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A staggering one-in-three women, experience physical, sexual abuse

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Violence against women and girls is among the most widespread, and devastating human rights violations in the world, but much of it is often unreported due to impunity, shame and gender inequality, the UN highlighted ahead of Monday’s World Day to stamp out abuse of women and girls.

Here is the grim reality, in numbers: A third of all women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, half of women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family, and violence perpetrated against women is as common a cause of death and incapacity for those of reproductive age, as cancer, and a greater cause of ill health than road accidents and malaria combined.

The prevalence of the issue, “means someone around you. A family member, a co-worker, a friend, or even yourself” has experienced this type of abuse, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message to mark the Day.

“Sexual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination”, he added, reminding the world that stigma, misconceptions, under-reporting and poor enforcement of laws perpetuate impunity in rape cases.

“All of this must change…now”, the UN chief urged.

Damaging flesh, imprinted in memory

To spotlight the scale of the problem, on this year’s International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women, the United Nations is sharing the many ways in which the scourge manifests itself in physical, sexual and psychological forms, and the organisation is underscoring the life-altering, adverse consequences women suffer as a result.

  • intimate partner violence (battering, psychological abuse, marital rape, femicide);
  • sexual violence and harassment (rape, forced sexual acts, unwanted sexual advances, child sexual abuse, forced marriage, street harassment, stalking, cyber- harassment);
  • human trafficking (slavery, sexual exploitation);
  • female genital mutilation
  • child marriage.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, issued by the UN General Assembly in 1993, defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”, the UN highlighted on the Day.

Beginning Monday, and for the upcoming two years, the UN chief’s UNiTe to End Violence against Women campaign will focus on the issue of rape as a specific form of harm, encouraging people to join the initiative and “Orange the World.”

UN Women’s Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, expressed her concerns when it comes to rape specifically.

She said the end of the horrendous act would mean eliminating a “significant weapon of war from the arsenal of conflict”, the absence of a daily risk assessment for girls and women who actively work to avoid an incident that could leave them scarred.

“Rape isn’t an isolated brief act. It damages flesh and reverberates in memory. It can have life changing, unchosen results – a pregnancy or a transmitted disease”, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka stressed, adding that consequences of a one-time act can sprawl into damaging long-term effects.

“It’s long-lasting, devastating effects reach others: family, friends, partners and colleagues”, she continued. ­

In addition, research by the World Health Organization (WHO), details disturbing impacts of violence on women’s physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health:

Women who experience physical or sexual abuse are twice as likely to have an abortion, and the experience nearly doubles their likelihood of falling into depression. In some regions, they are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV, and evidence exists that sexually assaulted women are 2.3 times more likely to have alcohol disorders.

More women abused than not, in US

Some national studies examining incidents in the United States show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and or sexual violence from an intimate partner, according to UN Women.

The agency cited that nearly a quarter of female college students reported having experienced sexual assault or misconduct in the US, but harm targeting women and girls knows no bounds. 

Multi-country investigations by WHO show partner violence to be a reality for 65 per cent of women in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and around 40 per cent of women in South Asia, as well as Andean parts of Latin America.

Meanwhile, even in regions where incidents are less likely, as in East Asia and Western Europe, more than 16 per cent and 19 per cent of women have experienced intimate partner violence, respectively.

Psychological violence is another layer to the problem, with some 82 per cent of women parliamentarians in a recent study, reporting having experienced remarks, gestures, threats, or sexist comments while serving – most often via social media.

While gender-based violence can happen to anyone, women who identify with the LGBTI community, migrants and refugees, indigenous minorities, and those living through humanitarian crises, are particularly vulnerable to gender-based harm.

“Almost universally, most perpetrators of rape go unreported or unpunished”, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka explained. “For women to report in the first place requires a great deal of resilience to re-live the attack…In many countries, women know that they are overwhelmingly more likely to be blamed than believed.”

Attacks targeting women continue to be an obstacle to achieving equality, and impede the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to leave no one behind.

Several public events are being coordinated for this year’s International Day to commemorate the fight against gender-based violence, spotlighting rape specifically.

Criminalizing the offense, placing women in positions of power, and strengthening the capacity of law enforcement, are some steps to increase accountability in incidents of sexual assault.

The effects of such violations suppress voices and traumatize, at “an intolerable cost to society”, said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka.

“No further generations must struggle to cope with a legacy of violation.”

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World Bank Supports Maldives to Improve Secondary Education

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a $9 million project to improve the performance of the education system, schools, and teaching and learning outcomes at the secondary education level in Maldives.

Maldives has achieved almost universal enrolment at early childhood, primary and lower secondary education levels, but low net enrolment and high gender disparity are the major challenges at the higher secondary level. Learning outcomes are moderate, with clear geographical disparities  among atolls, and between islands within atolls. The average scores for English, Mathematics and Dhivehi for Grade 4 and Grade 7 students ranged between 50 to 60 percent.

“The COVID 19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the Maldives’ general education system, forcing the extended closure of primary and secondary schools across the entire country,” said Faris. H. Hadad-Zervos, the World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. “The project will broaden educational opportunities for the youth and advance the country’s equitable economic and human development.”

The new Maldives Atoll Education Development Project will support the Government in improving the quality of secondary education in subjects of strategic importance for economic development such as English language, mathematics, science, and skills education. Improved learning outcomes at secondary education level in these strategic subjects will help more students qualify for higher secondary education. Schools will be encouraged to adopt environment-friendly behaviors like saving energy and reducing waste. Support will be provided to atoll schools to expand their ICT equipment and technology while also improving the skills of teachers to address the needs of students with learning challenges. Skills of school principals, management officials, and teachers will also be improved through targeted programs.

