*This post discusses sexual violence, intimate partner violence, domestic homicide, and sex trafficking*
Our final post to mark the UN 16 Days of Activism 2019 is something a bit different. Over the past 15 days, we have showcased some marvellous academics and activists whose rich and varied work contributes to highlighting, tackling, and ending gender-based violence. Today, I thought I would dwell on some of the reasons (both political and personal) that we all persist with this work.
According to a report published in 2019 by UN Women, “It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives.” Bear in mind, though, that 35 percent is just the average figure. In some nations, over 70 percent of women experience physical and/or sexual violence from a partner or ex-partner during their lifetime (UN Women 2019; see, e.g. State of Human Rights Report 2018).
Moreover, of the 87, 000 women who were murdered in 2017, nearly 60 percent were killed by intimate partners or family members; doing the maths, that means 137 women around the world were killed by a member of their own family every day (UN Women 2019). And more than a third (30,000) of the women intentionally killed in 2017 were killed by their current or former intimate partner (UN Women 2019).
Around 72 percent of trafficking victims are women and girls, and girls make up 75 percent of child trafficking victims (UN Women 2019). And according to the 2018 UN Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, over four out of five trafficked women and nearly three out of four trafficked girls are trafficked for the explicit purpose of sexual exploitation and abuse.
A UNICEF (2017) report revealed that, globally, around 15 million teenage girls (aged 15 to 19) have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts at some point in their life. In most countries, adolescent girls are at the highest risk of forced sex by a current or former husband or partner. Looking at the data from 30 countries, only one percent of these girls ever sought professional help (UN Women 2019).
I could go on, but will leave you to read the rest of the UN Women 2019 report yourselves. It doesn’t make for easy reading, as each bullet point relentlessly documents the malignantly high rates of gendered violence in every sphere of life, from walking down the street, to school and university life, to the workplace, to social media, and back home again, where the violence is even more likely to continue, rather than abate. Gender violence pervades women’s and girls’ lives, no matter where they are, or what they are doing, their age, marital status, education, or occupation. And if we factor in their sexuality, class, race, and gender identity, then these additional intersecting identities converge to make some women and girls even more vulnerable to experiencing sexual and/or physical violence, whether at the hands of a family member, an intimate partner, or a stranger.
The physical, psychological, emotional, political, and spiritual impact of this global endemic of gender-based violence is unfathomable – and scandalous. Even as I sit writing this in my adopted home of Aotearoa New Zealand – a country proud of its reputation as being at the forefront of the fight for gender equality – a quick Google search reveals a far bleaker picture. To be sure, we were one of the first countries to give (some white) women the vote, but our rates of intimate partner violence are among the highest in the (so-called) developed world.
On average, the police in Aotearoa New Zealand respond to a report of domestic violence every four minutes; this is likely the tip of the iceberg, as it is estimated that less than 25 percent of domestic violence incidents are reported to the police. Nearly half of all homicides and violent crimes are related to family violence, and in most family violence homicides, the victims are women or children. One in three New Zealand women report having experienced physical and/or sexual abuse at the hands of a partner at some point in their lives. And around 25 percent of women and 6 percent of men experience sexual violence or abuse in their lifetimes, often when they are 16 or younger. These statistics are even higher for indigenous Maori women and girls, as well as Pasifika women and girls, immigrant women, and disabled women.
Statistics like these are utterly bleak, and it’s little surprise that those of us working with the Shiloh Project, and our marvellous collaborators who do research and activism in this area, can often feel an overwhelming sense of frustration, fatigue, or even failure and defeat when we look at these figures and contemplate the work we so keenly strive to do. For some of us, too, stories of gender violence hit a bit too close to home. For some of us, violence has shaped our own lives, our own stories. It has threatened to break us, damage us, bully us into giving it all up. We may be activists and/or academic ‘experts’ in the field of gendered violence, but that expertise may sometimes come from more than academic books and research projects. It may be tattooed onto our skin and soul by our own experiences of toxic relationships, coercive control, and emotional, physical, and sexual violence.
But I guess that’s (in part at least) why we keep doing this work. That’s why we persevere. It may be our own story, or someone else’s – a colleague, a friend, a family member, a student, a stranger at the bus stop, a #MeToo Tweet, a Facebook post, a podcast, a news report in the media. Believe me, we’ve all heard stories like these, likely more than once. So we stop and listen. We don’t let our frustration and fatigue stop us listening – if anything, it keeps us listening. And acting, and writing, and researching, and speaking, and shouting. And we’ll keep on going, until one day, maybe a long time from now, the UN won’t need to hold their 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women. Because everybody’s collective activism has fulfilled its goal, and the violence is over at last. Wouldn’t that be amazing? May the day come soon.
Nga mihi aroha.