A battle on every front: how to fight violence against women

I remember a time a while back when I proposed to colleagues that we run a story on violence against women and I was told that gender-based violence was ‘not on our agenda’ – and in any case there were sensitivities, cultural differences to respect.
Thankfully, today that tune has changed. Sign up to your favourite social media channels and you’ll be overwhelmed by thousands of voices sharing their stories, calling for action, agitating as loud as they can. The theme for the UN Observance of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Time for action to end violence against women”.
That’s a sea change – or perhaps just the beginning of a sea change. Now that gender-based violence is no longer taboo, we’re beginning to understand in more detail what a massive, intractable challenge it is.
A tweet from The Elders today says that at least 1 in 3 women around the world have been beaten, coerced into sex or abused. Chilling statistics show that in some countries as many as 75% of women think being beaten for burning food, arguing or refusing to have sex with your husband is acceptable.
It’s one thing to sign up to the fact that male violence against women is a burning tragic issue that should concern us all. It’s another thing to muster the collective energies and perspectives of disparate groups and movements across the globe to look at the myriad causes, and to search for solutions that will stick.
On this year’s International Women’s Day, debates have been taking place around the world, not just to put gender-based violence in the spotlight, but to deepen our understanding about what triggers it and how to win the battle against it.

IFAD's gender team at the International Women's Day 2013 event hosted at World Food Programme

In Rome, the UN agencies that focus on food security, agriculture and rural development – FAO, IFAD and WFP – held a very interesting discussion on the nexus between gender-based violence and food security. The International Development Law Organization also took part in the event, which was hosted by WFP and supported by the Government of Iceland.
The panel redressed the typical UN gender imbalance – with 1 male and 3 female panellists. In the Italian tradition, the audience wore festive sprays of yellow mimosa. The Director General of the International Development Law Organization, Irene Khan, opened by saying “For me, every day is women’s day.”
Khan talked about the inequality in her own culture where “law has not been on the side of women and even today they are not equal under the law in some areas”.  And she pointed out that “women are trapped in a gap of not receiving justice in informal or formal systems”. Looking towards solutions, Khan said “Legal empowerment works best when approached holistically. It needs to go hand in hand with social and political empowerment…. IDLO has started to use the phrase ‘culture of justice’, rather than rule of law because it is all of these things working together that lead not only to justice, but to empowerment as well.”
Lourdes Tibán, current Assembly Member of the Legislative Body of Ecuador, reminded the audience of the importance of change beginning at home: “Work needs to begin in the family,” she said. “We need to give a role to – yeah – our sons and men to wash the dishes, everyone needs to be equal.”
She went on to stress the need for change outside the home too: “Women need access to seeds and land. Women need to be part of international trade. Women need to be able to sell their surpluses,” she said. “I think that’s how you reduce violence.”
IFAD’s Cheryl Morden closed the event and you can read her remarks here.

The panel discussion closed on an upbeat and hopeful note with UN Women’s song for International Women’s Day 2013 – One Woman