Words by Bernie Ritchie

Today is an important day for the team at Bristol Woman. Today, we celebrate our first birthday at Bristol Woman as well as marking International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the start of the ’16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence’ campaign. Today, we mark Day 1 of the #16Days campaign and giving thought to the burning question of continued and frequent incidences of violence against women – #VAWG – across the world. A troubling topic that we should all campaign against and think deeply about in whatever way we can.

We support the sentiment of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as he launched the UN’s UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign this year: ‘Break the silence. When you witness violence against women and girls, do not sit back. Act. Everyone has a responsibility to prevent and end violence against women and girls, starting by challenging the culture of discrimination that allows it to continue’.

In Bristol, and across the world, it has never been more imperative to take action toward ending gender-based violence. Women continue to be beaten in their homes, harassed on the streets and bullied on the internet. Today, as we look ahead to 2015, it is more important than ever for women – and men – across the world to join together in one strong voice and say enough to gender-based violence and its root causes of discrimination, inequality, and violations of economic and social rights. And today, we should also give concerned thought to these sobering facts detailed by UN Women: 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner; about 120 million girls have been forced into intercourse or other sexual acts at some points in their lives; of all women killed in 2012, almost half died at the hands of a partner or family member; 133 million women and girls have undergone FGM.

The #16days campaign represents a vital opportunity for us all to raise awareness and trigger action to end the global scourge of violence, discrimination and inequality based on gender, disability and sexual orientation. This deep-rooted global Campaign continues to be a critical rallying point for women’s and human rights organisations, individuals, the UN, and government entities as a way to call for an end to #VAWG and gender-based violence.

Bristol Woman supports and welcomes the new domestic violence law which UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, is expected to kick-start this week by unveiling plans that will put psychological and emotional abuse on a par with domestic violence. For the first time, men who control their partners through threats or by restricting their personal or financial freedom, could face prison in the same way as those who are violent towards them. While the government’s definition of domestic violence recognises the impact of coercive control and threatening behaviour, this has not previously been reflected in law.

Bristol Woman also welcomes the recent launch of The Lancet’s new series of five discussion papers, published on 21st November this year which discuss and explore current #VAWG issues. This five-paper series from The Lancet discussing #VAWG issues in depth seeks to show that violence against women and girls is preventable. The papers cover the evidence base for interventions, discuss the vital role of the health sector in care and prevention, show the need for men and women to be involved in effective programmes, provide practical lessons from experience in countries, and present a call for action with five key recommendations and indicators to track progress.

The two co-leads of The Lancet’s #VAWG Series – WHO’s Dr Claudia Garcia-Moreno and Professor Charlotte Watts, founding director of the Gender Violence and Health Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – both have important things to say about this troubling abuse. Dr Claudia Garcia-Moreno declared: ‘In too many settings, women remain second-class citizens, are discriminated against, and made subservient to men. Even where women enjoy many freedoms, the feat and reality of male violence persists’ while Professor Charlotte Watts outlined the fact that: ‘No magic wand will eliminate VAWG. But evidence tells us that changes in attitudes and behaviours are possible, and can be achieved within less than a generation’.

Also calling for action to end #VAWG at the start of this 2014 #16days Campaign is UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. She tells us quite clearly: ‘This is not something for other people to deal with – it’s a job for all of us. Men and women, boys and girls. WHO has declared VAWG to be global health problem of epidemic proportions. There is a role for all of us in stopping this’. We support her passion and the sentiment of what she says.

In our second year, Bristol Woman commits to ramping up both its voice and its campaigning stance, side by side with our peers in Bristol and across the world, to play our part in ensuring #VAWG in Bristol and wider is prevented as much as possible. It’s a human rights violation and a global pandemic yet it does not have to be inevitable. Let’s ALL play our part across this next year to get involved, show our support, raise awareness and campaign against #VAWG.

Rise up Bristol. Women need you.

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