Today, November 25th, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, or "white ribbon day". The date was chosen in rememberance of the Mirabal sisters, three Dominican women murdered on the orders of the dictatator Rafael Trujillo for opposing his regime.
In New Zealand, the focus is on domestic violence. According to the Human Rights Commission, the New Zealand police received more than 45,000 emergency calls for domestic violence last year - an average of over a hundred a night. According to Women's Refuge, over 6,000 women and children flee their homes each year due to violence. And they have reason to; on average, one woman is killed by her current or former partner every five weeks. This is not something we should be tolerating.
(BTW, if you'd like to help Women's Refuge, there's an online donation form here).
In New Zealand, the situation is relatively good. Women here have legal rights and legal protections against violence (both in the form of protection orders and prosecution after the fact). Women in other countries are not so lucky. Just to pull a few things off the newswires:
- In India, a woman is burned alive, beaten to death or driven to commit suicide every six hours. The country has only just introduced a domestic abuse bill.
- In Ethiopia, 71% of women report having been subjected to physical or sexual violence at some stage in their life, according to a WHO report on violence against women.
- In Afghanistan, lawlessness, traditional tribal culture and a toxic strain of Islam combine to create an environment where women can be abused and murdered with impunity. Women are still stoned for some offences, just as they were under the Taliban. And according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, "Girls as young as six years old are being sold in the name of marriage."
- In Pakistan, honour killings are rife, rapists enjoy effective impunity (and in fact their victims can be prosecuted for adultery), and gang-rape is used by tribal councils as a judicial punishment - as seen in the case of Mukhtaran Bibi.
- In other parts of the Muslim world, particularly Saudi Arabia and Iran, women are subject to Sharia law, and enjoy few (if any) legal protections.
It's a depressing litany, which shows just ho much work there is to be done. As for what we can do, the easiest tactic is getting our government to apply pressure to other governments to improve their record in this area. The Prime Minister of Turkey will be visiting New Zealand in a little over two weeks, and their women's rights record leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe we should start there?