In recent weeks, harrowing accounts have emerged of systematic and widespread sexual violence inflicted on Rohingya refugees fleeing Rakhine State in Myanmar. Countless women and girls have been gang-raped. According to reports from Human Rights Watch, some have been forced to watch their own children being killed at the same time. Those who survived walked for days, unable to access essential support. Many of the perpetrators, acting with impunity, could walk free.
We know about these horrific acts of gender-based violence in part because they were highly visible and carried out in public, rather than behind closed doors at home. The truth is that globally they are only the tip of the iceberg.
Gender-based violence is too often an invisible injustice, and a silent killer: 119 women are killed every day worldwide by a partner or family member. One in three women experience violence during their lifetime. 37 countries still exempt rape perpetrators from prosecution when they are married to or subsequently marry the victim. There are 750million women today who were married before their 18th birthday.
On this day every year, 25 November, activists and women around the world mark the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Time and again, we are overcome with outrage and frustration that so little progress is being made on gender-based violence. Year on year, the statistics don’t seem to shift.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Women’s groups and activists - who are often the best at bringing about change - are fighting back against gender inequality. They are successfully changing laws on child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM), or challenging social norms in their communities.
Violence against women and girls is not inevitable
The UK government has done its part internationally, hosting high profile summits to spotlight individual issues and stepping up development funding from just £20million in 2012 to £184million in 2015. But governments such as Canada and Sweden, both of whom have adopted new feminist foreign policies, are also leading the way.
But as my colleague Dawn Butler MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, points out today, the Government must first walk the talk at home. Britain can’t end violence against women overseas while our own Government threatens to strip back essential violence prevention and support services at home.
I want the Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) to go further in combating this global injustice. The next Labour government will task DFID not only with eradicating poverty but also, for the first time, with tackling all inequalities, including gender inequality.
We will establish a new Social Justice Fund to get funding directly to civil society activists in developing countries, including women’s groups who are fighting these problems on the frontline. We must work with like-minded governments to mobilise resources to support women affected by violence, and, crucially, to tackle the root causes of that violence, across the world.
The world is gradually waking up to the entrenched and systemic injustice of violence against women. But, although at times the statistics seem static and unmovable, we must not lose heart. Today we recommit ourselves to moving the dial and ending violence against women. A Labour government that is serious about gender equality - at home and overseas – will make it a priority.
Kate Osamor is the Labour MP for Edmonton and shadow international development secretary