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Nov 25, 2014

Right to a Violence Free Life

Nisha Agrawal

One of the most important things Oxfam India does is advocate for rights. We fight for the right to food. The right to political freedom.The right to land. The right to dignity.

One of the most important rights, however, is the right to live free of the fear of violence.

Sadly, this right remains beyond the grasp of millions of women in South Asia, who live in the shadow of violence every day. It becomes a banal but horrifying reality that dominates their lives, extinguishing their hopes for a better future.

It's worth going through some of the figures on gender-based violence, because they are appalling.

Every week in Bangladesh more than ten women suffer from an acid attack. In India, 22 women are killed every day in dowry-related murders. In Pakistan, more than 450 women and girls die every year in so-called “honor killings."

These statistics can easily blur. But it's vital to remember that behind each and every one of these numbers is a wrecked human life.

This demands an urgent response.

I'm writing this in Kathmandu, Nepal, where the World Bank and Oxfam International are running a conference called Joining Forces to Overcome Violence Against Women.

It's bringing together some of the finest thinkers and most influential voices on this issue in the region.

The causes of gender based violence are very complex, but we want to use this opportunity to get to the bottom of its root causes, and hammer out new solutions to this pernicious problem.

This conference comes at a crucial moment. International bodies are putting together a new framework for the development agenda after 2015, and weighing up which issues will become priorities in the coming years.

Recently the UN's High Level Panel of Eminent Persons handed in its report on the post 2015 development agenda.

Overall, the panel did a good job sketching out the fundamental principles that should guide our attempts to eradicate poverty.

But it missed the opportunity to give women's rights the prominence it deserves.

The panel acknowledges that that “every year, one billion women are subject to sexual or physical violence because they lack equal protection under the law.”

But it does not put this pressing and urgent problem at the heart of its agenda- listing it as a "goal" instead of one of the five transformative shifts that should shape future development.

This is a mistake. If we are going to end violence against women and close the gender gap then we need to put gender equality at the absolute heart of our efforts to fight poverty.

That's what NGOs, activists, politicians and academics will be doing here in Nepal this week. We recognise that violence against women not only destroys lives but triggers damaging aftershocks that hold back economic development and tear at the social fabric. We need to empower governments, business and society as a whole to find new ways to stop this happening.

The scale of the challenge is daunting, but the UN and the international community should not shy away from it. It is not good enough to assume that gender violence is an ugly reality that will always be with us. Enough is enough. It's time to tackle this problem head on. Women around the world expect nothing less.

Posted June 17, 2013 by Nisha Agrawal

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