Comment: Seeking an end to violence against women, girls

Between Nov. 25 and Dec. 10 (Human Rights Day), the UN campaign Leave No One Behind: End Violence Against Women and Girls will be commemorated by lighting buildings all over the world in orange. The colour orange has come to symbolize a bright and optimistic future free from violence against women and girls.

In Victoria, the entrance to the legislature and the tree and fountain at city hall will be flooded in orange light for a few days.

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It is a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls everywhere. Gender-based violence is a global pandemic that affects all women, in particular, marginalized women including refugees, migrants, Indigenous Peoples and populations affected by conflict and other natural disasters.

A recent reminder of violence against women has been the National Inquiry on Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. We in B.C. are horrified that 160 or more women of Indigenous background have disappeared on the Highway of Tears. According to Human Rights Watch, B.C. has the highest rate of unsolved murders of Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Federal Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett claims that the national number of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada is likely more than 1,200.

The statistics around domestic violence are equally horrendous: One in five women experience some form of abuse in their intimate relationships. The majority of victims of spousal abuse are females, accounting for 83 per cent of victims.

Every year, an estimated 362,000 children witness or experience family violence. More than 3,000 women along with 2,900 dependent children are living in emergency shelters to escape abuse. The cost of spousal abuse in B.C. alone for police, the justice system, counselling and lost productivity is more than $1 billion per year.

Women in developing countries have additional problems. Every year, an estimated 15 million girls aged 18 and under are married worldwide; 200 million girls have undergone female genital mutilation; 60 per cent of young people (15 to 24) living with HIV/AIDS are young women; 70 per cent of victims of human trafficking are female.

Rape is used as a weapon of war. For instance, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, soldiers raped women to punish men and destroy their communities. Forty-eight women were raped every hour at the height of the conflict. The passing on of HIV is only one of the terrible consequences of rape.

Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the UN, declared in a 2006 report that “violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. At least one of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her.”

Older women in Africa are among the most marginalized groups. They have been disproportionally affected by the AIDs pandemic, and many are raising grandchildren after their own children have died. Most have little financial help.

The violence they experience remains largely invisible. It often begins in childhood with early marriage and exclusion from health services, education and economic opportunities.

Violence against older women, especially those who are widowed, is perpetrated by family members and includes physical, sexual, psychological abuse, as well as financial exploitation and neglect.

Senior women in Canada are also vulnerable. According to Statistics Canada, older women are more likely than older men to be emotionally or financially abused by their family, friends or caregivers.

Violence against women and girls is not inevitable; prevention is possible and essential. Beyond supporting legislation what can we, as individuals, do in the fight against violence? Don’t be just a bystander or an enabler. Ask questions and speak up. Listen to “no means no” and do not be afraid to stand up to others who joke about violence or use demeaning language.

We need to encourage campaigns and initiatives such as the #MeToo movement where we share our experiences. Continue to support the efforts of Orange Shirt Day and the leadership of Indigenous women and men around abuse against children. We need support for everyone, especially men and boys, to learn about healthy relationships. As well, we need to support the enforcement of criminal laws and training of judges.

We challenge you to notice the colour orange and remember that it represents hope as we work to eliminate violence against women and girls.

Diane Scaletta and Phyllis Webster of Victoria are members of the Grandmothers Advocacy Network.

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