International Women: A ‘Pandemic’ of Abuse

Throughout time, across continents and cultures, there has been no crime more greatly persecuted than the offense of being born female. In the name of honour, family, and religion, their most basic rights are habitually abused, the women themselves a matter of property. International women’s day this Saturday provides a chance to shout for those who have no voice.

Nothing on a national level compares to the global scale of violence against women, which the organisation UN women calls “pandemic”. In many countries, women are routinely denied not only the right to education and healthcare, but the right to feel safe, valued and unique, recent studies revealing that 54% of children are not in school – and over 64 million are child brides, more than the total UK population. Female genital mutilation affects 140 million, a figure thought to explain why pregnancy complications are the main causes of death amongst 15-19 year olds.

This year, International Women’s Week calls for change in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where UN forces have failed in protecting women from rape as a weapon of war even within refugee camps. They demand support for women in Egypt who have seen a rise in gender-targeted assault, including highly invasive “virginity tests”. They call for women’s rights in Afghanistan, where honour-killing and self-immolation of girls as young as 14 are frequent consequences of child marriage, the withdrawal of UN troops threatening to worsen the situation.

Yet there are many issues which will not be drawn attention to: women are the greatest casualties of poverty, with 10% of Nepalese (many in their 20s) suffering from uterine prolepsis caused by early child birth and carrying heavy loads. India’s degrading attitudes towards women boosts a thriving sex industry, with 20,000 sex workers working in Kamathipura, many trafficked children – after all, girls under 16 charge four times the price. One woman is raped in India every seven seconds – and these are the statistics we know about.

Those who speak out for women’s rights face even greater risks of persecution. This does not just include the Malalas, the politicians, the journalists, but those who deal with women daily as part of their career – teachers, health and security workers. In Amnesty’s report on Afghan women, a gynaecologist told of how her son had been shot because his mother helped rape victims. Yet even in the most dangerous environments, women’s rights groups provide support and hope for a better future. Despite assassinations of group members, ‘Women for Afghan Women’ has helped more than 8,000 women since 2007. Such movements are lighting candles for women of other communities, creating their own counter-epidemics. The resistance is contagious.

As an international community, we cannot continue to support an environment where women’s issues can remain silent. There is a difference between what is culturally relative and what constitutes the systematic abuse of human rights. Without imposing any ‘western’ priority, we must support the women looking to change their society – from the inside out. They need our voice, your voice.

Bronte Philips

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