Global Outrage: More Than 1/3 of World's Women Suffer Physical or Sexual Violence
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Violence against women is certainly not a new phenomenon. We are constantly flooded with stories in the media of heinous acts of violence perpetrated against women across the globe. This is subsequently followed by extensive dialogue on women’s rights by activists and political bodies alike attempting to find solutions to address the problem, most commonly resulting in the adoption of legislation as a quick fix to satisfy public outrage.
While such legislative actions are commendable, necessary and timely, to date these measures have not led to a world free from violence—women continue to be subject to it, the media continues to report it, activists continue to fight against it and we end up in a perpetuating cycle of institutional inertia where recapping the problem seems like the only practical solution.
The question that remains unanswered is not what we can do to address it, but how such measures can be effectively implemented in order to change a climate of rape culture and impunity that is so heavily entrenched in our society.
According to a report released by the United Nations World Heath Organization (WHO), 35 percent of women around the world experience some form of physical or sexual violence, whether by an intimate partner or stranger, and the problem is so widespread that it is now considered a global public health problem.
The report is the first systematic study of global data on the prevalence of violence against women. The study found that violence committed by an intimate partner is the most common form of violence, affecting 30 percent of women worldwide. In addition, 38 percent of all women murdered globally are killed by their intimate partner; women who face physical and/or sexual partner violence are 1.5 times more likely to acquire a sexually transmitted infection and twice as likely to develop depression and alcohol-use problems.
The report comes amidst increasing international pressure in recent months for action to prevent violence against women. Last week the Security Council adopted a resolution to end impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in armed conflict zones. In a compelling speech, Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, stressed that victims were not only suffering at the hands of their rapists but also from a culture of impunity:
“These crimes happen not because they are inherent to war. It is because the global climate allows it. That young Syrian rape victim is here because you represent her. That five-year-old child in the Congo must count because you represent her. And in her eyes, if her attacker gets away with his crimes, it is because you have allowed it."
Following its adoption, the UN Security Council said the resolution sent a strong signal to perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their actions and that rape by armed groups and in conflict will not be tolerated. However, while such dialogue is welcome, without political will by state governments to implement such measures or a judiciary willing to apply such laws, the current climate of physical and sexual violence against women is unlikely to change. Moreover, the Security Council lacks any sort of police powers to enforce such global action.
There is no one-size-fits-all bandage that can be plastered over the issue in its entirety without addressing the underlying social and cultural factors, which underpin the problem. Certain violent acts committed against women are country specific and/or conflict specific and while solutions in one situation may be appropriate, they may not be applicable in another.
Likewise, here on American soil, we are not immune from such violence either as we continue to battle rhetoric which blames the victim and sympathizes with perpetrators. It was only in March this year that CNN, in its coverage of an Ohio high-school rape case, lamented about the promising future of the Steubenville rapists whose lives were now ruined because of their decision to rape a 16-year-old girl. There was no mention of the ramifications of the rape on the young woman.