Words by Sian Norris, feminist activist
Across the world, 1 in 3 women will experience gender-based violence. That’s over 1 billion women and girls. One billion women and girls who will be beaten, raped, abused, assaulted, mutilated, murdered – simply because they are a woman.
Statistics released by the World Health Organisation earlier this year starkly reveal the extent of gender-based violence across the globe. They found the lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence and non-partner violence against women ranged from 45.6% in Africa to 27.9% in the Western Pacific and was at 32.7% in the ‘high income’ countries such as the UK and USA.
These numbers are shocking. But they are not surprising.
Often when we talk about global violence against women and girls, the conversation turns into one about ‘culture’. It becomes an argument about how it happens ‘over there’ because that’s how specific cultures treat women. But what these numbers show is that violence against women is not a respecter of class or race or religion or country or region. It happens across society, across the world, across cultures. It happens because in every region, in every country, in every sector of society, some men believe they have the right to abuse women. Our culture gives those men the green light to abuse.
We give them the green light when we doubt women, and victim blame. We give them the green light when we say abusers are good fathers and upstanding members of the community. We give them the green light when we report men who murder their partners as being provoked by her behaviour – even when that behaviour is her leaving him because of his violence. We give them the green light when we buy their records, when we read their books, when we watch their films. We give them the green light when ministers refuse to make sex education that includes consent and respect mandatory. We give them the green light when we laugh at rape jokes. We give them the green light when we close down refuges so women have no-where to go. We give them the green light when we refuse to face up to the reality of the extent of violence against women and girls.
Across the world, we allow and make excuses for the men who choose to abuse women. As a result, we have reached a point where violence against women is now recognised as a global crisis.
So what can we do? The answer to me lies in feminism. Feminism is the social movement to liberate all women from patriarchy – and it is our tool to end violence against women. Feminism promotes women’s bodily autonomy and demands an end to a world where women are abused with impunity. It stands up against a rape culture that places all the emphasis on victims and survivors and ignores the responsibility of perpetrators. It promotes sex and relationships education that talks openly about consent and respect. It aims to challenge a culture that gives some men a belief in entitlement over women’s bodies. Feminism does all of this, and we have seen some real success in changing attitudes. But we cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand when one billion of the world’s people are abused simply because they are women. It’s not good enough. It has to change.