When we flew a group of acid attack survivors over from Bangladesh for a fashion show in London, the voices of the #MeToo movement were yet to hit centre stage. But this was exactly the kind of outcry the brave women walking down the runway that night were calling for.
As the models themselves said: “it is vital we act together to make sure our women and girls are safe and live with dignity.”
Now, as #MeToo reaches epic proportions with so many survivors from all sectors and nationalities speaking out, the women and girls ActionAid supports are coming together once again to celebrate this empowerment and attempt to take things a step further.
We want justice. We want women and girls to reclaim ownership of their own bodies and receive the backing of the law where necessary for crimes committed against them. We have seen no one is immune to this abuse - it cuts across all sectors. And so we must all make it a priority to create an environment where women feel safe to come forward and timely, appropriate action is taken.
Research, such as our recent poll, shows too many still lack faith in the legal system. Out of 2,500 women from the UK, Brazil, India and South Africa, for example, nearly half had experienced sexual harassment. Of these, 68% did not report to the police and 50% said this was because they believed it ‘would be pointless.’
The fact that women and girl’s lack this confidence in securing justice is a shocking reflection of the system of power and patriarchy we live in. A system whereby men and boys are taught they are entitled to women’s bodies and that the courts are on their side and condone it.
In the countries where we work, the idea that women and girls’ bodies are the property of men - for them to exploit and control - is now so widespread that rape, female genital mutilation and forced marriage are equally common, among other gender-based crimes.
This is why for International Women’s Day 2018 we launched the #MyBodyIsMine campaign, to shine a spotlight on these facts; encourage women and girls to be confident in speaking out; and create an environment where their voices will be heard. We asked our supporters worldwide to join us in spreading this message and we shared their stories.
ActionAid stands in solidarity with women and girls in the world’s poorest places because we believe they should have an equal chance to thrive. Worldwide, we support women’s groups who are stopping women and girls from being abused and making sure survivors understand their rights and have the backing of the law. They go into their local communities and challenge the social norms and mindsets that keep women back.
In Kenya, for example, where we have just launched our Aid Match appeal, one in three girls have experienced sexual violence. Of these, just 10 per cent receive help. This is often because survivors don’t know their rights, don’t have money for treatment or don’t trust the police. Extreme poverty is making them even more vulnerable and isolated, and many are also saddled with adult responsibilities. In the worst-affected areas, one in four children is HIV-positive and AIDS has wiped out whole generations so young girls are left to raise their siblings. Many are also forced to marry and then made pregnant.
In collaboration with local women’s groups, ActionAid is working hard to build links with the police, paralegals and children’s departments to better support these girls. We are also setting up girl’s clubs - safe spaces where everyone can learn their right and build the confidence to report violence and abuse. And we are training government officials, police, health workers and legal advisers on how to best protect girls.
People can help ActionAid support these amazing women in Kenya working tirelessly to protect vulnerable girls, to ensure they get an education, fulfill their potential and live without fear. Over the next three months all donations by the British public to ActionAid will also be matched by the UK Government pound for pound.
The evidence is clearly mounting and we all have lessons to learn. It is no longer acceptable to turn a blind eye towards the status quo. Take action. Share your voice. Donate. Please do not wait.