Ending violence against women isn't just about saying no to violence; it's about saying yes to women's right to control their own bodies and minds.
The 25th November marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is an acknowledgement of all of this and so much more. It is a reminder that amidst significant uncertainty, political, religious and military tensions and ongoing conflict, women across the world are continuing to struggle for their most basic human rights.
Despite governments adopting resolutions and ratifying conventions in the name of women's rights and human rights, it feels as though the situation for so many women is only getting worse. Politics, religion, and war are now being used to justify the campaign of violence that is waged from country to country. Rape, murder, slavery, "honor killings," female genital mutilation, trafficking, sexual and physical abuse, and torture are daily and inescapable realities for women across the world. Without adequate and enforced protection under the law, women must endure ongoing violence; they are victims of the targeted oppression, brutality, indifference, and fear that breeds when the silencing of women, by coercion and even assassination, goes unpunished.
Despite the ever-present threat of violence and harm, women are forced to move forward with their lives, carrying out their responsibilities of work, family and education, while harboring the weight of a system against them. A seemingly simple act of walking down the street, coming home to your family, going to a local store, or attending a class can be a terrifying and even fatal experience.
In spite of the tidal wave of hate and acts of oppression, there are many women who speak up for the adoption of basic human rights. Often they speak not singularly of women's rights, but civil rights, democratic processes, and the need for justice and peace as a practicality for progression.
But these women are too often silenced -- my good friend and one of the most powerful voices in the Libyan revolution, Salwa Bugaighis, among them. In the absence of protection or enforcement to prevent violence against women, the pervasive conspiracy of silence captures a region and diminishes the hope of holding any perpetrator accountable.
This is only exacerbated by the ongoing exclusion of women from political dialogue and peace processes in the Arab region, and from the economic and social frameworks that make up every day life.
Several courageous women fought for a global platform for women to share their stories of violence and abuse. We honor them and acknowledge their undying effort to create awareness of the realities for women, not only during the 16 days leading up to Human Rights Day on the 10th December, but throughout the year. Sadly in the wider media, the daily public murders, assainations, beatings, and rapes fail go unreported for much of the rest of the year. The sad reality is that there are just too many to report, and there is a tacit acceptance of violence against women as un-newsworthy and all-too-common.
The lack of platforms for women's rights and needs is at the core of the problem of violence against women in the Arab region and Africa. The murder of activists like Salwa, Iraqi human rights lawyer Samira Saleh al-Naimi, and Somali singer Saado Ali Warsame serve to demonstrate the value and importance of women's voices in politics, in peace-building and public life. These courageous women were targeted because the gunmen who murdered them realized their potential to make real and lasting change.
Saying no to violence against women will not alone suffice in bringing about lasting change. It is nearly 20 years since Hillary Clinton told the United Nations that "women's rights are human rights"; it is a lesson that few have learned. We will not see true progress until women are treated equally under the law, until they are able to participate fully in democratic processes, until women are able to hold governments accountable for their actions and inactions, until they feel safe to walk the streets and indeed, until women have their fundamental rights respected.
Regional governments and the international community must bring to justice all perpetrators of violence against women, and they must be accountable for women's protection and safety. Every measure should be used against governments that do not work to protect their own people, including hard-hitting sanctions.
The torture and torment of women has become an ideology for some. What we can give ourselves as women, no one else will. Women of the world, rise up for your dignity and equality.