“The Maldivian government is implementing a comprehensive curriculum reform initiative and is focusing on improving learning outcomes equitably across Atolls and islands,” said Harsha Aturupane World Bank Lead Economist and Task Team Leader. “Building on these positive steps, Maldives needs to strengthen the quality of general education with a special focus on teacher performance in the outer atolls, and the quality assurance of schools in the islands with small student populations” added Karthika Radhakrishnan-Nair, World Bank Education Specialist and Co-Task Team Leader of the project.

The Maldives Atoll Education Development Project will be implemented by the Ministry of Education. The total financing is $10 million, which is comprised of a $4.5 million grant and a $4.5 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s concessional credit window for developing countries, and a contribution of US$1 million of counterpart funds from the Government of Maldives.

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European ministers adopt “Dublin Declaration” on preventing violence through equality

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Thirty-eight Council of Europe member states have committed to a “Dublin Declaration” outlining a series of steps to promote gender equality in order to help prevent domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

The declaration was adopted by Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Republic of Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom following a two-day conference of justice ministers organised by Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of Europe.

Inspired by the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on violence against women, and expert findings on the implementation of the convention so far, states backing the declaration committed to:

  1. actively promoting, at the highest level, an institutional and political culture which rejects gender-based discrimination and violence, sexism, gender stereotypes and gendered power dynamics in the public and private sector
  2. ensuring that strategies aimed at preventing and combating violence against women also address the specific role of men and boys in preventing violence against women
  3. systematically including awareness-raising campaigns as an integral and fully funded part of long-term action plans on violence against women
  4. taking measures to include in the official curriculum, of all levels of education, teaching material on issues such as the principle of equality between women and men, non-stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, gender-based violence against women and the right to personal integrity
  5. providing guidelines for educational material in this area and the training of educational professionals, as well as the creation of knowledge platforms to share best practices
  6. encouraging initial and in-service training of all relevant professionals, including within the criminal justice system
  7. taking all possible measures to ensure that episodes of violence are taken into consideration by courts when deciding upon custody and visitation rights
  8. increasing the provision of perpetrator programmes for domestic violence and for sexual violence operating on the standards and principles set out in the Istanbul Convention
  9. asking the Council of Europe to carry out a comparative study in member states on the existing models and approaches taken to perpetrator programmes and their results
  10. inviting states that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention and reinforce efforts to implement existing international legal standards in the area of gender equality and violence against women

To date, 37 Council of Europe member states have ratified the Istanbul Convention, enabling its entry into force in those countries. Armenia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania the Slovak Republic – and the European Union as a whole – have signed, but not yet ratified, the convention. Azerbaijan has not yet signed the convention and Türkiye denounced it in March 2021.

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FAO: Join forces to prevent ‘food availability crisis’

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As the war in Ukraine stokes a crisis for countries who are struggling just to access the food their populations want and need, the international community needs to ensure that doesn’t spill over into a “food availability crisis”, the head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Wednesday.

FAO Director-General QU Dongyu told a meeting of agriculture ministers from the G20 industrialized nations in Bali, that with access to Ukrainian grain, cooking oils and other vital foodstuffs for the most vulnerable countries restricted by seven months of conflict, “we must must increase the resilience of global agrifood systems.”

Grain Initiative, ‘an important step’

He lauded the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative as “an important step forward”, and it has now freed-up more than five million metric tonnes of food, with well over a quarter of shipments going directly to lower income countries.

“But still it needs to be complemented to improve the food access of most vulnerable countries”, he said.

Overall, wholesale food prices have been heading down for five months now, but consumer food prices and inflation are soaring, “with devastating implications for global food security and nutrition.”

And beyond the crisis sparked by conflict, an increase in extreme weather is also fuelling to crop destruction and failure worldwide.

“While we witnessed improvements in the forecasts for wheat and soybean markets, the outlook is less positive for maize and rice, and fertilizer markets remain supply-constrained and volatile…Much needs to be done to ensure that all people can afford safe and nutritious food in sufficient quantities to meet their dietary needs and preferences and have a healthy life.”

Recipe for resilience

Mr QU said key steps must be taken, to boost resilience for now, and in the future:
• Improve early warning and early action systems.
• Increase productivity sustainably.
• Accelerate trade; and find innovative solutions to tackle inorganic fertilizer supply constraints.

In the medium-term, he told ministers it was crucial to boost innovation, invest in infrastructure to reduce inequality, reduce food loss and waste, and in the short-term, improve food access.

“For that FAO proposed the Food Import Financing Facility – which I am happy the IMF has now taken over and it is calling it the ‘food shock window’ within the IMF emergency lending instruments”.

Support for low-income nations

The idea of the financing facility is to provide funds for 62 lower-income food importing nations that are home to around 1.8 billion people, in order to meet their most urgent needs.

He said it was important to accelerate exports from Ukraine and Russia via the Black Sea Grain Initiative; and “increase fertilizer availability through the comfort letters issues by United States and the new guidelines issued by the European Commission”.

Conflicts, slowdowns and downturns, because of COVID-19, and the climate crisis, he told ministers, “are the major drivers of our crises today and tomorrow.”

“It is important that all nations join in the dividends of peace and stability, so that we all commit to peace. Without peace we will not achieve Zero Hunger and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

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