25th November is the International Day To End Violence against women and girls and, this year, more than ever, women are saying enough is enough. From the #MeToo campaign, to the women’s marches, to women-led protests from Mexico to Turkey, the world can no longer pretend they don’t hear women’s cries for justice. The astounding, brave and heartfelt outpouring of testimony from women of all ages, countries and backgrounds has rocked us all, and the tide of anger and resistance cannot be turned back.
The statistics are stark, and no country, no community, and no woman is completely free. In Zimbabwe, for example, 35% of women have experienced emotional, physical or sexual violence from their husband or partner. In Ethiopia, 24% of women have experienced physical violence, and 10% have experienced sexual violence. In the UK, an average of two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner.
Holistic approaches to prevention and response
Responding to and preventing violence against women and girls is a complex picture, and efforts are currently inadequate for the sheer scale of the problem. Laws that are based on international human rights frameworks must be robustly developed and, crucially, fully implemented. High quality health, judicial and shelter services offering holistic approaches to women’s recovery must be complemented with prevention work – including work to encourage male behaviour change, raise awareness and commitment of local leaders to tackle violence, and challenge the fundamental unequal power relations between women and men where violence against women is rooted.
Barriers to justice
Justice – a key plank of ensuring a future free from violence – simply remains out of reach for many women. Barriers to accessing justice are rooted in the structures of society that privilege men’s lives over women’s, and the patriarchal social norms that shape and dictate women’s and men’s experiences and interactions. These barriers can be grouped into four key areas – human rights knowledge and application, infrastructure and services, economic barriers, and social norms.
This year, Womankind Worldwide has worked with the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) to document the barriers to justice for women survivors of violence in Zimbabwe. ZWLA’s new report shows that, despite strong provisions on gender equality in the Zimbabwe constitution, and a raft of laws to prevent and respond to domestic violence, sexual violence, child and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation, women survivors still face multiple barriers to accessing legal redress.
First, if women do not know their rights they cannot claim them. ZWLA found that awareness of laws protecting women from sexual violence was low among women survivors, meaning that court cases were not pursued, and violence was serially underreported.
Second, infrastructure remains a significant barrier. Rural women face long distances to access police and judicial services. If women do manage to report, they are often not believed, or treated with disdain by police officers with no gender equality training or experience in dealing with women survivors of violence.
Third, economic barriers are a major problem. The costs and distance for reporting their cases and for paying lawyer fees are prohibitive for the majority of women. As a woman research participant said, “most women do not have money to pay lawyers, which hinders women’s voices and the ability to stand for our rights.’’ For some women who have to travel 100km to reach police and pay between $50-$300 per hour for lawyer fees, justice is just not a possibility.
Fourth, harmful social norms and negative attitudes from families, communities, police, prosecutors and magistrates conspire against women’s pursuit of justice. As one survivor reported, “after several incidences of being beaten, I finally reported the abuse to my relatives after my collar bone was broken. They told me to be strong and fight for my marriage.”
A beacon of hope
In the midst of barriers, women’s rights organisations are forging a path to recovery, justice and freedom from violence. ZWLA in Zimbabwe are providing practical support and advocating for fundamental changes in the way women are supported and enabled to access justice for the violence crimes committed against them. Specialist shelter providers, run by women for women, are providing holistic approaches to aid recovery from violence and rebuilding of lives. And around the world, with their pens, with their placards, and with their Twitter accounts, women are calling for the fundamental changes that need to happen to end the violence.
Today, as we mark the International Day to End Violence against Women and Girls, we stand with the changemakers – the women speaking up, speaking out and not giving up until their vision of a world free from violence is realised.