Today is Day 8 of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – a suggested road map to gender equality. For the first time ever, there is a real focus on prevention, and a new Sustainable Development agenda includes specific targets for actually ending violence against women.
As I prepare for another trip to join my medical and legal colleagues to address sexual violence in Kenya, I’ve been reflecting on how much progress we’ve made as a society to end violence against women and girls. As an internist and preventive medicine doctor – and as a friend, sister, daughter, aunt, and teacher to other women and girls – this issue is always on my mind.
It’s clear we’re making progress. For example, in June 2014, the then-UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie co-chaired the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The Summit brought together more than 1,700 delegates representing 129 countries and focused on four main aims, including ending a culture of impunity, reducing the risk for sexual violence in conflict zones, supporting survivors, and changing attitudes about sexual violence. Similar strides have been made in the fight against intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation, and other atrocities targeting girls and women.
But we still have a long way to go.
Here’s where I think we need less talk and more action:
1 – Education and opportunity are key to empowering women and girls. However, countries like the United States need to show better leadership. We have yet to make significant strides toward equal pay for equal work, sexual and reproductive freedom, and ending sexual assault on college campuses, among other areas.
2 – True gender equity can only be accomplished by accepting concepts like sex and gender in honest, complete ways. We need to give all young people the opportunity to figure out how they identify themselves – not just how society identifies them. And we need to acknowledge that sex, gender, and orientation do not alone define who we are. Gender is only one part of a whole identity.
3 – From a young age, kids need to know that their voices – and other voices – matter. Ideas about consent form at a young age, and it’s our responsibility to help kids create and respect appropriate boundaries.
4 – We need to embrace rather than fear the vulnerability we share regardless of our gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, and even species. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness. We are all intrinsically vulnerable though vulnerability can be deepened by personal, social, political, and economic factors. Rather than running from vulnerability, we need to address pathogenic sources of vulnerability – like oppression, domination, and injustice – and rise strong from our vulnerabilities.
5 – Violence against women and girls will not end until violence ends. We need holistic, nonviolent solutions to our most pressing problems, and we need to stop glamorizing violence in television shows, movies, and video games. And, more than anything, we need to stop teaching our kids to kill.
Until we address all of these issues, and others, ending violence against women and girls will be a pipe dream. But if we do step up and address these challenges, wouldn’t we all come out ahead?