We The Peoples
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We The Peoples

#MeToo and beyond: How women and men are saying no to violence against women

Every year, from 25 November to 10 December, a global campaign rooted in the women’s movement mobilizes people worldwide for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. This year, the campaign is occurring amidst an unprecedented global outcry. Women everywhere have had enough. The mounting sexual assault allegations against powerful men and the heartbreaking stories behind the social media campaign #MeToo and others have exposed the sheer magnitude of the problem. Breaking the silence that has masked this abuse is often the first step toward changing mindsets, finding justice and supporting survivors.

As the 16 Days of Activism campaign comes to a close on 10 December, the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we must salute the brave individuals who have resisted and risen to break the barriers, change laws and attitudes, and those who have stepped in to support, empower and show us all that ending violence against women and girls is possible.

Here are just four stories of women and men who are standing up and speaking out against violence against women.

Irinea Buendía remembers the last day she saw her daughter, Mariana Lima, as if it was just yesterday. Her daughter had decided to leave her abusive husband. ‘I will file a complaint…I know they will not touch him. He has always said that I cannot do anything to him, as he is a policeman; but I want to set a legal precedent.” Mariana had said. “I will be back at three, and have lunch with you, mom”. She never made it to lunch.

Later that day, Mariana’s husband called Irinea to say that her daughter had committed suicide. Irinea knew he had murdered her, and thus started a six-year-long pursuit of justice.

In Mexico, at least seven women were victims of femicide (gender-related killings) every day in 2016. The killings continue, although there are comprehensive laws, driven by impunity and lack of effective implementation. After endless judicial paperwork, on 4 September 2013, Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice took up Mariana’s case.

The order analyzed the proceedings undertaken by each public servant involved in the case, and revealed how the absence of a gender-sensitive approach had led to human rights violations of the victim — both Mariana Lima, the deceased, and her surviving mother. The court also issued legal protection for Irinea Buendía. Eventually, Julio César Hernández Ballinas was arrested, and the case set a precedence for femicide investigations.

In Moldova, police chief Victor Zglavoci of Colibasi shows what it means to keep his community safe. It includes protecting women against abuse and supporting survivors.

Victor is part of a UN Women programme that has trained police officers across Moldova to improve their capacity to respond to domestic violence cases.

“One night we received a distress call from the deputy chief of the village school, one of the most respected women in our community, and went to her home immediately to investigate the situation…That incident showed me that no one was safe from violence,” he recalls. Victor and his team removed the abuser from the house and prevented him from intimidating his wife. Victor believes that raising awareness about gender equality among police officers makes them more effective, and restores trust from the public.

According to a national survey, 7 out of 10 adult women in Moldova have experienced abuse perpetrated by their intimate partners. However, only one in three women report to the police, because of stigma, lack of awareness and economic dependency. Research also shows that eight years since the special laws on preventing and combating domestic violence entered into force, police officers still lack knowledge about the legal provisions and mechanisms to enforce the law.

With more policemen like Victor, aware and ready to respond, more women are reporting abuse, seeking support and reclaiming their lives.

Sierra Leone has used female genital mutilation (FGM) on girls as part of a rite-of-passage ceremony for hundreds of years. Traditional women leaders who perform the ceremony are called “Sowei”. Performing Bondo Bush — as FGM is called in the local language — is an important source of revenue for the Soweis. They also enjoy an elevated stature in the community as custodians of their culture, and are afraid that they would lose the respect they get, if they stop performing the ritual.

After attending workshops organized by UN Women, where she learned about the harmful impacts of FGM, Sowei leader and community chief from Tonkolili district, Fatmata B. Koroma stopped performing FGM. She is encouraging others to do the same.

“Ending Female Genital Mutilation is possible, but first we must create an optional means of survival for those who already consider initiation as employment,” says Fatmata. “If we can create agricultural schemes for the women to start earning their livelihood through different means, we can eliminate FGM from our tradition.”

“We need tractors, seeds, fertilizers to start farming. It is out of this Sowei business [of FGM] that we have been able to educate our children. Therefore, to end FGM, women need to be empowered economically.”

There is hardly a woman or a girl, in urban and rural areas alike, who has not experienced sexual harassment or the threat of sexual violence in public spaces. In Marakkech, Morocco, men and women alike are trying to change deeply engrained attitudes about women. To address the rampant sexual harassment, UN Women launched a city-wide initiative in 2014 as part of its Global Flagship Programme Initiative Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces.

Since public transportation and streets were the most common spaces in which sexual harassment occurred, the programme engaged transportation workers — taxi and bus drivers — in prevention efforts, in addition to other municipal authorities.

“We bus drivers are [often] the first witnesses of sexual harassment in public transport. Before, we did not know how to react in these cases,” said local bus driver, Abdellah Lambarki. “The training programme, which we follow within ALSA, brings us the necessary knowledge to ensure safety in our buses. With our management, we have developed procedures that allow us to take immediate action to protect bus passengers from various acts of violence.”.

Almost 36 women led the first-ever participatory safety audit in Morocco last year in the neighbourhoods of Douar Sraghna and Hay Izdihar. Gradually, people’s attitudes are starting to change. For many women, the process of leading safety audits, providing recommendations to the city officials and speaking out about the harassment they have suffered for so long, has been empowering. As one woman participant of the safety audit said: “No one had ever asked me what my concerns were about the neighbourhood. This process has been very powerful for me.”



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UN Women is the United Nations entity for #genderequality and women's empowerment.