We Must Tackle Sexism to Eradicate Gender-Based Violence

gender-based violence

1 in 3. This is how many women have been subjected to violence in their lifetime. This is shocking, yet when you look at the pervasive sexism in our society, this figure isn’t so surprising. Sexism is the root of violence against women and the force preventing women from choosing, from standing up for themselves, from demanding to be treated equally. If you look at gender-equality indicators, gender-inequality, the pay gap and sexual and gender-based violence is widespread. 

Sexism is based on this conviction that a woman must behave in a certain way and must be punished if she doesn’t. Shouldn’t all women have the right to choose their own destinies? Feminism is not one destiny for all. It is about providing the possibility for every single woman to take responsibility for her own life and choices without someone else dictating them.

Politics and the Backlash against Women

We are seeing an unprecedented attack on women’s rights across Europe and the world. Now, more than ever, there is an attempt to close the political space for women, to starve the women’s movement and take away the rights we have been building up over the last 50 years. The current political climate will prove extremely challenging for women, and there is a grave risk of a lack of safe space for women both in the political arena and in the household. This political backlash risks reinforcing a misogynistic culture that in turn will have a huge impact on women in society. The battle for women's rights is unfinished, yet we are being forced to turn back.

The anti-feminist movement is linked to bigger geopolitical changes. Yet how does this translate into the reinforcement of a culture that fuels violence against women? How can a new political social movement in Europe speak to women who vote for anti-progressive parties? How can we understand their concerns before political frustrations bring new forces into power who will seriously threaten women’s health, life and autonomy in Europe and worldwide? The conditions that allow harmful practices like FGM, domestic and sexual abuse, rape, forced marriage, child marriage and forced pregnancy are spun from this. Sexism in politics means dissolving a culture based on human rights. This merely confirms the right to oppress half of the population.

Moral leadership is lacking at a time when political fomentation is high. We are facing an unprecedented erosion of rights as a result of frustration in the democratic institutions at national and European levels. Women feel let down by their national governments because their right to be protected against violence has been abused. If we allow women to be degraded and devalued, what future are we building? Complacency and acceptance mean people are in danger of becoming so entrenched in a system, they don’t even realise when they become a part of a system. We need to challenge the status quo.

Shifting Values to Eliminate Violence:

If we are to foster a culture that goes beyond the political parties and a culture that is humane, where women are respected and valued, we must eliminate sexism.

How would you ever recognise that women are valued if you are judging it by what you see every day? Is there any place where violence has been eradicated?  Is there any place where it is isn’t accepted with resignation and indifference instead of challenge? We hear about women tortured and killed everywhere, we see it on the internet, in the family, on the streets, on TV, in political rhetoric but nothing changes. Visibility has increased, reporting has increased, but the root causes have not been tackled and eliminated. So, how do you build a society that’s based on human rights? The right to participate, have a job, education, choose your partner, the right to decide on your life? We all have constraints but we must eliminate structural discrimination.

Sexism and inequality are at the core of this lack of value placed on women. We live in a system where women and girls are treated as second class citizens, and in turn that system is not protecting women and children. If you are a woman in a minority group, your suffering will be even greater. What we value is what we protect and if you are not valued, you are clearly not protected. If you are not considered worthy in our society, you are exposed to the worst kinds of abuse and violence.

The epidemic of violence, impunity for sexual abuse and inequality in the job market is a direct product of this lack of value. Even the concept of aspiring to achieve gender equality is somehow being questioned by some forces today. When people oppress values, they increase intolerance and impunity for abuse.

This rising trend in the populistic ultra-right-wing movement means we are seeing a reversal of rights and this is what is worrying. We are concerned about what this means not only for democracy but for the life of women in Europe and beyond. The Eurobarometer revealed that in countries like Romania, 55% of people believe that intercourse without consent is justifiable under certain conditions. The worrying pretext of violence against women in all forms worldwide is why we are calling on the EU to to fully ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. This would ensure that violence against women continues to be recognised as a human rights violation; a form of discrimination against women; and a cause and a consequence of inequality between women and men. 

We Must Take a Stand!

This is an appeal to not just progressive thinkers but to everyone, no matter your political convictions. The measure of who you are is how you treat women, the women you agree with, the ones you don’t, the women who are like you and who are not like you. Allowing the space for public debate is crucial, alongside being given the means to participate. Providing the power is key. Society has changed and we cannot hope for change without disruption. Women must be the incarnation of this diversity; younger or older, educated or uneducated, any race, legal status or disability. You can’t have a society that is respectful if the members of this society are not represented.

Let’s value women, ALL women. And allow them to have choices whatever they may be and wherever they are. They have the right to not be stigmatised for their choices. A right for their priorities to be addressed. This is the time to ask ourselves as European women, fathers, sons, brothers, friends, to say, if we value women and girls, what do we first have to do to eradicate conditions that push some individuals to kill, torture and oppress other individuals, in particular our sisters, friends, daughters, and our mothers? It’s time to join forces. If we want a future for our children, we need to wake up and take action.

By Irene Donadio, Public Affairs Manager and Dearbhla Crosse, Communications Advisor