Women’s Equality Lets Make it Happen

Make it Happen

As a child I was fortunate to have many positive female role models in my life which never lead me to question or think that my gender would restrict me in what I wanted to do with my life. However as I have grown up and entered my adult life I’ve become conscious of the existing gender inequalities operating in society which impact the lives of women.
In honour of International Women’s Day I write and share this piece with you.
By Danielle Bonner

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Around the world women have diverse and dynamic roles, in our daily lives we have women playing important roles from being mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts and cousins, to being role models, providers, leaders, workers, carers, inventors, the list is endless. Indeed there are women all around the world making a positive difference, many of whom we will never know their names yet the people around them will feel the benefit of their actions.

Every year on the 8th March, the world celebrates International Women’s Day, but why do we have or need such a day? A simple answer could be to say because there is no country in the world that has reached gender equality[1], so we need to continue to raise awareness over the issue.

However this leads us to ask the question what is gender inequality and how does it affect women differently? Here I look to unravel this question and explore why the celebration of International Women’s Day is so important.

What is Gender Inequality and how does it affect women?  

I recently saw a comment made about the double standard of gender equality and why there is no International Men’s Day or a drive to get more boys into education like the drive to get more girls into education. Firstly just to note there actually is an IMD it’s on 19th November but it’s just not publicised very well!

However the comment made me think about what ‘Gender Equality’ really is and how does it affect women? I came to the conclusion that ‘Gender Equality’ should be the mutual respect and absolute undiscriminating empowerment of all genders. Gender Equality should be about a person not being scared or restricted in doing something just because of their gender while no person should be prevented from doing something just because of their gender.

In reality however this is not the case, there are many gender inequalities faced and experienced by women on a daily basis. We still live in a world that being born a female automatically ensures that your life will face certain inequalities that you may not have otherwise of faced had you been born a male.  While in some places in our world being born a female you are considered less valuable than being a male.

And in some extreme cases female babies do not even make it into this world because during pregnancy parents discover that the sex of their unborn child is female and decide to end the pregnancy which is known as Female infanticide,[2] or at birth the female baby is killed Femicide[3]

There are many other challenges and forms of inequalities faced by women around the world, here are just a few.

  • Employment- Pay Gaps“Women earn on average 15% less than men and at the top of the pay scale, 21% less.”[4]
  • Restricted Economic Opportunities- there are 128 countries with at least 1 legal difference restricting women’s economic opportunity.
  • Increased Psychical and Sexual violenceGlobal statistics show that 35% of women have experienced sexual violence in their life time. Only 52 counties criminalise rape within marriage. 2.6 Billion however live in a country that doesn’t.
  • Under representation in political decision-making- Only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians were female as of January 2015 (UN Women)[5]
  • Lack of Access to Education1 in 5 girls of lower secondary age is out of school, 1 in 3 girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18.
  • Health- Every year, almost 300,000 women lose their life due to preventable complications during pregnancy & childbirth. (Care International)

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With such inequalities continually effecting women’s lives, we must continue to work for gender equality and social change, to ensure that no matter what sex/gender you are, you are considered a valuable member of society, both given and treated with the respect that all human rights grant. We must work together as a society locally and globally to deconstruct all social, structural and cultural norms that allow these gender inequalities to continue.

How is women’s inequality being addressed?

At an international level governments and world organisations have pledged their support to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, an agreement and framework which sets out 12 key areas of concern and “remains the world’s best blueprint for achieving gender equality and empowering women.”[6]

At a community grassroots level however we also need to start addressing the social attitudes we hold towards women. Women need to be better openly supported and valued at every level of society.

Women’s empowerment and equality will benefit the whole society

So what is IWD and why do we need it?

Let’s be clear international women’ day is not about women vs men or criticising the opposite sex. Rather it is about supporting the roles and acknowledging the achievements of women within our diverse world. It is also because women continue to experience inequality simply because they are women that we take this day to raise awareness and show support for the rights of all women across the world, which helps to bring such inequalities to an end.

Over the years I’ve had the privilege to meet and interact with women from around the world, from the local business woman Beba in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina, overcoming the effects of conflict to rebuild her family home and turning it into a successful business, the women in Afghanistan working every day and risking their lives in support of ending violence and bringing peace to their country. To the women I work with and meet every day doing valuable work that they often don’t even realise is making such a positive difference for our society.

And while we should support the rights and empowerment of women everyday it is nice that for one day of the year on the 8th March the world unites and collectively comes together to honour women all around the world.  Encouraging women no matter where in the world they are, to be empowered, to realise their full potential and to value the contribution they make to our world.

I strongly believe that the empowerment of and fulfilment of women’s rights will have an overarching positive effect not just for their lives but also for the benefit of society as a whole. It is therefore time we all supported the advancement of women’s equality.

