November 25th is End Violence Against Women Day. According to a 2013 WHO global study, 35 per cent of women worldwide, and nationally up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime from an intimate partner.
Out of the countries with available figures, the U.K.'s percentage (28.4 per cent) is higher than the vast majority of other European countries. (Compare this figure to Canada's 7 per cent).
One of the criticisms I often hear of the No More Page 3 campaign is that countries without newspapers displaying photos of topless young women still have high levels of violence against women and therefore Page 3 is not a cause. But this of course ignores the fact that every country has its own culturally-specific ways of keeping women in their place. Given that we live in a Western democracy (rather than a country with entrenched and legalised discrimination against women) the rate of violence should be far lower here than it actually is.
So what keeps it at such an unacceptable level?
The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women states that violence against women is 'a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men.'
The U.N. General Assembly 2006 Report of the Secretary General urged governments to
'develop prevention strategies that address the causes of violence against women, particularly the persistence of gender-based stereotypes.'
The UN Commission on the Status of Women Resolution in 2013 specified the critical role of the media in 'refraining from presenting (women) as inferior beings and exploiting them as sexual objects and commodities.'
The U.K. government have signed this Resolution, but the fact that David Cameron, in an interview on Woman's Hour last week, once again failed to take seriously the effects of the sexualised representation of women in the U.K. media makes a mockery of that fact.
There are many men in this country who see women as full human beings entitled to equality and respect on the same level as men. Discounting those men who, when the issue is Page 3, are passionate advocates of female choice and employment opportunities, there are also a large number of men who see women as not fully human, only good for one thing, commodities to be used and discarded. Which of these views does Page 3 support?
Shouldn't we as a society be educating that second group of men to respect women as full human beings rather than validating their beliefs on a daily basis on the influential platform of a national newspaper? Should we not be reinforcing the beliefs of the first group of men? Which choice would make women safer?
Currently we might as well broadcast daily on the most visible page of a national newspaper this specific message to boys and men:
'Women are sex objects, they exist to please you sexually, this is their greatest value and it's what we as a society believe is women's main role. They exist only in terms of their biology. Every day you get a new one, they are that interchangeable. Enjoy!'
And to girls and women: 'You are defined by your bodies, your physical appearance and your willingness to be sexually available to men. In the U.K. men are empowered by wearing clothes, doing jobs and running the country, and you are empowered by taking your clothes off in public.'
There would be a public outcry if an editor wrote that every day in a newspaper.
But we do worse: the power of images sends the message far more effectively, with much greater impact particularly for children, a fact of which Cameron needs to be aware before blithely dismissing the evidence that children can and do see Page 3 in public places.
Dr. Lynell Burmark, Ph.D. Associate at the Thornburg Center for Professional Development says, 'Words are processed by our short-term memory where we can only retain about 7 bits of information (plus or minus 2). Images, on the other hand, go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched.'
David Cameron understands the power of images over words in government policy such as the introduction of pictures of disease on cigarette packets, he knows how advertising works and he cannot feign ignorance of the daily conditioning impact of Page 3 and other similar sexualised images of women in the U.K. tabloids.
The 2006 report further stated: 'Given the fluidity of culture, women's agency in challenging oppressive cultural norms and articulating cultural values that respect their human rights is of central importance.'
Are you listening to the No More Page 3 campaign David? To Caroline Lucas? Jane Garvey? The Girl Guides and the Girls' Brigade? The four major teaching unions? Rape Crisis? EVAW?
Because while we have U.K. government-sanctioned representation of women as sexual commodities in the British national press we continue to provide a fertile breeding ground for disrespect and ultimately violence towards the girls and women of this country. On International End Violence Against Women Day that's not good enough. In fact it's rubbish.
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