International Women’s Day: Violence Pervasive, With Wide-Ranging EffectsMarch 8, 2013 By Kate Diamond
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “a promise is a promise: time for action to end violence against women.” The theme reflects that although there are a number of treaties and conventions that on paper promise to protect women’s rights, equality, and security, in reality, those promises to protect human rights have been broken time and again.
In the wake of high profile, violent assaults against women in India, Pakistan, South Africa, and the United States, this day feels sorely needed. Referring to events in India – where one woman was brutally raped and ultimately died of her injuries – and Pakistan – where the Taliban attempted to assassinate 15-year-old activist Malala Yousafzai on her way home from school – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “these atrocities, which rightly sparked global outrage, were part of a much larger problem that pervades virtually every society and every realm of life.”
The simple fact is that violence against women is anything but rare. According to the UN, as many as 70 percent of women have reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives, and one in four women experience physical or sexual violence while pregnant. Those individual statistics are amplified by violence that is embedded into societies on a systemic level. Worldwide, more than 603 million women (or nearly 18 percent) live in countries where domestic violence is not a crime, and more than 100 million girls are estimated to have been lost because of prenatal sex selection.
Given the many forms that violence against women takes, the repercussions are felt in many ways – not just on the personal or family level. How women are treated often tracks closely with a country’s demographics, as women tend to marry later and have fewer children when they’re given the choice. In turn, more youthful countries have higher risks of instability and political violence. The degree to which women can go to school and participate in the work force also frequently tracks closely with levels of economic development and general wellbeing.
Here at New Security Beat, we’ve had a number of experts write and speak about these impacts. Given today’s focus, they’re worth re-reading:
Sex and World Peace: How the Treatment of Women Affects Development and Security: Co-authors Valerie Hudson and Chad Emmett came to the Wilson Center last May to discuss their recent book Sex and World Peace. Hudson argued that if, as her research suggests, gender inequality is one of conflict’s “tap roots,” then perhaps the international system could become more peaceful if more was done to respect women’s rights and equality.
International Day of the Girl Child: Recognizing the Unique and Complex Vulnerability of Young Girls: Last fall the UN celebrated the first-ever “International Day of the Girl Child,” a day established to build awareness of the unique challenges facing young girls. “Especially in developing countries (though not only) these young girls often face outsized barriers to happy, healthy, and productive lives,” writes ECSP’s Schuyler Null.
Linking the Environment and Women’s Health at the World Conservation Congress: Last November, when the International Union for Conservation of Nature gathered in South Korea, a number of experts were on hand to show how women’s health is linked with environmental health. Integrated approaches that acknowledge that link, such as population, health, and environment (PHE) projects, can yield exponential benefits for women, children, and communities alike.
Clean Cookstoves and PHE Champions on Tanzania’s Northern Coast: In this video, ECSP’s Sean Peoples shows how women in rural Tanzania are participating in a PHE project that improves their health, livelihoods, and surrounding environment. He found that just by using cleaner cookstoves, women were earning more, becoming more outspoken, and reducing their impact on the environment. Other components of the project support women’s ability to space and time their pregnancies, ultimately reducing population pressures on the region’s finite resources.
Delivering Solutions to Improve Maternal Health and Increase Access to Family Planning (Policy Brief): ECSP’s Sandeep Bathala contributed to the Wilson Center Policy Brief series with her insights on maternal health and family planning. In developing countries, “several factors greatly limit women’s access to the quality health services they need to protect them from maternal illness and death,” she writes. “The good news is that we already know how to reduce maternal mortality. Skilled care, before, during, and after child-birth, can save the lives of women and babies.”
‘Motherland Afghanistan’ Shows Maternal Mortality Not Just a Health Issue: The PBS Independent Lens film Motherland Afghanistan shows the extent that non-health factors can impact maternal mortality in Afghanistan, where seemingly unrelated things like infrastructure, girls education, socioeconomic status, and cultural practices all post significant challenges to safe delivery. The conditions the filmmakers find “are devastating and underscore not only the need for greater commitment to reproductive health services, but also the advancement of women’s and girl’s access to education, security, and political participation,” writes the Wilson Center’s Calyn Ostrowski.
New Support for International Family Planning: The Significance of the London Summit: Last summer’s London Summit on Family Planning brought major commitments from more than 26 international donors and governments to support family planning as part of development and aid. Experts from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (which spearheaded the effort), the UK Department for International Development, and USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health discussed the significance of the summit – its scale, historical precedence, and likely impact – in a series of video interviews.
Setting Development Goals for Population Dynamics and Reproductive Rights: With the Millennium Development Goals coming to a close in two years, the international development community is looking ahead to what will follow as the dominant development framework. Earlier this year, ECSP brought together demographers, population experts, and women’s rights advocates to discuss the role that sexual and reproductive health should have in the next iteration of international development goals. The panelists made clear these rights are more than just a health issue, but a matter of equality, security, and well-being, too.
Photo Credit: “Woman and Child, Mozambique,” courtesy of the United Nations.
Sources: CNN, New York Times, Reuters, UN Women.