Population Matters

End the Epidemic of Violence against Women

November 25th, 2011

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and it marks the beginning of the 16 Days to End Violence against Women campaign. The campaign, which takes place every year between the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th and Human Rights Day on December 10th, , is designed to emphasize that violence against women, in any form, is a violation of human rights. While there are many forms of violence against women, including physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and economic violence, all of them have profound impacts on the lives of women around the world.

Violence against women is a global epidemic with up to 70 percent of women experiencing violence during their lifetime. The most common form of violence is domestic violence with studies suggesting that half of all women who are murdered are killed by a current or former husband or partner. Sexual violence is also widespread with an estimated one in five women becoming a victim of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Unfortunately sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war against millions of women and girls, some as old as grandmothers and some as young as toddlers.

Violence against girls takes several forms. Every year an estimated two million girls, primarily in developing countries, are forced to undergo female genital mutilation/cutting. FGM/C is any procedure that intentionally alters or injures female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Mostly performed on girls between infancy and age 15, FFM/C is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights.

Girls are also at risk of being married off at an early age, a practice that significantly increases the chances of suffering domestic violence. Child marriage is a recognized violation of human rights, but an average of 25,000 girls a day become child brides, and unless something is done to change this trend within the next 10 years, over 100 million girls in the developing world will become child brides. A child bride is often unable to negotiate safe sex, putting her at a higher risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) like HIV/AIDS.  She is also more likely to have an early, unsafe pregnancy that sharply increases her risk of dying or suffering from other life-threatening problems, including obstetric fistula.

Another major form of violence against women is trafficking. Every year between 500,000 and two million people are trafficked for many different reasons including prostitution, slavery, forced labor, or servitude, and eighty percent of them are women and girls.

The fact that seventy percent of women in the world experience violence during their lifetime is simply intolerable. During the 16 Days to End Violence against Women it is imperative that men and women around the world speak out against this epidemic of violence.  

So what can Americans do to fight back against this global problem? They can contact their U.S. Senators and urge them to ratify the Convention for the Elimination of All Form of Violence against Women. CEDAW is a 31-year old international human rights treaty that defends women’s rights and gender equality. The convention sets a global definition for discrimination against women and outlines a plan to end that discrimination. The United States is one of just six nations in the U.N. who have refused to ratify CEDAW. The other five countries are Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Palau, and Tonga.  If the United States wants to be a leader in human rights, particularly women’s rights, it is imperative that the U.S. ratify CEDAW and show that world that they will not accept this epidemic of violence against women around the world.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager