Violence against women (VAW) is one of the most widespread and toxic pandemics of human rights violations in the world. It takes a wide variety of forms, from domestic violence to rape to female genital mutilation. Domestic violence alone costs the world 9.5 trillion dollars each year in economic loss. As eradicating VAW means dismantling the stubbornly entrenched patriarchal system that maintains the toxic masculinity, sexism, misogyny, and male pattern violence that perpetuate gender-based violence, progress in eradicating VAW is invariably difficult, painfully slow, and frequently endangers changemakers (usually women) themselves. With the 2016 U.S. elections that ushered in Donald Trump – self-confessed sexual harasser – into the White House, it appeared that decades of efforts to combat VAW was dealt a crushing setback.
However, hot on the heels of the election of Trump, the #MeToo campaign gathered a major burst of momentum with the fall of disgraced former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein after decades of raping, assaulting, harassing, and destroying the careers of women in the movie industry. It demonstrated that there is a fighting chance to end VAW.
The fresh injection of optimism and hope that came with the re-energised #MeToo movement that had been quietly chugging along for a decade before Weinstein’s downfall, gave women and girls in other industries (including sports and publishing) a much-needed dose of encouragement to stand up to name and shame the men who abused them. And #TimesUp – the sister movement to #MeToo – was born to provide funding and support to victims and survivors taking their abusers to court.
In the spirit of the tremendous acceleration of global awareness and action against the rape, sexual assault and harassment of women brought on by #MeToo, we bring you 16 pieces of good news and significant progress in the fight against VAW in 2018. The road to ending VAW permanently may be a long and winding one, but these milestones show that we’re on the right track. We just have to remember that it takes all of us to get it done.
It’s time to stop violence against women. Together.
Written by Regina Yau and Denishia Rajendran. List compiled by Regina Yau.
Positive Tidings #1: Nadia Murad and Dr Denis Mukwege jointly win the Nobel Peace Prize
Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege were both awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize this year for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. Known as “The man who mends women”, Dr Mukwege is a world renowned gynecologist and human rights activist who has tirelessly been fighting to defend victims of wartime sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The second Laureate, Nadia Murad, is herself a survivor of wartime sexual violence. As a Yazidi captured by ISIS militants as a sex slave, Murad eventually escaped the abuse that plagued her and many other Yazidi women and girls. Now she campaigns to bring attention to the brutality faced by Yazidi women and girls.
Positive Tidings #2: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) rates in east Africa drop from 71% to 8% in 20 years
According to a recent study conducted by BMJ Global Health, the rate of FGM cases among girls has decreased drastically in parts of Africa, particularly in East Africa, which recorded the highest drop in FGM cases from 71.4% in 1995 to 8% in 2016. It is speculated that the decrease could be attributed to policy changes and national laws that have banned FGM practices in 22 out of 28 countries in Africa. However, the customary age for FGM practices varies between ethnic groups, which means that it is possible that the girls included in the study may undergo FGM at different stages of their teens. This steep decline in FGM cases is promising as efforts continue to be made to end FGM once and for all.
Positive Tidings #3: New Zealand becomes the first country in the world to pass a Bill for paid domestic violence leave
New Zealand has one of the world’s highest developed rates of domestic violence and in order for survivors in violent relationships to escape their abusive partners, the New Zealand Parliament has voted to pass the Domestic Violence Victims Protection Bill, a piece of legislation that allows victims of domestic violence 10 days of paid leave from work to help facilitate their escape from their abuser. The Bill is expected to be come into force starting 1 April 2019 and is seen as a landmark piece of legislation that will transform how domestic violence survivors are supported in the workplace.
