Recent news is overrun with the most horrendous and depressing stories of violence against women and girls. In the last couple of months we have been witness to more than 200 girls abducted by militants in Nigeria. We have been witness to a young man on a murdering rampage in the United States driven by extreme misogynistic beliefs, one such belief that all women belong in concentration camps. We have been witness to two 15 year old girls brutally gang raped and found hanging from a mango tree in Uttar Pradesh, India; the images tragically reminiscent of lynchings of African Americans in the first half of the 20th Century. And we have watched South African paralympian Oscar Pretorius on trial for the murder of his girlfriend, sadly a reflection of the fact that globally women are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than anyone else.
Even though I work in the field of violence prevention, and deal with these issues on a daily basis, this is enough to make me want to turn off the news, bury myself under the covers and hide. Sometimes it feels too overwhelming to do anything. As the mother of a baby girl, these events take on an all too personal note, and I cannot bear to imagine the torture that the parents of these women and girls must be going through. Can you?
But we owe it to ourselves, and to women and girls worldwide, not to turn away. And thankfully I hear the voice of the world saying enough. People of all nationalities are bringing to light what has historically been one of the most silent and hidden human rights abuses of our time. For this I am grateful and proud.
#BringBackOurGIrls in response to the Nigerian kidnappings, for one, reminds us that violence against women and girls is not just a personal matter for the families involved. It is one of the greatest political issues of our time. Physical and sexual violence affects one third of all women in their lifetime. It is the leading cause of death and disability of women of all ages. It is a fundamental barrier to eradicating poverty and even the most conservative estimates measure national costs of violence against women and girls in the billions of dollars. It is therefore extremely encouraging to see a strong political commitment being shown at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, co-hosted by The Foreign Secretary and Angelina Jolie, in London this week.
Perhaps less visible or named is the fact that violence against women and girls is fundamentally a gender issue. It is men who perpetrate the vast majority of such violence. Elliot Rodger's killing spree and misogynistic rants inspired the #YesAllWomen Twitter conversation. Of course #NotAllMen use violence against women and it is unhelpful to demonise men. My daughter has a beautiful twin brother and he is just as sweet and loving as his sister, and I believe he will play an equally important role in creating a just and equal society as his sister will. But the reality is that #YesAllWomen live with the threat of male violence. Every single day. In every corner of the globe. So we all must ask ourselves honestly, what is happening? How are we teaching boys to be men in our societies? In many cases, it seems we are teaching them that they have the right to women's bodies. That they have to be tough and dominant to get respect. That their power comes through violence.
Thankfully men are engaging in this conversation too and many recognise that we will all benefit from a more equitable and peaceful world. But we must do more than just talk and tweet about this issue. It is #TimeToAct. But what do we do?
The issue is complex. Unfortunately there is no simple solution. But to answer the questions - what should we do, where should we invest our time and money - a consortium led by the South African Medical Research Council, with London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the United Nations Development Fund and Social Development Direct is launching a new global programme to support innovation and research to determine what works to prevent violence against women and girls. The key here is prevention, that is, addressing the underlying root causes to stop violence happening in the first place. This includes addressing dominant ideas of what it means to be a man, stopping the cycle of violence where experiences of child abuse lead to violence in adult hood, and promoting women's empowerment and equality with men. The DFID funded What Works programme will lead to more effective, evidence-based programmes and policies and, in time, a decrease in the rates of violence against women and girls around the globe. I am proud to be a part of this ground-breaking new project and committed to creating a safer and more equitable world for my daughter, and sons alike. We all have a role to play in stopping violence before it starts: http://bit.ly/1qgeesu
DFID's What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls programme is launching on Wednesday 11 June 2014, as part of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict fringe, the UK Department for International Development is hosting a panel together with the South African Medical Research Council, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the International Rescue Committee in collaboration with Womankind Worldwide, to spotlight the need to invest in work to address the root causes which underpin many forms of violence and build the evidence base for prevention: Click here for summit fringe programme