Step up campaigns to end violence that stalks our women and girls

When women are brutalized, their economic activity levels are lowered and this affects whole societies, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. [iStockphoto]

Today is International Human Rights Day and also the end of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which began on November 25.

The 16 Days of Activism Campaign is a civil society-led annual international campaign started in 1991 by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, and the participants of the first Women’s Global Institute on Women, Violence and Human Rights.

It is now used as an organising strategy by individuals, civil society, and other institutions and organisations the world over for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. In support of this campaign, the United Nations in 2008 launched the ‘UNITE to End Violence Against Women’ initiative, a multi-year effort to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls around the world that is managed by UN Women.

UNITE calls on governments, civil society, women’s organisations, young people, the private sector and media to join forces to address the global pandemic of violence against women and girls. This year’s UNITE theme is “Invest to prevent violence against women and girls”, and UN Women has released some disturbing statistics.

More than 245 million women and girls aged 15 and older experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner every year while 4 in 5 women and girls live in countries without robust legal protections against violence. 614 million women and girls live in conflict-affected areas and are exposed to violence. This figure has increased by 50 per cent since 2017.

A global study found that 38 per cent of women have personal experience of online violence and 85 per cent of women who spend time online have witnessed digital violence against other women. In the Arab States region, in 2021, 60 per cent of women internet users were exposed to online violence, and the numbers are increasing.

The impact and consequences of violence against women and girls are negative, life-long, and far-reaching as they affect their physical and mental well-being, and impact their professional development and economic empowerment, which extends to social and economic consequences for families, communities, and societies.

When women are brutalized, their economic activity levels are lowered and this affects whole societies, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. UN Women proposes “a comprehensive robust response that invests in prevention through strengthened legislation, improved services for survivors, and sound evidence and data.”

Preventative measures such as engaging the media, men and boys, community and religious leaders, and schools and colleges to promote positive social norms, create awareness, and behaviour and attitude change campaigns, are critical. They require budgets and resources, and political commitment and goodwill, which are sadly lacking in most countries including ours.

We have good legal, policy, and institutional frameworks and even budgetary lines that target women and girls, and programmes supported by social protection systems, to strengthen women’s economic security and autonomy, which if matched with adequate budgets, resources, and goodwill can easily promote safer workplaces, reduce the risk of violence, ensure equal pay for equal work done by women, and provide women and girls with all-round economic, social, political and cultural securities.

Sadly, challenges of limited investment and resources in prevention and survivor programmes continue to undermine any progress toward ending violence against women and girls by 2030.

The media, civil society organizations, and other institutions have been doing a commendable job of promoting this year’s theme of investing in the prevention of violence against women and girls. Various media houses have been airing educational and awareness creation programmes targeted at prevention and improved services for survivors including some culture-bursting programmes led by men in areas where being a woman is precarious and violence against them is stigmatized and treated as a private matter.

These men and the women who support them behind the scenes are the heroes and heroines of our Jamhuri Day.

The writer is a democracy, governance and elections expert. Works for South Eastern Kenya University (SEKU) Kwa Vonza in Kitui County.