Positive Tidings #4: War rape survivors in Kosovo can now receive reparations
It has been almost 20 years since Kosovo saw the end of the war in 1999, but war rape survivors are still struggling to cope with their emotional scars. As speaking openly about their experiences of rape continues to be heavily stigmatised in their culture, Kosovan women often keep silent about the atrocities that they had to endure. After years of intense campaigning by activists, Kosovan war rape survivors are now eligible for monthly compensation from the government for the rest of their lives. Although the reparations do not end the nightmare and trauma for them, many war rape survivors believe that the money will be helpful in supporting their families and that it is a major step towards ending the stigma of surviving rape.
Positive Tidings #5: It’s #TimesUp for the tech industry
On 1st November 2018, thousands of Google employees walked out of their offices across the world to protest sexual harassment, gender inequality and systemic racism in Google’s corporate and work culture. This mass protest was swiftly organised following a New York Times report that Android co-founder Andy Rubin was awarded a $90 million severance package after allegedly sexually assaulting a fellow employee at Google. Following the walkout and the publicly published demands of the organisers, Google hastily overhauled its sexual assault and harassment guidelines. The effects of the walkout not only put Google on notice but other tech giants – Facebook, eBay, and Airbnb – also revised their forced arbitration policy for sexual assault cases after watching what happened to Google.
Positive Tidings #6: Somalia prosecutes a FGM case for the first time in the country’s history
In one of the 28 countries in Africa that has yet to ban female genital mutilation (FGM), the attorney general of Somalia made a groundbreaking decision in July 2018 to prosecute an FGM case in the country for the first time ever. The victim was a 10-year-old girl who bled to death due to the customary cutting performed by a traditional cutter. The decision to prosecute is a defining moment in Somalia as a country with one of the highest rates of FGM cases in the world and can be regarded as a major advancement in possibly ending this abhorrent practice.
Positive Tidings #7: The biggest feminist fund (that you’ve probably never heard of) raises $1 billion to boost the health of women and children worldwide
The Global Financing Facility (GFF) has raised $1 billion to improve the lives of women in low and middle income countries. Jointly set up by the United Nations and the World Bank, the GFF aims to invest in women and children, making it the biggest feminist fund in the world. The objective behind the setting up of the fund is two-fold in that it aids in the betterment of the health of women and children and also with the betterment of the country at large. One of the main issues that the fund seeks to improve is the sexual reproductive health of women as it has been recorded that too many women and children die from conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth.
Positive Tidings #8: Scotland introduces the game-changing Domestic Abuse Act to criminalise psychological abuse
Psychological abuse arising from domestic violence has a lasting impact on survivors of domestic violence but is rarely taken seriously by law enforcement and the judicial system in most countries. In an attempt to make the perpetrator responsible for every form of domestic violence (and not just physical abuse), the Scottish government has introduced a law that criminalises psychological abuse. Unlike other crimes, the Domestic Abuse Act does not require the victim to prove that the abuse occurred but rather to question whether a reasonable person would react in the same manner as the perpetrator. The law received wide backing and was enacted on 9th March 2018, signalling a huge step towards combating violence against women in the country.
Positive Tidings #9: France bans street harassment and approves hefty fines for catcallers
Catcalling and passing lewd and degrading comments are just some of forms of street harassment that women worldwide have to deal with when out in public spaces. However, this may well be starting to come to an end in France thanks to a high-profile street harassment case when CCTV footage in Paris recorded a woman being slapped in public after pushing back at the man who catcalled her went viral, shocking the French public. The video led to the passing of a piece of legislation that outlaws street harassment in France. The law was enacted in September 2018 and authorises law enforcement to take concrete punitive steps, including imposing an on-the-spot fine on street harassers. This is a significant step forward in tackling street harassment in France, and should hopefully also serve as a role model to other countries.
Positive Tidings #10: Nepal incorporates support services for domestic violence victims in hospitals… and it works
Nepal, which has some of the highest levels of domestic abuse in the world, is one of an increasing number of countries that are establishing support services inside hospitals and training healthcare providers to identify and to refer abused patients to experts for help. One example is the hospital in Ghorari that has set up a one-stop-crisis centre for women who have experienced domestic abuse. The victims of domestic violence can meet with counselors and a female police officer to assist them in providing options in dealing with the abuse. Experts at the hospital in Ghorahi believe this multi-faceted approach has helped increase the number of women reporting abuse: in 2013, 74 women reported abuse to the hospital; by 2017 that figure jumped approximately nine-fold to 493 women.
Positive Tidings #10: Body-worn cameras are changing how family violence is handled by the justice system in Australia
In Tasmania, Australia, body-worn cameras are being used by the police to capture possible evidence of domestic violence. While footage recorded by the body-worn cameras still needs to comply with the rules of evidence to be admissible in court, those that have already done so are giving the court a new insight into the dynamics of abusive relationships. In addition, the video may be used as a tool to corroborate the victim’s account without requiring the victim to relive their trauma in court and in front of the perpetrator. While there is still some way to go with refining this new approach to gathering evidence and trying domestic violence cases, it is seen by experts as progress in the right direction. As of now, the body-worn cameras are being rolled out to the Tasmanian police in stages, starting with Hobart and Launceston, then Burnie and Devonport before more regional areas.
Positive Tidings #11: Sweden tightens laws to combat child marriage
While underaged marriage remains a widespread human rights violation affecting girls in particular, in recent years incremental progress continues to be made as more countries tighten laws to ban child marriage. Marriage under the age of 18 is illegal in Sweden but foreign underage marriages are recognised if they are legal in the countries where they were carried out. To close this loophole, Sweden announced in October 2018 that all underaged marriages, no matter where they are carried out, will be considered invalid should the couple move to Sweden. This new law will come into effect starting January 2019.
Positive Tidings #12: Bill Cosby found guilty of sexual assault and jailed
It took two trials and three years but in 2018 the disgraced ex-comedian Bill Cosby was finally found guilty and sentenced to three to ten years in a state prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand 14 years ago. Ms Constand was one of 60 women who came forward to accuse him of sexually assaulting, harassing, and/or raping them over several decades. Cosby’s case is the first high-profile celebrity criminal trial of the #MeToo era and one of the first to be successfully convicted.
Positive Tidings #13: The #MeToo movement reaches Asia
The #MeToo movement was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke and got a huge boost in 2017 with the downfall of disgraced sexual predator (and former Hollywood mogul) Harvey Weinstein. Its influence prompted many survivors of sexual assault and rape to come forward, leading to the ousting of many prominent and powerful men in entertainment, sports, politics, and the arts across Western countries. In 2018, #MeToo’s effects finally reached Asia as it shook up the entertainment and political establishments in India, Japan, and South Korea – all staunchly patriarchal cultures – with a vengeance, leading to the disgrace (and in some cases, downfall) of high-profile politicians, actors, and journalists.
Positive Tidings #14: In a groundbreaking case, a woman is awarded $6.4 million in one of the largest revenge porn cases ever
Revenge porn is the term for the sharing of explicit or sexual, images or videos, without the consent of the person in the image. In today’s world of social media, it has become one of the tactics that abusive men use to seek revenge on women who reject them or leave them. Law enforcement and the justice systems worldwide have been behind the curve with regards to tackling this issue but there are signs that they are catching up: in April 2018, in a landmark case in California, one of the largest ever judgments in a revenge porn case saw the United States District Court awarding $6.4 million to a Los Angeles County woman whose former partner, David K. Elam II, mounted a revenge porn campaign designed to destroy her.
Positive Tidings #16: The Philippines approves bill outlawing street harassment and stalking
In October 2018, the Senate of The Philippines approved Senate Bill 1326 – also known as the Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act of 2017 – that seeks to penalise the street harassment of women and girls. This bill covers the gamut of ways street harassment manifests including catcalling, wolf-whistling, cursing, leering, groping, persistent requests for name and contact details after clear refusal, public masturbation, and stalking. The bill isn’t law yet but it is a step in the right direction for combating violence against women and girls in the country.
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