Violence against women is one of the most widespread abuses of human rights around the world. Women and girls in every culture and society are affected by violence and the facts are appalling: acts of violence against women and girls cause more deaths than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.
In South Africa, a woman is raped every 26 seconds. And, as we know, this is not a problem that just happens somewhere else. In England and Wales two women a week are killed by a partner.
At CAFOD, the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development, we have a very simple vision: a world free of violence, where laws protect and promote justice, perpetrators are held to account and people enjoy healthy and safe relationships. We believe in a world where the rights and dignity of every person are respected. We believe in gender justice and work through the Church and our other partners across the world to ensure that fewer people will suffer personal, communal or gender based violence in the future.
Every year, CAFOD puts together an exhibition during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence – an international campaign supported, among others, by the UN, civil societies and charities - to raise awareness and showcase the various gender-focused projects of our partners. Some of these partners train community volunteers so that they are able to work through required legal procedures with those who have been affected by violence.
Some offer personal and spiritual development workshops for women who suffer from violence and provide listening centres, safe homes and shelters. Others are working with men to raise their awareness and encourage them to speak out against domestic violence. On a practical level, various humanitarian projects now ensure access to safe water resources closer to the home thereby reducing the risk of women and girls being attacked when walking long distances to fetch water.
Several of our development partners are engaged in advocating for an end to the impunity of the perpetrators of violence and lobbying for better laws. Despite progress made in this area, many challenges remain, such as the difficulties in translating laws into practice, and ensuring men and women know about them. Bringing perpetrators to justice and breaking the culture of silence are difficult tasks, requiring persistent and patient work.
In 2012, CAFOD contributed to various high level international events aimed towards the elimination of violence towards women, and the same has been true this year. On Valentine's Day, as part of the One Billion Rising campaign, activists, writers, thinkers and celebrities across the world came together to express their defiance at the injustices suffered by women.
One Billion Rising began as a call to action based on the shocking statistic that 1 in 3 women worldwide will be raped, beaten or abused during their lifetime. With the world population at seven billion, this adds up to more than one billion women and girls.
At CAFOD we stand in solidarity with activists around the world who work tirelessly to put an end to all forms of gender based violence. We do not work in isolation on gender issues, but are linked to other agencies, such as the Gender and Development Network and the We Will Speak Out Coalition – a network of like-minded Christian organisations committed to working together to see the end of sexual violence occurring in communities across the world with a particular focus on getting the voice of the Church heard in this struggle.
There is still work to be done: awareness-raising activities need to be at the forefront of our work; responses to violence against women and girls need to be institutionalised; police and government officials need to be sensitised; Governments need to be held to account so that they provide relevant protection; services such as care, counselling and solidarity groups need to be improved; and when planning for projects, both women and men need to be consulted. Working in coalition strengthens the cause of each individual group and is now more important than ever.
At a CAFOD-funded listening centre in Bukavu in The Democratic Republic of Congo - one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman - a lady called Feza who had been raped said to us, “Take our stories and tell everyone what is happening here. The world thinks it knows – but it doesn’t know. This isn’t a story of the war, this is our lives now. If the world is bored with the story then they have forgotten how to be human.”
Working towards the elimination of gender violence requires a long-term collaborative approach. Let us stand together and in solidarity with our sisters. Let us fulfil Feza’s wish and tell the world the stories of these brave women. Let us choose to rise rather than turn a blind eye.
* To find out more about CAFOD’s work on gender visit: www.cafod.org.uk/Campaign/Get-clued-up/Gender
* More about One Billion Rising visit: www.onebillionrising.org/news
* Countering violence against women: faith, hope... and clarity: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18003
* One Billion Rising on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/OneBillionRising
* CAFOD Senior Press Officer (Policy and Campaigns) Pascale Palmer's blog on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/PascalePalmer
(c) Tanja Haque is CAFOD’s Gender Advisor. www.cafod.org.uk/