As the just-completed 16 Days Campaign demonstrated, gender-based violence against women and girls is regrettably highly pervasive around the world. A recent World Health Organization (WHO) study found that “35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives,” and that “… up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.” Gender-based violence also includes an array of other transgressions against women and girls, such as verbal harassment, coercion (i.e. forced marriage), abduction, and human trafficking. Sadly, these forms of violence and insecurity are experienced by thousands of women and girls worldwide.
Gender-based violence causes significant physical, psychological, economic, and social harm to women and girls across the globe. It also has even broader ramifications. Research over the past few years demonstrates that the level of violence against women in a society is one of the very best predictors of security and stability within that society. Indeed, the “larger the gender gap between the treatment of men and women in society, the more likely a country is to be involved in intra- and interstate conflict, to be the first to resort to force in such conflicts, and to resort to higher levels of violence.” Furthermore, when compared with alternative explanations for what determines the security of a state, like “level of democracy, level of economic development, and civilizational identity” the physical security of women is seemingly the best predictor of state security and peacefulness.
Violence and discrimination against women and girls obviously needs to be combatted first and foremost as an end in itself. However, establishing the linkage between women’s treatment in a society and the level of security and peace in that society provides an additional incentive for policymakers (especially those who regrettably consider women’s rights a “secondary issue”) to readily advocate for measures that protect women from violence, establish equal rights, and shift long-held paradigms about gender roles.
As we mark the end of this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, it is important to both acknowledge the indisputable primary importance of ending gender-based violence as a goal in itself, as well as to recognize the amplifying nature of protecting and promoting women and girls. Eliminating gender-based violence will not only make women and girls more secure and consequently more prosperous economically, politically, and socially (and vice versa); it also has the capacity to make the world and the countries within it much more peaceful overall. In uncertain times where both women’s security and global security have been repeatedly threatened, prioritizing women and girls is more imperative than ever.
As a reproductive rights and women’s advocacy organization, PAI (and its like-minded peers) can tap into these multi-sector advocacy linkages by both pushing to eliminate sexual and reproductive health-related gender-based violence and also by establishing allies in the security and governance sectors. In addition to reaching out to more traditional NGO, government, and private sector allies, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) organizations should also work in tandem with the security and governance sectors to assist each other in advancing relevant missions and goals. Indeed, approaching gender-based violence from an interdisciplinary perspective is perhaps the best way to help significantly diminish it long-term; this will serve to increase the possibility of achieving the ultimate goals of ending gender-based violence as well as perpetuating global peace.