Each year, 15 million girls under 18 will be married; that's 41,000 each day, or nearly one girl every two seconds. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the second-leading cause of death of 15 to 19 year old girls globally. And, frighteningly, 30 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 around the world experience violence by a partner. Even here at home, three times as many Canadian women as men report being held back in some way due to their gender.
The positive effects of having supportive people around when someone decides to share their experiences cannot be underestimated. Not only does it open up the possibility of sharing at all, it encourages survivors to seek counselling and other supports, reducing levels of depression, anxiety and PTSD, and lessening the likelihood of experiencing abuse again. If someone chooses to disclose to you, the best thing you can do is believe them, avoid judgement, put their needs first and understand that everyone reacts differently to trauma. So, why is there still a public debate on whether we can believe women who share their stories of violence?
All societies have challenges with gender inequality, and GBV is not limited to humanitarian crises and emergency situations. But the risk and prevalence of GBV is exacerbated in emergency or conflict situations as people suffer displacement, separation from support networks, overcrowding, loss of documentation, the breakdown of social norms against violence, and other effects that increase vulnerability.
In South Sudan, domestic violence is widespread and largely tolerated. In the all-too-common words of two young women from Warrap State: "We are often beaten. When we make a mistake, we are beaten -- and there are so many mistakes." It was unfortunately not surprising that gender-based violence was a major threat for women living in IDP and refugee camps.
“Dear Daddy -- by the time I’m 14, the boys in my class will have called me a whore."
Women living with HIV must contend not only with the possibility of rejection, shame, or violence if they disclose, but also with the fear of criminalization. The law provides abusers with another tool for blackmail and further violence, even in cases where a woman disclosed. All the partner has to do is claim she didn't. It's important to generate strategies, such as electronic or paper documentation of disclosure, to protect women living with HIV from harassment, blackmail, abuse, criminal charges, and prosecution, all of which are fueled by the law. They need ways to look out for themselves physically, emotionally, and legally.
Girls living in poverty across the developing world are also much more likely to be subjected to violence than their brothers. Many believe girls have no business being in school. Many are forced against their will into marriage and intercourse in their teens. Two out of three victims of child trafficking around the world are girls.
Girls raped at the tender age of seven, some made pregnant at nine. Young women sold as property. A 20-year-old burned alive because she refused to comply with sexual demands and three girls attempting suicide by eating rat poison instead of submitting to their captors.
Violence against girls and women is an issue everywhere, not only in India. We've read about other high-profile attacks in the past year -- mass abductions of school girls in Nigeria, women murdered in El Salvador and Brazil, and rape and assault accusations directed at celebrities in Canada and the U.S. These events are rooted in sexist and discriminatory systems in societies around the world. As the documentary and so many studies show, extreme violence is at the far end of a continuum that's based on social norms and attitudes that women are subordinate to men. At one end of the continuum are brutal acts of violence; one out of every three women worldwide experiences sexual violence during her life
Abuse is always the responsibility of the abuser. Always. If we want to significantly change attitudes and feel optimistic about progress then we need to hear people saying loudly that there is no action or choice by a victim that can ever justify abuse. Not if she cheats on him, if she's a bad cook, if she nags, if she hates his mother, if she is passive, if she has different priorities, if she's stressed out, if she doesn't feel like sex, if she likes to spend, if she's a poor communicator, if she hates mopping the floor or if she forgets his birthday.