Ending Violence Against Women: Bringing Those Ridiculous Statistics Down to Zero

One day until Black Friday sales!

Less than four weeks until the new Star Wars movie!
One month until Christmas!
Sixteen days to raise awareness about violence against women! 
Go ahead and pick the one that’s most important to you. Before you do, think of these statistics:
  • One in three boys and men are victims of physical and sexual abuse, often at the hands of their partners. 
  • 4.5 million boys and men around the world are victims of forced sexual exploitation.
  • 700 million men were married as children, 250 million of whom before the age of 15.
  • 1 in 2 murdered men worldwide in 2012 were killed by their partners or family members.
Now waitaminute!
You’re probably thinking, these statistics simply cannot be true. Nonsense! And you’d be right. There’s no way there are that many boys and men who are victims of violence at the hands of their partners. No way so many boys and men can be victims of sexual exploitation or married as children. These numbers are ridiculous; they make no sense.
The statistics are indeed ridiculous, but they are not fabricated: switch “boys” and “men” with “girls” and “women” in each of those statistics and you get the world’s current reality. I switched the sexes from these true sobering facts.
Violence against women and girls – from physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, financial, and spiritual – extends far too profoundly into the fabric of every culture. The causes are numerous, but at the heart of much of the violence is a deep inequality between men and women. As stated by the Canadian Women’s Foundation: “In our society, gender inequality is visible in many areas, including politics, religion, media, cultural norms, and the workplace. Both men and women receive many messages—both blatant and covert—that men are more important than women. This fundamental inequality creates a rationale for humiliation, intimidation, control, abuse, and even murder.”  
In Canada, there are groups that are especially vulnerable: 2/3 of women who are victims of sexual assault are under the age of 24; Aboriginal women are eight times more likely to be killed by their partner than non-Aboriginal women; and 60% of women with disabilities are victims of violence. While these groups account for a disproportionate number for victims, it falls on everybody – men, women, boys, and girls – to understand the causes of violence against women, to empower girls and women to understand and fully enjoy their rights, to educate boys, men, women and girls on harmful behaviours, attitudes and practices that contribute to violence against women, and of course for everyone to talk about it. Violence against women cannot remain taboo or a private matter. It shouldn’t be talked about jokingly; it shouldn’t be perpetuated from one generation to the next.
I’ve been lucky; I was raised by my mother, a woman who defiantly challenged instances when she was discriminated against. She’d come back from a garage after getting her car serviced and tell me: “They were going to take advantage of me and charge me for things I didn’t need because I’m a woman, but Buster Boy, I told them they’d better not.” She would be verbally abused, but she stood her ground. If she were being treated like shit, she’d throw it back in the guy’s face. She showed me that you had to stand up for what’s right (and that you were pretty stupid if you decided to take advantage of my mother). Just as importantly, her courage in facing discrimination exposed me to its existence in our society. Getting ripped off by a mechanic is not nearly the same as severe forms of violence against women like physical or sexual abuse. However it speaks to a persistent inequality that many men perpetuate and continue to assume is “normal.” But it’s not normal. These forms of discrimination and violence have to be named, have to be talked about, and need to end. 

November 25 marks the start of a global campaign to end violence against women. The campaign is referenced on social media through hashtags such as #16days or #orangetheworld. It won’t happen in the next 16 days, but everyone should take the time – between shopping for that big screen TV at a Black Friday sale, purchasing tickets for the latest Star Wars movie, or buying a couple of gifts on your Xmas list – to learn more about violence against women and ways to bring those real statistics down to zero.

Learn more: UN Women kicks of its 16 days of activism to end violence against women from November 25 until December 10. Ideas on what to do, including ways to show support through social media, can be found here

Violence against women: From This isn’t supposed to happen to Never again

Twenty-three years ago December 6 I walked into my home at the end of a school day and found my mother in the living room staring at our crappy RCA television. There was a live report showing ambulances parked near a building with sirens flashing in the dark. Fat, wet snowflakes blurred the TV screen. My mother didn’t turn to say hello; her eyes stared at the images unfolding, her left hand placed flat on her chest.

“There was a shooting at the École Polytechnique,” she whispered.
The rest of the evening was a blur. We barely spoke, absorbing the images of police officers and paramedics unused to dealing with this level of tragedy, the somber commentary of the newscasters and reporters telling us that, once the last bullet was shot, a lone gunman killed fourteen women. This isn’t supposed to happen here, I thought over and over in my head.
Anne-Marie Edward. Photo courtesy of the Edward family.
When the names and photos of the victims were released in the local paper, my heart sunk further as I recognized Anne-Marie Edward’s smiling face. We had a friendly rivalry in a calculus class we’d taken together the previous year in college. She was sweet, always smiling, and solved some math problems a fair bit faster than me. After graduating from college, I went to one university while she went to the Polytechnique to be an engineering student. Now all that she was, and the lives of 13 other women, were wiped out.
As the anniversary of the massacre is marked December 6, my thoughts once again wander to what happened, what could have been had this never taken place, and what fulfilling lives the victims would have had. A tragedy like this shifted my thinking from This isn’t supposed to happen here to This can never happen again.
Unfortunately, violence against women is still pervasive and knows no boundaries, and it is inextricably tied to violence using firearms. Anne-Marie’s mother, Suzanne Laplante-Edward, in an articleurging for stricter gun-control laws in Canada, points out that “Studies have shown that rates of homicide in domestic-violence situations increase significantly when there is a firearm in the home. Rifles and shotguns are the guns most likely to be used in domestic violence. Women’s groups have repeatedly said that strong controls on guns are needed to enforce court orders, and ensure vulnerable women’s and children’s safety.”
At issue of course is a lot more than gun control. Violence against women in its many forms – physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, financial, spiritual – must be tackled by tightening guns laws, enabling girls and women to understand and claim their rights, providing girls and women with resources and support to live in safety and dignity, and educating boys and men about equality, respect, and kindness. Many forms of violence against women remain hidden, unreported, hushed aside as a family matter not to be discussed. Efforts like the current 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign aim at raising awareness of this issue, but 16 days isn’t enough, it has to be 365.
December 6 is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. As we remember the victims of violence against women, the “action” part of this day cannot be neglected. Given the prevalence of violence against women, everyone – and I really mean everyone – knows someone who has been a victim. Sign a petition, read more about the issue, support a women’s group, talk to your friends about it, do something. This stuff is everybody’s business, and it’s got to go away.
To learn more:

Stop beating your sisters

I met a young woman two days ago in Amman. Just married last week, half my age, a pleasant smile and a discernible shyness when it came to speaking English with me. She seemed happy. Her brothers regularly beat her. They wanted her to marry someone of their choosing, and she didn’t. She had the opportunity to pursue her university studies, but they prevented her from doing so.

In the absence of a father, with the mother powerless and reluctantly siding with her sons, there seems to be no escaping the violence for this young woman. Her village north of Amman is steeped in tradition according to a mutual friend I spoke to afterwards. Part of this tradition means, regrettably, that the men in a family feel they must exercise their power over women by beating them.

Violence against women in its many forms – physical, sexual, psychological, and economic, is “a universal phenomenon.” Beating a woman is a tradition that has no place in any society. It’s senseless, vicious and leaves scars that run far deeper than any bruise. Unfortunately, in Jordan and elsewhere, such practices are prevalent but taboo. This is simply not acceptable. Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, visited Jordan late last year and highlighted the issues of sexual harassment and sexual violence. In a press release she noted that while many of the people she spoke to during her visit said that these were not problems in Jordan, “it is necessary to acknowledge that sexual violence and sexual harassment occur both within and outside the family in every society.”

She continued: “The fact that certain subjects might be considered taboo within a society that largely describes itself as traditional, conservative, patriarchal and tribal might explain women’s silence with regard to these manifestations of violence.”

The young woman I met is silent – such silence won’t help her, and it won’t help all the other women and girls who are victims of violence in Jordan. But her fear at speaking out is understandable. The reprisals from her brothers can be even more severe. Our mutual friend told me that there are organizations that help women who are victims of violence, but in his words, “that is not enough. The mindset of the men has to change as well. Even if the woman is empowered to become more assertive, she will still face men who will challenge her. Education has to take place for the men in order for these traditions to change.” I couldn’t agree more.