To mark White Ribbon Day – the international day for the elimination of violence against women – we have a guest post by Sarah Casey. A PhD student at Griffith University, Sarah’s focus is the relevance of feminism to the world today.
Did you know that violence is the biggest cause of injury or death for women between 18 and 45? One in three Australian women will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime.
One in three women worldwide will suffer violence directed at her simply because she is female.
Wednesday, November 25th is White Ribbon Day, a time for people across the globe to help put an end to violence against women. This includes domestic violence, child abuse, sexual abuse, genital mutilation – and the list goes on.
Pop sensation Rihanna is used to making international headlines. However, early this year, her story took a tragic turn after she was beaten by her famous (now infamous) boyfriend Chris Brown. Rihanna has spoken out about domestic violence, including in this interview with veteran American TV journalist Diane Sawyer.
Here at home, former Australian Idol contestant Paulini Curuenavuli recently told Woman’s Day about the beatings that she endured in a relationship.
There was a point where I said to myself, if I don’t leave now, I won’t make it . . . Things were getting so bad that I was fearing for my life in those last few weeks.
–Paulini Curuenavuli, Woman’s Day.
Sadly, a woman fearing for her life, as both Rihanna and Paulini have, is far too common a scenario. Internationally, violence against females is on the rise.
This must stop. Pass the word around about White Ribbon Day. Buy a white ribbon if you can. Talk about the issue if you can. There are resources for schools and individuals on the White Ribbon Day website, and an abundance of information about where to get help if violence is affecting you or a girl or woman you know.
Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation. And it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.
Violence against women has become as much a pandemic as HIV/AIDS or malaria. But is generally downplayed by the public at large and by policy makers who fail to create and fund programs to eradicate it.
It is estimated that 70% of global poverty is women’s poverty, and violence and poverty are often linked (though violence affects all groups, not just ‘poor’ women). It has been acknowledged that one of the main keys to economic prosperity globally is the saving of women. And if one in three females is suffering violence in her life – that’s conservative, many experts say it’s closer to half of all women – then it’s always happening to someone we know, or to ourselves. So why aren’t we all yelling about saving women? I acknowledge that not every woman may be in the position to speak out, but for those of us who can, the time is now. The answers aren’t simple, but the White Ribbon Day website can act as a starting point, a focus. Consciousness raising is so desperately needed.
Violence against females is not something that only happens somewhere else – it happens everywhere – and at alarming rates in ‘privileged’ countries like Australia. Rates of violence against females in Indigenous communities are also much higher. There needs to be zero tolerance, which is why I urge you to look at the White Ribbon website and see what you as an individual can do right now.
Obviously this is a dire situation that can’t be solved by one event, or symbolic day, or a lot of savvy marketing. This is not a ‘sexy’ issue, but it deserves to be given the attention it desperately needs. (Violence against men is also an issue, but this campaign focuses on women.)
We need to create an open international dialogue about violence against women in the same way that the former fringe issues of climate change and global poverty, for example, now are commonly discussed. How? Supporting White Ribbon Day is a start. Education about self-esteem, respecting women and human rights, and the teaching of Women’s Studies in schools are part of the solution. So let’s lobby to do more. We can’t even keep Women’s Studies in universities most of the time, and in most state governments, the Office for Women is housed within another department, as though women are a fringe group. Females are not a fringe group or issue – we make up more than half of the world’s population, don’t we?
I believe that voicing feminist thought is fundamental to ending violence and other injustices against women. Feminism cannot afford to be seen just as a fringe movement, or just as an academic field or discipline. Feminism must use the predominant currencies of the times for awareness, charity and long-term structural change, which is why campaigns such as White Ribbon Day are really important. It’s a sad reality that feminism needs to focus again on awareness raising and convincing the mainstream that feminism is not – and should not be – dead.
Feminism is not one consolidated movement. This is one of its greatest strengths. Yet it’s also one of its biggest weaknesses. I argue that feminists must take action on points of urgency – such as stopping violence and against women – and that debates about our differences can wait for now (though not forever). There are many branches of feminism alive and well in Australia and abroad, but my belief is that there needs to be mainstream mass-awareness campaigning once again, as in the early women’s movement. Such campaigns need to be strategically planned, which would mean a certain amount of collectivity. Campaigns such as White Ribbon Day are crucial, yet unfortunately, they are not enough on their own. Recently, feminism – like women throughout history – has been largely defined by those in opposition to it. This, too, must stop.
Why? Because 85 million to 114 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation worldwide; it is estimated that one-fourth of women worldwide are physically battered. Out of 250 countries, only a few are currently headed by women. Only 1% of the world’s assets are in women’s names. Of people living in abject poverty (on less than $1 a day) 70% are women. Only 7% of the world’s cabinet ministers are women. Violence causes more death and disability worldwide amongst women aged 15-44 than war, cancer, malaria or traffic accidents. Women make up over 50% of the world’s population – and are still grossly marginalised, abused, mistreated and unequal – and for these reasons alone, women’s issues are amongst the most critical human rights crises of our times. (For more stats and information, click on these links for the United Nations, Womankind Worldwide and the Human Rights Commission of Australia.) I take a similar stance to Bono, who when discussing extreme poverty and the myriad problems connected with it, said:
That’s not a cause. That’s an emergency.
Sarah Casey is currently completing a PhD at Griffith University. Her main interest areas are women’s human rights, education, new media technologies and philanthropy. She argues that there remains an urgent need for many types of representation by women for women as the feminisms and so-called post-feminisms are in various states of crisis. Sarah researches strategies to enhance the relevance of the feminisms within mainstream audiences. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.