Violence against women impedes development

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The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women’.

6 March 2013: UNICEF Principal Adviser on Gender Rights and Civic Engagement Anju Malhotra discusses how violence against women impedes nations' social and economic development.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, United States of America, 8 March 2013 – The United Nations is focusing on violence against women on this year’s International Women’s Day.

A problem all of us need to address

Violence against women is a major obstacle to development, and, unless its root causes are addressed, many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will not be met. Women’s rights are tied to every MDG.

Violence is an issue that blights the futures of millions of women and girls, every day, all over the world.

“Gender-based violence is a problem that all of us need to address if we want our societies to look the way we would envision for our children,” said UNICEF Principal Adviser on Gender Rights and Civic Engagement Anju Malhotra.

Up to 7 in 10 women report having been physically or sexually abused at some point in their lifetime. Up to 50 per cent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16.

One in four women experiences physical or sexual violence during pregnancy.

A problem not recognized as a priority

Part of the problem is that violence against women is often not recognized as a priority.

Six hundred three million women live in countries in which domestic violence is not considered a crime. According to United Nations estimates, 127 countries do not explicitly condemn rape within marriage. More than 60 million girls are married before age 18.

“How do we create public outrage against it? How do we say this is not an acceptable thing to do?” Ms. Malhotra said.

A problem that threatens development

The attitudes that perpetuate violence also hinder a country’s potential.

In a 2005 report, the World Health Organization stated that violence against women is a major threat to social and economic development.

It’s linked to poverty, lack of education, gender inequality, child mortality and maternal ill health.

“So that really tells us that we need to look at the issue of gender-based violence in a much broader perspective than we have been doing,” Ms. Malhotra said.

A problem with humanitarian impact

International Women’s Day comes at a time when the United Nations is growing increasingly alarmed at the toll that conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic is having on women and children.

A senior official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has outlined to the Human Rights Council the enormous humanitarian impact, particularly on civilians who have been displaced.

“This displacement is not only about loss of homes and economic security. It is also, for many, accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity,” said Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller.