Globally, 30% of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner, but what about in the UK? Reports of female genital mutilation, gang rape and forced marriage in other countries can give the false impression that violence against women and girls (VAWG) happens in the wider world, but not here. In actual fact, VAWG happens in the UK as it happens all over the world, we're just not as quick to admit it.
International Women's Day, which took place on the 8th March this year, aims to celebrate the achievements of women from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness about VAWG both around the world and in the UK.
So, how prevalent is VAWG in the UK? In terms of domestic abuse, 31% of women have experienced one or more incidents since the age of 16. It is worth bearing in mind that sexual violence and domestic abuse are vastly underreported, so even though the UK is on par with the rest of the world statistically, in reality these numbers are likely to be much higher.
To see how underreported sexual violence really is, it's a good idea to take a look at the HMIC reports of rapes recorded across the UK. Between March 2012 and 2013, around 10,000 rapes were recorded by the police in England and Wales. That might sound like a lot, but it's estimated that 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year. The conviction rate for rape is just as shocking, with an average of 1,070 convictions being made each year.
It's obvious from these numbers that rape itself isn't the only problem. Reporting rates and convictions rates also need to be addressed. But in a culture where rape survivors are often disbelieved and where stories of false accusations gain more media attention than actual convictions, where do we start? It's clear that huge social change is necessary in all areas, including police forces, universities, schools, workplaces and the media. Admitting that we have a problem is the first step towards a safer culture for women and girls.
Domestic and sexual violence aren't the only VAWG problems we have in the UK. Female genital mutilation is often thought of as a problem for countries outside of the UK, due to its prevalence in particular cultures. In actual fact, an estimated 66,000 women currently living in England and Wales have been subjected to FGM and 23,000 girls are at risk here every year.
In February, 17-year-old Fahma Mohamed met with Michael Gove to urge him to write to all schools in England about FGM, and he agreed to do so. With almost 250,000 signatures and some startling statistics backing her up, it would have been difficult for Gove to deny that FGM is a significant problem that needs to be addressed.
Bringing these problems out into the open and dealing with them means first admitting that they exist, which can be a struggle in itself. But with more reports of VAWG emerging every day, it is no longer possible for us to deny that these are real problems for women in the UK.