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The war against women

Violence against women has been called “the most pervasive yet least recognized abuse of human rights in the world.”

A landmark study on women’s health and domestic violence carried out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2008 confirmed what many individuals and organisations working on the issue for many years already knew – that it is widespread and can have far-reaching health consequences on the lives of women and their children.

The 10-country (Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Japan, Peru, Namibia, Samoa, Serbia and Montenegro, Thailand and Tanzania) multi-country study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence Against Women, showed that up to 71% of women reported physical or sexual violence by a husband or partner.

While physical, sexual and emotional abuse by an intimate partner or family member remains the most common manifestation of gender-based violence (GBV), sexual harassment and abuse by authority figures (such as teachers, police officers or employers); trafficking for forced labour or sex; dowry-related violence and honour killings (when women are murdered in the name of family honour) are all acts of violence against women. They all constitute a violation of the fundamental human rights of women and girls.

Similarly, trafficking in women and girls is on the rise and many traditional practices that are harmful to women – such as child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting – to women and girls persist, causing psychological damage, physical injury and death.

Working with the military in the Congo

The systematic use of rape as a weapon of war has become increasingly widespread in conflict situations over the last few decades. The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been called “a war against women”, with rape being the “war within the war”. 160 reported rape attacks take place every week in eastern DRC (and those are only the cases that are reported).

Save the Children, with support from the Positive Action for Children Fund, is delivering a new, sustainable model of community care in the DRC for families affected by HIV in conflict-affected states where, according to the WHO and UN estimates, the total number of people living with HIV is estimated to be between 450,000 – 2,600,000 people, and the incidence rate between 1.7% and 9.9%.

With 19% of all pregnancies in the DRC occurring amongst teenagers, the initiative will work closely with adolescent girls who, with little or no skills, training, family or community support, run the risk of being forced into transactional sex to support themselves and their children, putting them at further risk of HIV.

The project adopts a family-centred approach where children and adolescents living with HIV and their communities are supported to challenge traditional gender roles and relationships. Through improved communication skills and greater mutual respect between women and men and girls and boys, families are able to support each other to prevent future transmissions of HIV and reduce stigma and discrimination against families already affected by HIV.

The initiative is particularly innovative in engaging the military as stakeholder groups, as HIV rates among uniformed men are among the highest in the country. As one of the key perpetrators of sexual violence, working with the military will be critical to bringing about a sustainable reduction in violence against women and the spread of HIV.

Violence against women has to be seen as inextricably linked to gender-based inequalities. Gender-based violence also serves — by intention or effect — to perpetuate male power and control.

Programmes to address violence against women need to adopt an approach that meets both the practical and strategic needs of women. They need to end the violence, but also work with women, men and communities to address gender inequalities through strengthening women’s agency and the community’s capacity to protect and uphold the rights of women and girls by challenging gender disparities and opposing violence against them.

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