LAST week Friday was the first day of the Global 16 Days Campaign which was started by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991. The campaign, which begins on November 25 — International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) — every year and end on December 10 — Human Rights Day — was started to focus on ending violence against women.
Many organisations and individuals participate in the campaign all over the world, and these days become a time to raise awareness. At thousands of events and on thousands of flyers, the statistics we should all know well by now are announced. One in three women experience physical or sexual abuse in their lifetimes.
After decades of awareness-raising, we must use these campaign periods differently. Thanks to the work of women, largely from the “Global South,” we have terms like “violence against women” and generally understand what they mean. Domestic violence and intimate partner violence are generally understood to be wrong, they are criminalised in various (but not always comprehensive and appropriate) ways, and we are getting closer to everyone understanding that women are disproportionately affected by this kind of violence.
Our greatest challenge today is not that people are unaware. It is that the connections are not being made between systems and behaviours which would necessitate transformation in both.
Intimate partner violence and domestic violence do not appear within relationships and households out of nowhere. These behaviours are connected to ideologies about gender and relationships, and the ways people learn from and manipulate laws, policies, religions, and cultural norms. Once we acknowledge that intimate partner violence and domestic violence are pervasive issues, to address them, we have to be prepared to look at the underlying systems in addition to the ways they affect various aspects of our lives and sectors of society and economy.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says: “Violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence – is a major public and clinical health problem and a violation of women’s human rights. It is rooted in and perpetuates gender inequalities.”
It is understood that violence against women is a public health issue. We also know that healthcare professionals are among the best placed to recognise signs that a woman is experiencing domestic or intimate partner violence and have the opportunity to intervene. Where there is failure to prevent or intervene, domestic and intimate partner violence, among other forms of violence against women, can result in femicide.
Femicide is the killing of a woman or girl because of her gender or sex. In “Understanding and addressing violence against women” WHO said, “Femicide is generally understood to involve intentional murder of women because they are women, but broader definitions include any killings of women or girls.” This is an important point because femicide can be direct or indirect, and it can be the result of a failure to provide essential services and resources.
WHO also noted that “most cases of femicide are committed by partners or ex-partners, and involve ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner”. There are often signs of this that can be observed by or verbally communicated to healthcare professionals. WHO has acknowledged that it needs to train and sensitise health staff and to strengthen screening.
Dubravka Simonovic, former Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, said that femicide is “the most extreme form of violence against women and the most violent manifestation of discrimination against women and their inequality”.
This is a concise, strong statement as it makes a clear connection between the ideologies, systems, and behaviour. Discrimination against women and gender inequality are present in the law, so they are present in our lives. They inform the way we think about and interact with one another.
We can look, for example, at the Sexual Offences Act and the stalling of the government on amending it to criminalise marital rape.
The definition of rape in Section 3 has “who is not his spouse” which suggests that sexual violence in a marital relationship is excusable. It also sends the message that women are the property of their husbands, married women do not have the right to bodily autonomy, and that women’s human rights are waived when they get married.
We know that the law sets a standard for the way we behave, so it should not be surprising that the exclusion of married people from the law on rape encourages people to view and treat women as subhuman.
Because it is in the law, people accept it as the ultimate truth, and this then makes it difficult to get the same people to understand that the law needs to be changed.
Law informs our beliefs which influences our behaviour, and our accepted behaviours can be taken as evidence of beliefs and they then affect the way we look at the law.
It is important to remember the gender-based violence is not limited to sexual or physical violence. There is financial abuse and emotional abuse at the interpersonal level. In addition, there is structural violence.
This includes violence that is embedded in and caused by systems, including the law. Femicide, then, can be the result of discriminatory law.
Former Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Rashida Manjoo noted that femicide can be direct or indirect. The direct category includes killings as a result of intimate partner violence, “honour” killings, and killings related to gender identity and sexual orientation. The indirect category includes deaths due to unsafe abortions, maternal mortality, deaths related to human trafficking, deaths caused by simple neglect, and deaths resulting from deliberate acts or omissions by the State.
The Global 16 Days Campaign needs to go beyond awareness. It needs to deepen people’s understanding of the issues. It needs to mobilise people to take action. It has to go beyond symbolism.
Wearing purple shirts or orange pins will not change the country, much less the world. We need to develop tools and resources, we need legal reform, and we need to completely transform our systems and beliefs related gender.
Equality Bahamas is committed to this work and invites the public to join its campaign events and the initiatives it will continue into 2023. LetsEndFemicide by ending gender-based violence, prioritising legal reform along with provision of resources and services.
Upcoming Global 16 Days Campaign Events
Building a Femicide Observatory, December 1 at 6pm. Equality Bahamas will be in conversation with Myrna Dawson, Director of Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJA) about its work to conduct and promote research on the gender-based killing of women. Register: tiny.cc/16daysobserve
Yoga with Antonio, December 4 at 8am. Antonio Weech will guide us through a session to help us to release tension and take care of our bodies in the midst of this campaign focused on a difficult. Register: tiny.cc/16daysyoa
Poetry Workshop: Writing Through It Together, December 8 at 6pm. Join Equality Bahamas at Poinciana Paper Press, #12 Parkgate Road or virtually (register at tiny.cc/16dayspoetry) for an interactive session with writer, visual artist, and small press publisher Sonia Farmer, poet Marion Bethel, and spoken word artist Brittany Delaney. They will share some of their work, and then we will be led through a process of writing our own poems or writing a poem together.
Let’s Make a Zine, December 10 at 3pm. Join Equality Bahamas at Poinciana Paper Press to get creative with Sonia Farmer who will help us make a zine—a self-published, small-circulation publication, usually reproduced with the use of a photocopying machine. Feel free to bring supplies like old magazines and photos, or come and make sure of what we’ll have available at the press. This event is in-person only.
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