UN Women

World News


A Day to Shine a Light on the Dark World of Violence against Women and Girls

Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a pervasive and global violation of human rights where this crime is often hidden because of the disgrace, dishonor, and shame perpetrated upon the victim. Women remain silent and decide not to report this crime because the perpetrator is often their domestic partner.

The United Nations General Assembly has recognized the widespread abuse occurring to women and girls and has designated November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In 2008, the late UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon initiated the UNITE to End Violence against Women campaign to raise awareness and take steps to eliminate violence against women and girls.

The campaign calls for all segments of global society – both public and private – to partner in this endeavor. The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is a campaign occurring annually beginning on November 25 and concluding on December 10, UN Human Rights Day. The theme this year is “Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands against Rape.”

From a historical perspective, November 25 was chosen to coincide with the death in 1960 of the Mirabal sisters, Minerva, Maria Teresa (“Mate”), and Patria political activists in the Dominican Republic who were assassinated on orders from then-dictator Rafael Trujillo who ruled from 1930-1961. In December 1999 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution formally declaring November 25 as the day the world would recognize all women and girls who have been the victims of violence.

In December 1993 the UN General Assembly issued the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women which states that violence against women constitutes “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.”

Such violence reaches all aspects of a woman or girls’ life. For example, educational opportunities for women and girls are adversely affected. This has a ripple effect through all of society. Moreover, VAWG hinders efforts to achieve “equality, development, peace as well as to the fulfillment of women and girls’ human rights.”

The statistics of this violence are alarming. It is reported that 1 in 3 women and girls will experience some form of violence in the course of their life. In 2017, 1 in 2 women killed occurred at the hands of their domestic partner. Further, 71% of the cases of human trafficking globally occurs to women and girls with 75% having been sexually exploited.

This is an issue of epic proportions. What can be done? The first important step has come because of the leadership of the UN. Having a day dedicated to VAWG raises awareness of the problem. The second step requires, no demands, that the international community adopt a zero-tolerance policy pertaining to VAWG.

However, unfortunately, some nations – including the U.S. – have failed to take steps to adopt a zero-tolerance policy to rid the scourge of domestic violence. Some nations, perhaps more than others, have it ingrained in their culture.

A project by the Thomson Reuters Foundation titled TrustLaw surveyed women’s rights experts in 2018 to determine the worst places in the world for women. The results concluded that the following countries saw a higher level of VAWG than most nations of the world: India, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Nigeria, and the United States.

The survey looked at some of the reasons as to why VAWG is so pervasive in these countries. Some given were abject poverty, lack of proper health services, conflict, as well as human trafficking. What accounts for the U.S. making the list? Has the U.S. become numb to the issue of VAWG? When a case of domestic violence is reported in the news, are Americans no longer shocked by such heinous acts? Why does it persist? Questions not easily answered.

This November 25 take a moment to reflect upon why there is a need to have a day dedicated to violence against women and girls. This issue is not exclusive to the countries on this list. The UN has recognized the problem and, as such, has sought to shed light on an issue where darkness resides.