Violence against women is a severe human rights violation

By Klara Nordstrom

Posted December 10, 2019

We recently celebrated the International Day for Human Rights on 10 December, which also marks the end of the 16 Days of Activism campaign. Through the campaign individuals, organisations, companies and governments across the world have been taking a stand against rape. 

Photo: UNDP India

It is no coincidence that the 16 days of activism end on the International Day for Human Rights. Violence against women is the one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights abuses. Yet the numbers of reported crimes remain under-reported due to the silence, shame and stigma surrounding the issue. Yesterday, on 9 December, UNDP launched the 2019 Human Development Report, emphasizing the need to look beyond income, averages and today to understand human development. Like human development, gender-based violence is multidimensional and does not know any physical or socio-cultural boundaries.

Women and girls who have survived violence perpetrated against them are not an under-represented minority. But they have a voice, a voice that is strong and which refuses to conform to any culture of silence. All too often, the responsibility for inequalities is placed on the group that is being discriminated against. The issue is structural and the discrimination systematic. While it is not an individual problem, we must try to understand our own role in upholding and reproducing inequal structures.

I had the privilege do a study on women’s paid and unpaid labour within the tourism industry in the south of India. I also worked on cross-cultural knowledge and integration during my studies in South Korea. From these experiences I learnt the essence of applying context specific knowledge to avoid reinforcing stereotypical notions of women and men, girls’ and boys’ aspirations, barriers and beliefs. India is home to almost 20 percent of the world's population and the country will be inherently diverse, with a myriad of attitudes and experiences relating to gender-based violence. The disparity between language, caste, class, urban and rural areas, add further complexity.

Having contextual knowledge combined with an understanding of  structural inequalities is essential to understanding how women and girls are not a uniformed group. We will be influenced differently, and the violence – often perpetrated by men - comes in many different forms. It is not just physical or sexual. It can be a combination, or take the form of economic, symbolic, obstetric or emotional violence. The elimination of violence against women and girls is recognized as an essential factor for the realization of the Sustainable Developmental Goals, and yet one out of four countries still lack legislation against domestic violence. One in three does not cover sexual violence as part of domestic violence.

Survivors bear the highest burden and cost. In India, women survivors of domestic violence are significantly more likely to be be underweight and can lose, on average, at least five paid work days for each act of violence committed by an intimate partner. But as described in the Human Development Report, we need to look beyond income, averages and today, to achieve and accelerate human development.

Violence against women is a human rights violation that hinders development and the achievement of the Sustainable Developmental Goals. Acting to prevent all forms of sexual, physical and psychological violence against women must include addressing the root causes stemming from deeply ingrained gender inequalities, securing equal access to resources and reshaping social norms perpetuating men’s power over women. We need to stand up for our rights and the rights of others to avert violence against women and to raise awareness of its effects. India is a diverse and complex society with numerous opportunities to shape the global economy. To do this, UNDP will continue to listen, believe and support survivors and support partners, implementing a zero-tolerance against violence against women.

The writer is junior gender officer at UNDP India