a timely manner with enough funding to make fundamental changes to end this systemic femicide.

Unfortunately, Canadians are now seeing cases of femicide being dismissed from court rather than being prosecuted because the accused was not tried within a reasonable time. However, a stalling tactic used by defendants in these cases is to repeatedly fire and hire lawyers to represent their case. The time delays are allotted to the case and not to the defendant. Based on this misinformation judges can dismiss cases. Once again, the perpetrator goes free.

Violence against women and girls is a global epidemic and it exists in many forms right here in Canada. We are in no way immune to gendered violence nor the devastation and destruction left in its wake.

During the 16 days of activism wear orange to show your solidarity and commitment to eliminating violence against women in Canada and around the world. More importantly, consider one action you can take or event you can attend that will help make a change in the lives of women in your life, community, province, or somewhere in the world. Then do it!

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Image: UN Women/Niels den Hollander

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