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Violence Against Women Is Blocking Development

Modern development strategies often recognize the pivotal importance of enabling women to fulfill their potential and contribute effectively to their economies. Yet they fail to recognize the need for concerted action to protect women from violence, and uphold the rights of victims. They are thus grossly inadequate.

JOHANNESBURG – The single highest barrier to development globally is neither hunger nor disease. It is gender-based discrimination and violence. That is why achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 – gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls – is a prerequisite for progress on the other 16 SDGs. And yet, with only a decade left to complete the SDG agenda, governments continually fail to uphold girls and women’s most basic rights, let alone empower them to reach their full potential.

Consider the plight of women in South Africa, where the femicide rate is almost five times the global average and sexual assault is rampant: in 2018-2019, the police recorded an average of 114 rapes per day – an increase of nearly 5% from the previous year. To add insult to injury, women and girls – including victims of such assaults – often lack access to sexual and reproductive health services, including safe, affordable abortion.

The problem is not legal. South Africa’s constitution guarantees access to reproductive health care, and the 1996 Choice on Termination of Pregnancy (CTOP) act allows abortion on demand up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. And yet unsafe abortions still outnumber safe abortions 2:1.