Violence against women is a pandemic – we must stop it

  • Violence against women around the world has increased amid COVID-19.
  • Recent data shows that almost a quarter of all girls have experienced gender-based violence before the age of 19.
  • We must take urgent action against this and ensure that the rights of women around the world are respected and protected.

Violence against women and girls has reached devastating proportions around the world. A United Nations report recently revealed that one in three women, or approximately 736 million worldwide, have experienced physical and psychological violence. From domestic violence to sexual harassment, these various forms of abuse are deeply harmful to women. And unfortunately, this situation has further deteriorated since the beginning of COVID-19.

An in-depth analysis of the data reveals that violence against women begins at an early age: almost a quarter of all girls have experienced gender-based violence before the age of 19, if they have been in couple. Physical and sexual assaults now threaten the well-being of women to such a degree that one could speak of a pandemic.

One of the defining moral challenges of our time will be to eradicate violence against women. And it is doable.

Survivor-centered solutions are essential

Civil society organizations can play a major role in connecting legal and personal safety specialists with women in at-risk communities. These communities include rural areas where poverty persists, where victims of gender-based violence often have no one to turn to. As a result, sexual violence often goes unchecked. We must prioritize improving access to legal services for women as both a preventive and accountability measure. Civil society groups with the necessary resources should be encouraged to engage with women survivors and their communities to reverse past neglect.

Violence against women – 2019 data

Image: OECD

There are also areas where traditional justice systems can victimize survivors. Here we need specialists on the ground to help women and girls. In regions with traditional justice systems, such as East Africa, the public leadership structure begins with village elders. Service and advocacy organizations should facilitate dialogues with respected elders about persistent stigma and stereotypes.

Survivors of sexual assault need to be humanized by illustrating to elders the first-hand traumatic experiences of these survivors. Civil society can also provide mental health support to female survivors. Together, we must lead by example that care is the right answer to survivors, as opposed to marginalization.

“Together we must lead by example that care is the right answer to survivors, as opposed to marginalization”

—Bincheng Mao

International organizations should work with local government authorities to empower women to consider sharing their stories. Providing protection to survivors is essential and the international community should provide adequate material resources to low-income areas to build shelters for victims of sexual abuse. Promoting access to female healthcare is also essential to the process of empowering women.

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress in closing gender gaps at the national level. To turn this information into concrete actions and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public-private collaboration.

These accelerators were convened in ten countries from three regions. Accelerators are established in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Panama in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

All National Accelerators, as well as Knowledge Partner countries demonstrating global leadership in closing gender gaps, are part of a larger ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, which facilitates the exchange of ideas and knowledge. experiences via the Forum platform.

In 2019, Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women make up just over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the labor force are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to rise to managerial positions.

In these countries, CEOs and Ministers work together over a three-year period on policies that help to further reduce the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare, and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention, and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries, you can join the local member base.

If you are a company or government in a country where we do not currently have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator, you can contact us to explore the possibilities of creating one.

Train the next generation

Teaching the next generation to stand up for women and girls must be a priority. WHO-sponsored research shows that effective early education can help prevent intimate partner violence. International institutions should provide guidance on gender equality education reform and national women’s rights organizations can then localize the message. Men and boys need to learn from an early age to choose respectful words and actions when talking to women. In other words, men and boys should be actively involved in the prevention effort.

In addition to implementing fair and equitable education strategies, it is crucial to ensure the safety of women and girls who come to school. In particularly high-risk communities, school buses should have ticket inspectors to verify identities. A case study from Tanzania showed that education is a key pathway to ending poverty. Ensuring women’s right to quality education helps break the cycle of poverty and empowers women to understand their human rights.

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a deep sense of urgency for businesses to actively work to address inequality.

The Forum’s work on diversity, equality, inclusion and social justice is led by the New Economy and Society Platform, which focuses on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, recovery and transformation, labour, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to combat exclusion, prejudice and discrimination based on race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity.

The platform produces data, standards and information, such as the Global Gender Gap Report and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0 Toolkit, and pilots or supports action initiatives, such as Partnering for Racial Justice in Business, The Valuable 500 – Closing the Disability Inclusion Gap, Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work, Closing the Gender Gap Country Accelerators, the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality, the Community of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers and the Global Future Council on Equity and Social Justice.

Moral action is also smart economics

To mobilize decisive action, it is imperative to remind hesitant people of the serious economic costs of gender inequality. When human beings experience physical and sexual violence, their general health deteriorates and they begin to miss work. Every day, abused women who miss work lead to losses in productivity and overall economic output in a country. It is therefore in the interest of any government to intensify and combat violence against women.

Gender-based violence can harm anyone, but certain groups are particularly vulnerable. For example, it disproportionately affects women and girls living in less developed regions. UN Women pointed out that women in countries classified as “least developed countries” have been subjected to a significantly higher rate of domestic violence over the past year, 13% more. This means that a greater proportion of women in low-income areas experience abuse that can prevent them from contributing to local economic development, perpetuating a cycle of violence and poverty. The fight against gender-based violence will be most important in the poorest regions of the world. A global effort to eradicate violence against women is an opportunity for poor countries to accelerate economic growth and reduce poverty.

Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights

Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights. When this principle was declared at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, people dared to imagine a more inclusive and compassionate 21st century. Today, with the resurgence of violence against women, we urgently need to take concrete action to advance women’s rights.