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Surviving bad love


Combatting violence against womenOne in three women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence at the hands of someone they know. UNDP photo

One in three women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence at the hands of someone they know in their lifetime. Growing up, I never thought I’d become that one in three.

For five years, alcoholism drove my ex-boyfriend’s worsening Jeckyll and Hyde personality. It took me four years to realize this man was abusive from the start. It took another year to get out.

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This year’s theme is prevention.

We as a society must do more to prevent sexual and gender-based violence so that it doesn’t take five years for fellow victims of domestic violence to free themselves from a dangerous relationship.

This is why UNDP supports countries and communities working to stop and prevent sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and to provide safety and justice to survivors.

Our approach is to help expand the space available for women to participate in public and political life so that their concerns become the concerns of the entire society. We want more women in leadership roles, especially in areas like justice and security, conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

UNDP works to educate and raise awareness across among all members of a community. We mobilize men to speak out to show that SGBV is not a concern for women alone. We support training for police, prosecutors and judges so that they can end impunity for these crimes.

During times of conflict, sexual violence can be used as a weapon of war, and societal institutions of protection and justice may be weakened or completely defunct. So in Afghanistan, Croatia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala and elsewhere around the world, UNDP works with countries in conflict or recovering from conflict so that survivors of SGBV are not left out of the rebuilding process.

I think of domestic abuse survivors worldwide who go through all the stages that I’ve gone through. They survive, but the price they pay is often much steeper than what I paid. For those who live in societies where there’s a stigma for women who walk away, even when they are free, stigma and economic hardship remains.

Where they’ll live. How to provide for their kids and themselves. How to deal with legal paperwork. It’s up to the societies these women live in to give them that space, the economic and emotional support they need as they gather the strength to make that leap to freedom.

Unlike many women caught in abusive homes, I didn’t have children and I was not financially dependent on my abuser. But that “fight or flight” anxiety took a year to get over.

I’d look under my bed and in my closets every time I came home and I’d check to make sure my doors were barred with a giant table and furniture—a habit that many women who have lived with violence know all too well.

This was the hardest thing I faced in my adult life. But it taught to be unapologetically confident, stand up for what I feel strongly about and speak out when I know something is absolutely unacceptable. I now say “no” without hesitation more so than I say “yes” just to avoid disappointing someone, and I trust my gut instincts without any self-doubt.

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