Imagine if your children couldn’t walk to school without fear of life-threatening violence. Imagine if you feared for your safety every night because there were no lights on your street. Imagine if you were brutally attacked for simply trying to feed your family.
This is the harsh reality of every day life for millions of women and girls around the world.
The tragic story of Malala Yousafzai, a 14 year-old girl from Pakistan, has been a sobering reminder of the extreme violence facing many women and girls. Malala, a strong advocate for girls’ education, wrote a diary for BBC Urdu about her experiences as a schoolgirl in Swat Valley, a volatile area where the Taliban had closed more than 200 girls’ schools. While the diary demonstrated Malala’s courage and determination to provide a better future for herself and girls like her, it also made her a target. A few weeks ago, she was shot while coming home from school. Why was she shot? Just for being a girl, who dared to go to school.
In Haiti, many women and their families were forced to live in tent camps after the devastating 2010 earthquake destroyed their homes. The lack of security and lighting in the tent camps made women particularly vulnerable to attack. One Haitian woman described how she and her 13 year-old daughter were raped and threatened to be shot if they went to police, leaving them in a constant state of fear.
In Darfur, many women face sexual violence just for venturing out to collect firewood for meals. World Food Programme director Josette Sheeran recounted how she learned that although they were providing refugees with food, there wasn’t a concerted effort to think about how these women would cook that food. As a result, women were being attacked and raped trying to collect the fuel to cook the food they would been given in the camps.
While these stories are shocking, the most shocking fact is that there isn’t comprehensive action to prevent and respond to these violent acts. These incidences are just a few examples of rampant violence against women and girls throughout the world. At least one in three women around the world will be beaten, raped or face other abuse in her lifetime, and the majority of the time she will know her abuser. In fact, the Secretary-General’s Campaign to End Violence Against Women (UNiTE) estimates that 70% of women in some countries will experience violence in their lifetime. And girls in particular face unique challenges with violence. According to the World Health Organization, 50% of sexual assaults are against girls 15 and younger.
The threat of violence against women and girls is pervasive and affects all aspects of a woman’s life. When a woman can’t be safe, she can’t freely pursue educational, social, or economic opportunities to support herself and her family. This is simply unacceptable.
The UN Foundation, along with the UN and our partners, is working to address some of the issues that make women most susceptible to violence. In Haiti we worked with UNFPA and aligned with other organizations to deliver solar lights, which the UN called the single most important tool in fighting gender-based violence in the camps. Through the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, we are working to ensure that women the world over do not need to risk their safety to collect fuel to feed their families. Through our support of UN Adolescent Girl Programs, we are supporting programs on the ground to ensure that girls are safe. For instance in Liberia, the UN is helping to create safe spaces in youth centers where girls affected by violence can recover and receive counseling.
Gender-based violence can indeed seem like an overwhelming problem, but together, we can make a difference. We know what the solutions are. We just need to invest in them. It’s time for us to stand up with women around the world and declare that every woman and girl has the right to live every day free of violence.
This post was written by Katherine Brandon, Communications Officer for Women and Population at the UN Foundation as part of our series on Domestic Violence Awareness Month.