Is Violence Against Women a Priority in Political Agendas?

The reality shows that it should be, according to United Nations, 7 out of 10 women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime – the majority by someone they know. Acts of violence against women aged between 15 to 44, cause more deaths and disabilities than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Despite its magnitude, this issue occupies a marginal space in public agendas around the world and in many places it continues to be considered a domestic - private - problem. Politicians have the responsibility to take measures that contributive to stop this global threat and citizens have the responsibility to reject it.

This is a problem that affects not only poor and underdeveloped countries, but also the richest nations in the world. In the United States, during the last decade 11,766 women were killed as a result of domestic violence - almost double of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq in the same period of time. Additionally, 1 in 4 women have reported intimate partner violence. In Europe, 25% of citizens know a woman within their circle of friends and family who has been a victim of domestic violence - in the case of Sweden, Finland and the UK this percentage is around 40%.

In Latin America, according to the Organization of American States, each day 460 persons are victims of rape - probably mostly women. Colombia has a daily average of 245 women who are victims of some kind of violence; in the last decade almost 400 thousand suffered some form of abuse. In Mexico, 5 out of 10 women aged 15 or older have suffered violence from their partner. Only in 2009, in the middle of the drug war, UN Women denounced the occurrence of 1.859 femicides in this country. In Brazil, 6 out of 10 citizens know a woman who has been a victim of domestic violence.

These figures give us an idea of the magnitude of this every day tragedy. Despite its dimensions and multiple consequences, this is a concern that only appears when media shows dramatic cases that mobilize citizens. This is what recently happened in India, when a young medical student in one of the major cities was gang-raped demonstrations sparked in the country, with thousands of people demanding protection for women – every 20 minutes a woman is raped in India. In Colombia, on June 2012, the brutally rape and murder case of Rosa Elvira Cely in a public park provoked protests along the country. Currently, in the United States, a rape case of a schoolgirl in a small-town in Ohio called the attention of the media after members from Anonymous published a video showing a group of teenagers making fun of the victim. In the midst of this situation, different voices appeared demanding responses from institutions.

Although its severity, violence against women has not always gather attention from politicians and parties that most of the time have failed in taking the necessary steps to change this situation. Political leaders have relegated this problem to a marginal place in their agendas. Last week, the Republican-run House of Representative in the United States failed to pass the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), affecting around 30 million LGBT individuals, undocumented immigrants and Native American women that would have been protected under this law. 

Even though the U.S. has demonstrated global leadership on women’s right, it has failed to maintain bipartisan agreement on this topic and even worse, it has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against women - only eight countries have failed to ratify the convention, leaving the U.S. along with Iran, Somalia, and Sudan. On the other hand, the European Council stated that the lack of information on violence against women makes it extremely hard to understand the true dimension of the situation and provide a good solution. Part of the problem is that not all governments are interested enough to heed this challenge and make it a priority. If this is happening in the most developed countries, where strong democracies and institutions are present, imagine what is occurring in the rest of the world.

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As the Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet stated, it is time to stop this gross violation of human rights through the implementation of international treaties, standards and agreements: “This requires decisive and courageous leaders to translate these international promises into tangible national actions and to make a true difference in the lives of the women and girls”. Each person can contribute by expressing his/her unconformity with this tragedy and taking part of a collective action to catch the attention of politicians. This is the key step to achieve that our leaders leave the game of politics aside and focus on the victims. Stopping violence against women must be a political imperative for 2013.

PDT: Some current campaigns to stop violence against women…feel free to suggest many more.
- Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence against Women
- Únete – Latinoamerica y El Caribe
- One Billion Rising
- The Girl Effect
- Amnesty International: End the cycle of violence