What will not wait

TOWARDS JUSTICE - Emmeline Aglipay-Villar - The Philippine Star

This Wednesday, Nov. 25, is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Once again, I join my voice with those of many others, both men and women, who recognize that widespread and legitimized violence against women (particularly in the home) is both a fact that exists and an evil to be eliminated. And once again, I wonder what it will take for this to be a statement to be one that can be made without being controversial.

It is not as if the data is not there. There is a sickening amount of evidence. The UN Women site has a page devoted to facts and figures on violence against women. Here are but a few of them:

• Globally, an estimated 736 million women – almost one in three – have been subjected to intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence or both at least once in their life (30 percent of women aged 15 and older).

• Most violence against women is perpetrated by current or former husbands or intimate partners.

• Calls to helplines have increased five-fold in some countries as rates of reported intimate partner violence increase because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

• One hundred thirty-seven women are killed by a member of their family every day.

• Fewer than 40 percent of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort.

• Adult women account for nearly half (49 percent) of all human trafficking victims detected globally. Women and girls together account for 72 percent, with girls representing more than three out of every four child trafficking victims.

A quick glance at the news headlines around the globe supports this data. In the United Kingdom, there is growing concern of an epidemic of male violence against women and girls that is going unaddressed – there is particular concern over misogyny in the police force after the horrific abduction and murder of a woman by a police officer this year. In Mexico, concerned citizens held a “Day of Dead Women” to protest a steady nationwide increase in the number of murdered women, an increase of 130 percent from 2015-2020. In Greece, the number of offences related to domestic violence in 2020 was more than three times greater than in 2010. And as I have raised before, the plight of women in Afghanistan under the new Taliban regime is more precarious than ever. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse? there’s a reason why UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, in his message marking the twentieth anniversary of the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, that: “The many crises facing our world today, from conflict to climate disruption and the COVID-19 pandemic, are linked to rising violence against women and girls. Events from Afghanistan to Haiti are increasing insecurity for women. Everywhere, COVID-19 has led to a shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls.”

In the Philippines, the Philippine Commission on Population and Development has called for the special protection of women during the pandemic as it revealed the results of an SWS survey where 25 percent of Filipino adults said that violent acts against women were a pressing concern during the pandemic. While actual reports to the police of violence against women may have declined, this can be attributed to quarantine measures that frequently leave women trapped with their abusers, without the freedom to report instances or flee to safer places. There have also been instances when the police themselves were accused of violence against women, particularly at quarantine check points. The pandemic also disrupted the availability of services and facilities for the benefit of women who are victims of violence. One indication of the rise in violence was the rise in online searches related to violence against women, with a UN report showing such searches spiked worldwide, in the Philippine rising by 63 percent. Even without direct violence, the pandemic has disproportionately affected the economic security of Philippine women – the jobless rate last August was worse for women than men, a reflection that many sectors that were most heavily hit by the pandemic (tourism, hospitality and sales, the informal sector) were those that employed many women. Mothers were also frequently the ones who had to bear the burden of caring for the family, whether that be seeing to the needs of elderly parents or attending to the education of the children.

Yet for all these reports, there are still those who insist that violence against women is simply not a widespread concern, that it is not systems that are the problem but individual bad apples (“not all men” – they cry, ignoring the context of movements such as #MeToo.) Some instead go on the offensive, insisting that women are at fault for being victims, or that somehow feminism is no longer necessary, or that actions aimed at addressing structural inequities faced by women have somehow given women the advantage.

That there are challenges men are facing that are specific to their sex cannot be contested. But the existence of such does not undermine, falsify or somehow compensate for the widespread structural injustices and inequities that women face every day, because they are women and the rules of society were largely penned by men. Of course, any change to such structures will seem like they are made to favor women – when you level an unequal playing field, what was once high will be laid low, because that’s the only way to fill the depressions formed by injustice.

Once more: Widespread violence against women exists, and is an evil that we must eliminate. What will it take for this statement not to be controversial? I wish I knew. Empathy is one of the hardest things to teach, and when the facts are so obvious, those affected so numerous, to be blind to the truth is more often a knowing act rather than an ignorant one.

The good news is – we do not need to wait for everyone to recognize the truth to act upon it. While we must never stop to strive for a more empathetic world, we can dismantle harmful structures without waiting for unanimity; we can push for better protection for women without convincing every single holdout that this is for the betterment of humanity.

What will it take to make a better world? Listening to women, fighting for women, marching with women. Let’s go!

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