Protection for women: Policies and data
Jamiil Touré Ali
December 15th, 2020
Women are the pillar of many dimensions in our societies, communities, associations, organizations, and families. Protecting them from all sorts of violence should be a priority in a country whether or not there is a gender imbalance. According to the declaration on the elimination of violence against women “Violence against women means 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” (UN, article 1, 1993). Violence against women shall be understood to encompass, but not be limited to, the following: physical, sexual, and psychological violence occurring in the family, within the general community, and perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs. (UN, article 2, 1993)
This is also one of the challenges framed in the Sustainable Development Goal 5 Gender equality, especially in its target 5.2. “Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.” Achieving such a target as initiated by the international day of violence against women which is followed by 16 days of activism against gender-based violence means more than just passing laws to protect women, organizing awareness events or resolving sexual abuse cases in a country. It also means collecting and tracking data on the progress of violence against women.
The last sixty years have raised awareness regarding violence against women and have changed the way they are perceived nowadays. Nevertheless, there are many challenges that still need to be addressed. In the past, the victims’ silence is an ever well-known hindrance preventing the elimination of this type of violence. There were no real means to evaluate the seriousness of the abuse committed. Population’s ignorance of existing laws and their lack of enforcement was also another big issue prevailing at the time due to the lack of tracked records.
Nowadays, data on violence against women and girls is available in 106 countries and UN Women recognizes that the following key facts and figures need to be addressed :
- Globally, 35% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, or sexual violence by a non-partner (WHO, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, South African Medical Research Council, 2013).
- 137 women are killed by a member of their family every day (UNODC, 2019).
- Less than 40% of women who experience violence seek help of any sort (UN – DESA, 2015).
- At least 155 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, and 140 have laws on sexual harassment in the workplace (World Bank Group, 2020).
- Adult women account for nearly half (49%) of all human trafficking victims detected globally (UNODC, 2018).
- In 2019, one in five women, aged 20–24 years, were married before the age of 18 (UNSD – DESA, 2020).
- At least 200 million women and girls, aged 15–49 years, have undergone female genital mutilation in 31 countries where the practice is concentrated (UNSD – DESA, 2020).
- 15 million adolescent girls worldwide, aged 15–19 years, have experienced forced sex (UNICEF, 2017).
- School-related gender-based violence is a major obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls (UNESCO, 2019).
- One in 10 women in the European Union report having experienced cyber-harassment since the age of 15 (FRA, 2014).
- In the Middle East and North Africa, 40–60% of women have experienced street-based sexual harassment (Promundo and UN, 2017).
- Across five regions (18 countries in Africa, 15 in Europe, 10 in Asia-Pacific, 8 in the Americas and 4 in Arab countries), 82% of women parliamentarians reported having experienced some form of psychological violence while serving their terms (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2016).
Taken from UN Women, 2020
The above key facts highlight the importance and added value that data brings to the quest of raising awareness of violence against women. The data allows us to realize, for instance, that domestic violence remains one of the biggest challenges in eliminating violence against women. They also allow underlining analysis such as which type of violence against women is concentrated in certain countries. For instance, genital mutilation is prevalent across African countries and in the Middle East while online or digital violence against women is more concerning in European Union countries. Data availability allows us to tell the story about violence against women and bring the necessary insights in order to solve this issue.
As reported by the United Nations Development Programme, violence against women data are missing in most of the Arab States (90 %) and many countries from Latin America and the Caribbean (70 %) as well (UNDP, 2017). Moreover, the data gap situation is currently threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially weakening women’s position in their households because women victims are now confined with their abusers. To reinforce the availability of data on violence against women even during the pandemic, UN Women proposed a decision tree in order to safely continue this battle. The decision tree entails a flow chart (with a series of questions) prioritizing the interviewee’s security over data collections. This has allowed the generation of some COVID-19 situation key facts from the UN Women, 2020:
- Calls to helplines have increased fivefold in some countries, as rates of reported domestic violence increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic (UN Women, 2020).
- By September 2020, 48 countries had integrated prevention and response into their COVID-19 response plans to address violence against women and girls (UN Women and UNDP, 2020).
These facts are both as alarming as comforting facts. For instance, the first fact indicates a resurgence in domestic violence and at the same time a big win in the number of cases reported by victims which is fivefold compared to the earlier days, when victims endured the abuses silently. On the country level, the insights demonstrate a breach in the laws and mechanisms that are already in place to protect women. Data generation is omnipresent in the 21st century and we should take advantage of it to collect data, and draw insights to make the right decisions or compel countries that haven’t yet to enact laws protecting women.
We need to align the mechanisms of revindication with data collection taking into consideration the coronavirus pandemic. We need to stay on top of collecting data, track the evolution of situations across the globe, and obliging states in some cases to enact laws to protect women as framed in the declaration on the elimination of violence against women. An example of this is the Global database on violence against women. The database provides a roadmap on the type of violence against women and forms of measures undertaken by the country. Such overview allows better support to eliminate violence against women and most of all, highlights the weaknesses in terms of laws, institutional mechanisms, research and statistical data, policies, budgets, services, prevention, perpetrators programs, regional initiatives, monitoring and evaluation.
To conclude, we acknowledge that caring for women is not just about facts and statistics, but rather defending the unalterable women’s rights with solid points and insights that can’t be revoked. As a result, the full respect of the declaration on the elimination of violence against women is achievable if we work with data to prove facts to different heads of state about the alarming danger that represents violence against women to our different societies, communities, families, and countries development as a whole. For countries who already acknowledge and enforce the resolution in the declaration, the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence should serve as a good springboard in promoting the different laws, mechanisms, and regional initiatives to help victims voice out their struggles, and most importantly, be protected from their perpetrators. The results being a world free of violence against women where achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls will no longer be elusive.