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In two days’ time, on March 8, we will be commemorating International Women’s Day (IWD). What will you do to mark this important day?
The IWD adopts different local themes in different countries, but the UN is clear about the priority for this year: “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. It is not hard to understand why. According to UN Women, “Seven out of 10 girls worldwide will be beaten, raped, abused or mutilated in their lifetime”.
The violence starts at birth, and in India and China, even before that. “Gendercide” — defined as “the systematic killing of members of a specific sex” — is prevalent in these two countries. It accounts for 200 million “missing” girls — aborted, killed or abandoned simply because they are girls.
Although the words “It’s a girl!” should be an exclamation of joy, as Evan Grae Davis says in his documentary of the same name, these are, instead, the three deadliest words in some countries. In a TED talk (itsagirlmovie.com), he points out that 200 million — the number that could be determined since records began a few decades ago — is more than the total number of fatalities in World Wars I and II, plus all the major genocides of the 20th century.
And the stats are particularly bad in Asia, Evan adds. The traditional preference for boys means the one-child policy in China has led to forced abortions, female infanticide and the underreporting of female births.
As a result, there are now 37 million more men than women in China, and 1 million more boys are born per year than girls. Unsurprisingly, sex trafficking has reached epidemic proportions, with 70,000 child bride kidnappings.
In 2011, the Thompson Reuters Foundation conducted a global survey of perception of threats ranging from domestic abuse and economic discrimination to female feticide, genital mutilation and acid attacks. Afghanistan came first on the list, followed by Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia. In South Asia, fears of gang rapes, honor killings, dowry deaths and human trafficking are also common.
Since the Arab Spring uprisings, cases of sexual harassment, abuse and rape have skyrocketed in Morsi’s Egypt. Protests against this rise have been to no avail, being met instead with more abuse, harassment and, yes, even more rape.
But don’t think that Western nations are free from sexual violence; far from it. In the US, 12 million women and men are subjected to sexual violence annually. Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that 24 people become victims of rape or physical violence every minute. In fact, nearly one in five women have been raped; 80 percent of female rape victims were raped at the age of 25 or younger; 97 percent of rapists don’t spend a single day in jail; and 99 percent of rapists are men. Rape is considered one of the most underreported crimes in the US.
How is Indonesia doing? Although the reform era promised democratization and respect for human rights, violence against women (VAW) has, in fact, increased since 1999. Of all forms of violence against women in Indonesia, sexual violence has increased the most, especially domestic violence and sexual assaults in public places (especially on public transportation vehicles). In some cases, the violence has been carried out by state officials: regents, mayors and lawmakers.
Dian, a Jakarta researcher just returned from Makassar, Sulawesi, told me there were cases there of girls being raped and impregnated by their own fathers. Amazingly, this is not regarded as a criminal or violent act. Even if such cases are reported to the authorities, they are dealt with according to kekeluargaan (“familyness”) — a great Indonesian catch-all term that means to resolve conflicts by avoiding conflict. In this case, the baby is cared for by the family, a husband is found for the rape victim … and the father-rapist walks away, scot-free.
And what about the recent case of a deputy principal at a Jakarta high school who threatened to fail a female student if she refused him oral sex? He is just one of many public officials in Indonesia who use their power to abuse women.
Is there any hope of this situation ever ending? Perhaps. Remember the outrageous statement made by Mohammad Daming Sunusi, a justice candidate for the Supreme Court, who said the death penalty should not be applied to rapists, as both the rapist and the victim may have enjoyed the intercourse? The public outcry over what he considered a joke spelled the end of his career. Damning indeed!
In India, however, it took the fatal rape of 23-year-old physiotherapy student in December 2012 in Delhi (dubbed the “rape capital” of India) to shake the nation out of its complacency about women’s rights.
In the US, the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) was passed on Feb. 28. It had been adopted in 1994 and had expired in 2011. The new act is a revised version, and includes new protections for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
On Valentine’s Day this year, there were marches in Afghanistan, human chains in Bangladesh, a debate in the British House of Commons and various events in countries from Australia, Germany and Kyrgyzstan to Somalia to support the “One Billion Rising” campaign. This is a global campaign initiated by Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler. Check out its “Billionaire of Moments” Facebook page.
All this is good news, but it will take more than just campaigns and laws to fight the global scourge that holds back not just women but also the nations to which they belong. We are all responsible for VAW. It starts with us, not just once a year on IWD, but every day.
So, join the global movement, say no to violence (saynotoviolence.org), and keep the promise!
The writer (juliasuryakusuma.com) is the author of State Ibuism.