Violence against women and girls is not inevitable
Violence against women and girls is widespread and linked to women’s inequality, but there is concrete action that can be taken to end it and to prevent it, and everyone has a role to play.
For many years the main response to violence against women and girls was limited to changing the way it was handled by the police and courts; a ‘criminal justice response’. The idea of preventing rape, domestic violence, harassment or FGM was given little attention.
But following campaigning and initiatives by women’s rights organisations around the world, we are starting to see prevention feature in policymakers’ thinking. We see a prevention focus in the UN Women’s Prevention Framework, the UK’s violence against women and girls strategy and London’s ‘VAWG’ strategy.
Preventing violence against women and girls
Preventing violence against women and girls includes work across many areas of our public services and community life:
Gender equality – violence against women and girls is intimately related to women’s persistent inequality. So if we want to prevent violence we must improve women’s economic and social equality. This includes equal pay, fair housing and welfare policies, and better employment, education and training for women and girls. And we need to address inequalities related to race, disability, sexuality, gender identity and age if all women are to be equal and face less risk of abuse.
In schools – we have to give children and young people the information they need about sexual consent and respectful relationships as part of a ‘whole school approach’ to ending violence against women and girls.
In public spaces – sexual harassment has a huge impact on women and girls. It forces women to do ‘safety work’ – avoiding coming home late on their own, paying for taxis and taking the longer route home. For women to be truly free, harassment and abuse in public has to stop. Public campaigns like the UK Government’s Disrespect NoBody are an attempt to change attitudes to sexual harassment and make it unacceptable, like past campaigns have done on other issues like drink driving.
Racist sexual harassment – it is clear that BME women’s experience of sexual harassment and violence can be combined with racism to devastating effect. This has to be named and women from all communities should be able to challenge the sexist racism they experience.
Work with perpetrators – men who commit violence against women and girls are known to do so again and again and often against a series of women. Education, equality and the challenging of sexual harassment will prevent some perpetrators but we also need high quality interventions with known perpetrators to prevent them harming more women. Organisations like Respect are leading this very challenging and essential work
Tackle harmful media – we need media companies, advertisers, social media platforms, and creative people to take responsibility for the images and representation of women and girls of all backgrounds that they create and display. Media portrayals and media spaces that are hostile to women and girls help to perpetuate inequality and to minimise violence. Campaigners like EverydaySexism and Media Diversified are challenging some of these.
EVAW successfully campaigned with sister organisations to criminalise rape pornography. When companies will not act, the government and regulators must step in.
People in public life speak out – everyone in public life has a role to play in speaking out about violence against women and girls and its consequences. People elected at local and national government level, business leaders, people in the arts, public and voluntary sector leaders need to recognise where ending violence against women and girls fits into their responsibilities. Like other civil rights struggles, this is everyone’s business.
Support available for all survivors of abuse – a society which is truly working towards ending and preventing violence against women and girls will see more survivors of abuse coming forward to seek support and sometimes justice. We must ensure there are enough support services for every woman and girl who seeks them at the point of demand rather than the current postcode lottery.