“Remember women of the world you are great and together we can and will overcome Gender inequality”

[1] Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, http://time.com/3735042/gender-equality-un/

[2] Find out more at http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/abortion/medical/infanticide_1.shtml

[3] Find out more at http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/77421/1/WHO_RHR_12.38_eng.pdf

[4] Launch of first major OECD report on gender and education – Thursday 5 March 2015, http://www.oecd.org/newsroom/launch-of-first-major-oecd-report-on-gender-and-education.htm

[5] Source see more at http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures

[6] http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/speeches/2015/03/08/helen-clark-statement-on-international-women-s-day-/

Sexual Violence the Uncomfortable Truth

 

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By Danielle Bonner

Sexual violence is never an easy topic to discuss yet it is a crime and social issue which exists in every section of society effecting the lives of both men and women. With Global statistics however showing that 35% of women have experienced sexual violence in their life time, is it not time to ask is enough importance placed on ending sexual violence against women?

Here I discuss the issue with the opinion it’s about time we get over our social unease, call out sexual violence against women, recognise it for the human rights violation that it is and start to understand the personal and social damage this crime causes.

An edited version of this feature entitled “Time to end the violence” was first published in the Donegal Democrat Paper on Thursday 4th December 2014.

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Around the world people are engaging in 16 Days of Action an international campaign to raise awareness and help end violence against women. There are various forms of violence committed against women and one of the most prevalent is sexual violence.

As a young women it is particularly unsettling to be confronted with the knowledge that according to World Bank data “Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria”.( UN DPI/2546A, 2011)

By definition sexual violence means any non-consented sexual act or activity imposed upon a person. While the violence itself can take various forms “including but not restricted to: rape, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, rape within marriage/relationships, forced marriage, so-called honour-based violence, female genital mutilation, trafficking, sexual exploitation, and ritual abuse.” (Rape Crisis Organisation)

Sexual violence never seems to be an easy topic to openly discuss due in part to its sensitive nature, a situation which seems to only feed the crimes prevalence. This year I was given a wakeup call to this harsh reality when I witnessed first-hand the negative and unsupportive attitudes towards sexual violence when two female friends within a week became victims of a sexual assault.

While I had heard of victims experiencing negative attitudes and victims being made to feel blame or even shame for what happened to them when reporting this, it was still difficult to imagine it actually happening. The situation I witnessed however saw one victim being accused of making up the sexual assault, while another was asked could it have been a mistake. They questioned her drinking and her behaviour which lead to the incident. Attitudinal responses which served to add further emotional distress to the victims and scaring them not to report the incident.

This experience produced a range of emotions. While I did my best by listening and believing and being there for them, I could not help but feel powerless and ill prepared on how best to support them. These emotions soon became an inquiring interest into finding out about its frequency, how to support victims and the prevention of sexual violence.

As I began researching I was shocked by the statistics. In Europe a recent study revealed that 1 in 3 women in Europe say that they have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15 by a partner or non-partner. While 45-55% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment. (EUAFR, 2014)

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This is not dissimilar to other global research which has shown 35% of women worldwide have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.  Of which between 20% and 50% of women indicated that their first sexual experience was forced.  (World Health Organisation) Although some country figures are shown to be as high as 70% women having experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime from an intimate partner”. (UN Women)

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While further research in Europe shows that only “1 in 3 female victims of partner violence and 1 in 4 victims of non-partner violence report their most recent serious incident to the police or some other service”. (FRA 2014)

For example in Ireland around 33% of incidents are reported in Ireland to the police or another formal authority. (Donegal Rape Crisis Centre, 2012) While 90% of sexual violence perpetrators are known to their victim (National Rape Crisis Statistics, 2011). Such statistics highlight victim’s insecurity over coming forward and the fact that perpetrators are commonly known to them.

Time for social action

The harsh reality of these findings leads me to pose a number of questions:

  • Is sexual violence against women being taken seriously?
  • Does social attitudes only recognise certain acts and behaviours as sexual violence?
  • Why are victims made to feel blame for what has happened to them?
  • How should we best support a victim of sexual violence?

Answering these questions may be challenging but in doing so I believe that they could act as the beginnings of a wider social debate which will help to end sexual violence against women.

I strongly believe there is a great need for us to start actively engaging in conversations about the issue, educating ourselves on what sexual violence is and the impact it has on victims. We should not wait to be confronted by it to realise the social, personal and emotional damage it causes.

By engaging in an open conversation we will help break down the negative attitudes and barriers which allow sexual violence to continue and instead start to ensure its prevention.

While we should also know how to support victims of such violence therefore should someone confide in you that they have been a victim of a sexual violence we should know that it is vital to listen in a non-judgemental way, believe them and reassure them of your trust and total confidentiality.

And while you may also find out information and services for the person, you must however let the person decided for themselves what steps legal or otherwise they wish to take.  If the victim is under 18 years old however you are obligated to report the incident to the authorities. (Rape Crisis Centre)

If you or any one you know have been effected by sexual violence you can find support with; 

Ireland
  • Rape Crisis Help Ireland, 24 Hour Helpline on 1800 778888
Northern Ireland
  • The Rowan, Freephone helpline 0800 389 4424
Mainland UK
  • Rape Crisis helpline on 0808 802 9999
  • Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline 08088 01 03 02
  • Victim support on 0845 30 30 900