It's that time of the year again when feminists and concerned citizens come together to mark the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence.
It's a global campaign starting on 25th November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and running until 10th December, International Human Rights Day. Each year we find that violence against women continues to be the most widespread violation of human rights, with 1 in 3 women facing physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, mostly perpetrated by partners and ex-partners.
And while intimate partner violence is an ongoing concern, new forms of violence are also emerging. Women standing up to defend their own land from corporate development projects, such as mining, face particular forms of gendered violence such as sexual harassment and rape in addition to facing threats that are common to human rights defenders such as being targeted with false accusations and harassed by the police.
So the work of ending violence against women is never done and it seems to be getting more difficult. In September, at a gathering of two thousand feminists and activists from around the world organised by the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID), there was consensus that we are facing a global backlash against women's rights and we risk backtracking on progress that was painstakingly, and often painfully, achieved.
A crisis of implementation but there's plenty of money to go round
The theme of this year's 16 Days of Activism is funding. And rightly so, as money is really where the challenge is. Over the past 25 years, national laws and action plans to prevent and combat violence against women have multiplied, following global commitments agreed at IV World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. Many studies have shown the cost of violence against women to the economy, in the effort to make decision makers care and take action. From burdening public services such as health to costing points of GDP in lost productivity. So the case for eradicating violence against women too often becomes a question of economic efficiency rather than of rights and dignity.
Far less do we hear how the economy is failing women's struggles and failing women worldwide. Many of the laws and policies women's rights movements struggled long and hard for are left on paper as funding is not prioritised to implement legislation, train the judiciary, the police and service providers. Analysis done by UN Women of selected national action plans for gender equality has found financing gaps of up to 90%. This happens because plans are not costed and commitments remain invisible to the eyes of finance ministers. When governments globally prioritise deficit reduction through austerity, specialised services are the first to be cut.
And here's the irony: there is enough money in the world to solve this crisis of implementation. There's a growing global movement rallying to stop illicit financial flows and to make sure corporations and the wealthy pay a fair share of tax rather than hiding wealth in tax havens, which are depriving the world of $170 billion in tax revenue per year. More and more women's rights activists are looking at how these issues are the ultimate cause of lack of resources to implement long-standing commitments.
Making the economy work for women and not vice versa
There is also another aspect of the failure of the economy to adequately resource the fight to end violence against women: lack of decent work for women. Being economically independent represents a gateway towards having more control over your life. However, with gender stereotypes following women into the labour market and lack of childcare services, safe public transport and water and sanitation facilities, working conditions for women are challenging.
Womankind's partners Association for Women's Sanctuary and Development (AWSAD) in Ethiopia and Musasa in Zimbabwe, both run some of the only shelters in their countries for women fleeing domestic violence. Preparing women for an independent life is part of the holistic support they provide. This includes vocational skills so that women can learn a trade, find a job or start an independent business. But skills and hard work are not enough when the wider economy is not working for women. For example, in Ethiopia, lack of affordable childcare for working class women makes it difficult to earn a steady income. In Zimbabwe, the dire state of the economy means that there are very few jobs for women to look for.
The current economic system is failing the women who need support the most. Until we change the economic system to serve their needs, we will only be playing catch up trying to end violence against women in our societies.