Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

How to help end violence against women

Ban Ki-moon
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Violence against women is a global pandemic. It is a problem that knows no geographic, socio-economic or cultural boundaries. It takes many forms and it is pervasive: One in three women will experience physical or sexual violence at some point in her life.

It includes rape, domestic violence, abuse in school, harassment at work and on the street, bullying on the Internet. In some countries, women and girls are assaulted when they venture outside because they don’t have a toilet. Sexual violence is used as a tactic in armed conflict, with horrific consequences.

Around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. More than 133 million girls and women have been subjected to female genital mutilation in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the harmful is most common.

While 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced violence, some national studies have found that 70 per cent of women have been abused by an intimate partner. Of all women killed in 2012, it is estimated that almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members. In many cases, the very people that should inspire the most trust inflict the most fear.

More often than not, cases of violence against women go unreported.

The pervasiveness of this violence should shock us all. Violence against women and girls is happening where you live — and possibly even to someone you know.

Every November, the International Day to End Violence against Women and the 16 Days of Activism that follow are an important reminder of how much violence against women affects every one of us — and what we can do about it.

The tragic consequences of violence against women go beyond pain and suffering. Violence costs and it does so in ways both human and economic. From paying for services to treat and support abused women and their children to bringing perpetrators to justice to lost productivity and employment, the costs are huge, not only to victims and their families but also to businesses and countries.

Recent research by the World Bank shows violence against women has a significant impact on a country’s GDP. In the United States alone, annual costs of intimate partner violence have been calculated at USD 5.8 billion.

While we may never know quite the full extent of the problem, what we do know is how to stop it — because at the heart of preventing violence against women is fundamentally challenging the culture of discrimination that allows it to continue.

To end violence, we must shatter the negative gender stereotypes and attitudes that feed and perpetuate it. It will take speaking out against the sexist jokes and comments often dismissed as “harmless” and standing up to abusive behaviour whenever and wherever we see it. It will take all of us to examine and question our own attitudes and strive to become role models for young people. It will take showing boys healthy models of masculinity. It will take empowering girls and boys, women and men to embrace gender equality.

We all have a role to play and the private sector is no exception. Businesses have an important role to play, from developing projects to providing direct financial support to organizations working to end violence and embracing the principles of corporate social responsibility.

Nearly 700 corporate leaders worldwide have now publicly signed a CEO Statement of Support for the Women’s Empowerment Principles, a joint initiative of the UN Global Compact and UN Women. The Principles offer practical guidance to the private sector on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. We need more leaders to get involved and I strongly encourage others to sign on to the Principles and to take all measures to tackle inequality and discrimination.

As part of my UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, the UN will mark 25 November this year by encouraging local actions towards ending violence against women and girls in our communities, using orange as the uniting colour for advocacy efforts. In New York City, the UN’s own neighborhood, the Empire State Building and UN building will be lit up in orange to raise awareness of the issue, while other events will be organized around the world.

This year and every year, I will continue to do all I can to end violence and champion equality for women and girls. I urge you all to join me.

Get involved with the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign.

Get ideas for action and share your activity on the Facebook global event page or through the hashtag #orangeurhood on Twitter.

Find out more about the Women’s Empowerment Principles.

Published in collaboration with LinkedIn

Author: Ban Ki-moon is the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations.

A woman, who asked to remain anonymous, recounts her experience at a shelter for domestic violence victims in Caracas March 16, 2011. REUTERS.

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