What we really really want is an end to violence against women

by Luna Allison | August 11, 2016
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Written by Julie Delahanty, Executive Director of Oxfam Canada. First published in The Hill Times on July 27, 2016.

To mark its 20th anniversary, artists from India to Nigeria revamped the Spice Girls’ world-famous Wannabe video. What they “really really want” this time around is an end to violence against women.

I really really want that too.

Because I know that our world continues to be an unequal, dangerous and even deadly place for women.

Women like Qandeel Baloch, a social media sensation in Pakistan who was killed by her brother last weekend out of a sick sense of honour. Women like Berta Caceres, who was gunned down in her own home a few months back for leading her Indigenous community in peaceful protests to defend their land. Women like Claudette Osborne, whose name didn’t even make the headlines when she went missing back in 2008, with news reports attributing her disappearance to her “lifestyle” – not to the pandemic of violence against Aboriginal women and girls in our country.

It is estimated that globally 1 out of 3 women will be physically or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. In some countries, rates of violence against women are so high that we have a term for it: femicide.  Women around the world continue to be afraid to say no to sex, for fear of being shamed, beaten, or even killed.

Access to birth control is often limited, yet seeking an abortion is difficult, stigmatized, and expensive. And in some countries, like El Salvador, it is flat out illegal – even to save a woman’s life. The world over, unsafe abortions kill as many 68,000 women a year. And if they survive back alley abortions, women can end up criminalized, with up to a life sentence for exercising control over their own bodies. Like twenty-one-year-old Isabel Hernandez, jailed for 30 years under El Salvador’s draconian anti-abortion law.

I know from my work that this violence is not only a major cause of death, ill health and disability, it also blocks opportunities for women and girls to escape poverty. It limits their control over their own bodies and the choices they can make. It impedes their access to education – making it harder to earn a living, become independent, and participate in public life.

But I also know Canada, led by a feminist Prime Minister, has an opportunity to become a global leader on women’s rights and gender equality, including by helping put an end to violence against women.

Canada is in the midst of reviewing its international assistance framework, with a view to putting women’s rights at the heart of our aid agenda. With decisive action and investment, Canada can become a frontrunner in pioneering a feminist approach to development, joining only a small handful of other countries who have pledged to take this on.

A feminist approach is fundamentally new. It’s about being bold in our ambition to finally see real progress on women’s rights. It’s about rethinking how we work and who we work with. It’s about walking the talk and ensuring that our financial commitments match our level of ambition.

Global Affairs should seize this game-changing moment to scale up its commitment to women’s rights and gender equality. It can do so by ensuring that 20% of Canadian aid dollars is dedicated to tackling the structural causes of inequality and discrimination against women.

Looking beyond aid, Canada can use diplomacy to advance its feminist agenda and stop the rise of violence against women. As an example, it can call on the UN Security Council to put in place an immediate embargo on the sale of arms to South Sudan, a country where women are already facing terrifyingly high levels of violence and rape.

The government’s recent decision to reinstate funding for women’s rights organizations doing advocacy work here at home was a welcome relief, after years of defunding and intimidation. The logical next step would be to ensure that more of our aid dollars go to women’s rights organizations doing frontline work in the Global South. Just like the feminist organizations in El Salvador who are mobilizing to defeat a motion that would increase jail sentences for women like Isabel Hernandez.

An end to violence against women – isn’t that what we all really really want?

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