As you all will be very aware by now, today is International Women’s Day. And this year’s global theme is that on violence against women.
The numbers and figures are staggering…
- Up to 50% of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16.
- Globally, 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered a crime.
- Up to 70% of women in the world report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.
- Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18…
In my work I’ve focussed on some of these issues and I’m committed to continue to do so in the future… It’s often hard, the stories are heartbreaking, but they need to be told… Things need to change.
For instance the story of Rehan (not her real name), who ran away from home after her uncle tried to force her to marry his son. ‘My troubles started the year my father died. I was six years old’ After an initial mediation session and the promise the engagement was off, she returned home and was locked up beaten up and abused and about to married of to her cousin yet again. She was able to escape, annule the engagement and now lives in a safehouse run by human rights organization Women for Afghan Women that help in situations like hers.
At the same time i’ve seen women take a stand and rise up, which in some countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan isn’t easy to do and involves many risks.
Taking a stand against rape, like Mukhtar Mai and women’s rights activist all over Pakistan, has cost them dearly. Even former president Musharraf was quoted to saying that women who want to go abroad and get a visa or citizenship for Canada and be a millionaire, go get yourself raped… Stigma, condemnation by a whole society, it makes these women incredibly brave for standing up and saying ‘no’.
Luckily, it’s not all been bad and sad stories and I’ve encountered smiling women all over the place. Women that were celebrating International Women’s Day like, like the women in the picture above, taken in a small village in rural Punjab in Pakistan. Women who educate other women and children to respect each other no matter what gender you have.
There is so much work to be done yet, and not just in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. The numbers of abused women in Belgium and the Western world in general are horrifying too… So take a stand against gender based violence and learn how to respect each other no matter what gender, religion or color of our skins.