November 5, 2020
Wednesday, November 25, is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women; a day to call on the public to educate themselves on one of the most pervasive and universal human rights violations of the modern century: gender-based violence.
This brutality against women and girls has been an extensive issue for centuries, but it is massively underreported due to the stigma surrounding it. In 1993, the General Assembly of the United Nations enacted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which defines violence as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” This declaration seeks to define, protect and recognize gender-based violence and was a great step towards de-stigmatization.
Women are disproportionately brutalized, and little is done to combat the issue. The U.N. states that one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse during their lives, yet one-third of our world’s countries have not criminalized domestic abuse, and 49 of those countries have no laws protecting women from domestic violence. International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women was enacted to shine a light on these discrepancies – advocating for education and solutions to better the lives of women and girls in our world.
Following the declaration, the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was authorized in the United States, altering the recovery processes for victims of domestic abuse and changing the nations cultural norms towards domestic violence. This legislation fought to improve the legal responses towards gender-based violence by criminalizing domestic violence and sexual assault crimes. At the time of the bill signing, now President-elect Joe Biden was the chair of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and was one of the first senators to propose working on the bill. He described the bill in a TIME opinion piece as his “proudest legislative accomplishment.” The bill represented a bi-partisan commitment to the issue, as Biden worked across the aisle with others like Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), to pass this historic legislation. Since its implementation, VAWA has been continuously updated and improved to reiterate the United States’ stance on condemning violence against women.
Gender-based and sexual violence are just two of the many human rights violations that are significantly more endured by women. While anyone can experience violence – particularly in times of war or general instability – it would be a denial of the severity of violence towards women to not acknowledge the gendered reasons for violence and unique barriers to resources that women face. Without recognizing the gender aspect, it becomes impossible to stop gender-based violence because of a failure to reach and understand the root of the problem. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women seeks to recognize this disparity and bring further attention to the human rights violation through describing it as a gendered issue and advocating for changes to be made at the source of the crime.
Violence against women is not the only human rights violation that women unequally face; economic inequality, barriers to education and healthcare, and a lack of political involvement and representation are all further examples of women-specific human rights issues. To appropriately address human rights issues around the world, acknowledging and protecting violations against women, particularly social and economic rights violations, is essential. It is not enough to work towards gender equality on these issues. Women have been held back due to these rights violations for far too long and deserve an equitable approach to protecting these rights in the future that acknowledges the history of the violations and works to undo the barriers preventing them from thriving. The world can and will be fairer, more successful, innovative, and peaceful with the full protection and promotion of women’s rights.
Congressional action on the Violence Against Women Act was a great start in acknowledging gender-based violence and advocating for the full protection of women’s rights. However, there is still progress to be made in this field. Advocating for the rights of all Americans should be a nonpartisan issue that all can willingly stand up and fight for. In recognition of the International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women, it is up to Congress to build on the bipartisan foundation of VAWA to create more human rights protections for women and support a more just and equitable nation for all.