Marking International Women's Day...
I have the privilege to share my thoughts whether it is out of anger, frustration or happiness. Although theoretically I've always known this is a privilege, I have only now understood how precious this freedom is. In my recent work, I met women and girls who cannot think freely, let alone speak out; women who face the threat of physical violence or death if they so much as object to the terrible injustices they are subjected to. I hope one day, I will be able to share their stories. For the moment, I can only share the facts.
The World Health Organisation estimates that one in three women will experience physical and sexual violence. If you thought these statistics are skewed because women in the developed world are more frequently subjected to violence, you were wrong.
A 2014 study estimated that a third of women in the EU have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15. The situation in the UK is even worse. In our country, 44% of women have been subjected to violence. The vast majority of women surveyed said that they did not report the most serious incidents of domestic violence to the police. In fact, according to Women's Aid, it takes on average 35 assaults before the police are called.
Now, I know a lot of men will read the facts above and say "why don't women do more to protect themselves?" I'll tell you why: because they don't expect to be protected. Here are some more facts for you:
- Fewer than one in 30 rape victims in the UK can expect to see their attackers brought to justice.
- Women are much more likely to be killed when they try to leave a violent relationship.
- You want more injustice? In domestic violence incidences that lead to women being murdered, the male perpetrators are almost always sentenced of manslaughter. Yet in the rare cases when the perpetrator is a woman and the victim a man, the sentence is almost always murder.
- There is also a fact for which there are no statistics: Our culture teaches women to expect violence and abuse. Just switch on your TV if you don't believe me.
My struggle has focused on FGM, a crime that affects 125million women in the world. It has focused on FGM because in the UK alone, there are 170,000 women who have undergone it, and tens of thousands of girls at risk every year. FGM for me represents all that is wrong about the way this world treats women; as a commodity.
I refuse to be judged only by how good a wife or a mother I will make. There is nothing wrong with either of those roles, but a woman should be allowed to choose neither. I refuse to give up my basic human rights just because I have a vagina. I refuse to nod and say 'things are getting better'. Because I have the privilege to speak, I have to roar. I will continue to roar for as long as there are women who have no voice.
Today I celebrate the women before me who fought tirelessly for my rights. However, today I also remember the women and girls suffering in silence; the girls as young as nine being married off, the girls and women raped, those murdered for bringing men 'shame', the infants who, as you read this, are having their genitals mutilated.
So, repeat after me: "I take this pledge and vow not to stop roaring until Violence Against Women and Girls is history." If you agreed, I welcome you to join me in Westminster Hall on Monday 10 March from 4.30 to 7.30pm. There, the chairman of the Home Affairs Committee Keith Vaz has secured a debate on my Stop FGM in the UK campaign. It will be open to the public and also streamed online. So come and roar with me and many other FGM survivors.