Protesters Rally Worldwide against Gender Violence for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

On November 25, 2018, thousands of protesters rallied in countries across the world for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a United Nations-designated event.[1] Protesters took to the streets to raise greater awareness for gender violence. The day is the start of a 16-day campaign that will advocate for governments and other organizations to pledge their support for ending gender violence, an issue that affects nearly 35% of women worldwide at some point in their lifetime.[2]

Spanish protesters in Madrid hoped to pressure their new government into changing its policies toward responding to sexual assault. Spain has recently faced several divisive sexual assault cases that sparked outrage across the country. For instance, several perpetrators have been cleared of sexual assault–the equivalent of rape in Spain–for the less serious charge of sexual abuse in recent months. In one case, the judge claimed that the men had not been violent or intimidating, even as the victim begged them to stop.[3] In another case, the victim claimed she had frozen from fear; the judge used this statement to clear the perpetrators, saying that this constituted a neutral or passive stance to sexual intercourse, even though consent was never given.[4] These cases have spurred protests as protesters fight to change these questionable policies.

Spain is not the only European nation that has faced criticism for their sexual violence laws. For instance, Ireland’s laws have come under fire after a lawyer successfully defended his client in a sexual assault case after claiming that the underwear worn by the victim was a sign of consent.[5] According to a report by Amnesty International, only 8 of the 31 countries in Europe defines rape as sexual intercourse without consent.[6] To meet the threshold of rape in other countries, the perpetrator has to use a mixture of coercion, intimidation, or physical violence.[7]

The United Nations originally launched the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women because gender violence is one of the most profound and widespread human rights abuses across the globe – yet, it is often stigmatized and underreported, with victim blaming all too common.[8] According to the United Nations, the five most distinct forms of gender violence are spousal abuse, child marriage, trafficking, sexual violence and assault, and genital mutilation.[9]

António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, reiterated that the issue of gender violence threatens fair and inclusive societies across the world. “Not until the half of our population represented by women and girls can live free from fear, violence and everyday insecurity, can we truly say we live in a fair and equal world,” Guterres said.[10]

Both Guterres and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of United Nations Women, note that changing the culture of silencing victims must change in order to truly ameliorate the issue. “The focus must change from questioning the credibility of the victim, to pursuing the accountability of the perpetrator,”[11] Mlambo-Ngcuka said. By launching the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the United Nations can hopefully begin to change the stigma of gender violence and change the culture of shame that all too often serves as a barrier to reporting gender violence. In raising greater awareness for the issue, the UN hopes to shift the onus from the victim to the perpetrator.


Endnotes

[1] The United Nations, “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

25 November,” November 25, 2018, http://www.un.org/en/events/endviolenceday/.

[2] Raphael Minder, Yonette Joseph and Iliana Magra, “Marching to End Violence Against Women,” The New York Times, November 25, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/25/world/international-day-violence-against-women.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fworld&action=click&contentCollection=world&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Valeriya Safronova, “Lawyer in Rape Trial Links Thong With Consent, and Ireland Erupts,” The New York Times, November 15, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/15/world/europe/ireland-underwear-rape-case-protest.html?module=inline.

[6] Anna Błuś, “A wave of women fighting rape across Europe,” Amnesty International, November 24, 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/11/a-wave-of-women-fighting-rape-across-europe/.

[7] Ibid.

[8] The United Nations, “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

25 November.”

[9] Ibid.

[10] Denis Bocquet, “Violence against women a ‘mark of shame’ on our societies, says UN chief on World Day,” United Nations News, November 25, 2018, https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/11/1026511

[11] Ibid.

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