Assault and violence is a living reality for millions of women in every corner of the globe
Consider the fact – recently revealed by the World Health Organisation – that one in three women face physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.
Keep repeating this fact until it settles into your mind. Take a moment to reflect on what this means. It is beyond the realm of our worst nightmares, but it is a living reality for millions of women in every corner of the globe.
Assault, violence, and violation is taking place in a country, a city, a town, a village, a public space, a school, a college, an office, a street, a house, an apartment, or a room near to where you are right now.
If we are to truly end violence against women, then we need a truly global approach. Although I am encouraged to see the recent outcry, new conversations, protest and debate following Sarah Everard’s death, it pains me that it takes a particularly horrific act to trigger a public outrage.
The culture of violence and rape against women has been ‘normalised’ for decades in many countries around the world as these statistics show.
Over 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime. And it is thought that less than 40 per cent of women who experience violence seek help of any sort.
In the UK, one in five women have experienced some type of sexual assault. In India, a woman reports a rape every 15 minutes yet 99 per cent of rape cases in the country go unreported.
In Bolivia, estimates suggest that six in every 10 women have suffered physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner. In Russia, studies suggest that at least every fifth woman has experienced physical violence at the hands of their husband.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a report in 2011, estimated that 1,152 women were raped every day – a rate equal to 48 per hour.
In the West, we have been encouraged and inspired by the exceptional achievements of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, but we now need to understand and expose the scale and nature of violence against women and girls everywhere.
Individually, we must remember women across the world who have been victims of gender-based attacks; Jyoti Singh in India, Uyinene Mrwetyana in South Africa, Ingrid Escamilla in Mexico City, Oluwatoyin Salau in America, Zeinab Sekaanvand in Iran, and the many thousands of women who don’t hit the headlines but die at the hands of male violence. Globally, our world leaders need to work together to end this nightmare.
Whilst financial investment in the UK and other countries is woefully low and has been drastically cut in years, the picture is much worse for vulnerable women living in poverty in countries with no support services.
We, at The Circle, are calling on world leaders to work together to develop robust international standards and agreements that finally address gender-based violence across the world. Governments need to work across borders to promote international initiatives that influence policies and embed new legal frameworks that take this pandemic of violence seriously. We must hold all leaders to account, and push for a long-term funding settlement that directly supports those most vulnerable to trafficking and violence.
We must also bring our male allies on board, as the fight for inequality will never be won without everyone working together. Male leaders must call out gender-based violence wherever they see it, and lead by example in developing new policies that address the unacceptable levels of fear and aggression women face every day.
Until we appreciate that this issue spans across the world, we are never going to fully understand how gender inequality impacts women’s lives. As governments rebuild after the Covid pandemic it is vital they build international cooperation and ensure policies and negotiations influence the countries with the least protection for women and girls.
My hope for women and girls everywhere, is that we create a better future, where access to healthcare, education, and security is available to all, in a world that is free from violence. We are faced with a global challenge which must be understood from a global perspective.
Annie Lennox is a singer, songwriter, activist and founder of The Circle, a global NGO fighting for women’s safety and equality around the world