As an estimated 736 million women—nearly one in three—will be victims to sexual violence in their lifetime. Most violence against women is perpetrated by current or former intimate partners. In 2018, one in seven women experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner or husband in the previous 12 months alone.
These figures do not yet include increased incidents and risk brought on as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns led to heightened levels of restricted movement, social isolation, economic insecurity and disruption to vital support services, according to both the World Health Organization and the United Nations. In some countries, calls to helplines have increased five-fold. Currently, only 52 countries have formally integrated violence against women prevention and response plans as part of a greater COVID-19 response plan.
“We know that the multiple impacts of COVID-19 have triggered a ‘shadow pandemic‘ of increased reported violence of all kinds against women and girls,” said UN Women former executive director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “It’s deeply disturbing that this pervasive violence by men against women not only persists unchanged but is at its worst for young women aged 15 to 24, [exacerbating] the situation before the pandemic stay-at-home orders.”
Preventing violence against women requires expanded access to education, the creation of safer work environments and a fundamental change to gender norms. Additionally, healthcare systems must include strengthened survivor-centered care and services; women must be included in decisions around paid leave and equal pay policies; and countries must maintain and increase investments that address systemic economic and social inequalities.
In the meantime, activists are leading the way with the help and guidance of committed organizations such as UN Women. Beginning November 25, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and running until December 10, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence will commence.
Calling for global action and commitment to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls, the campaign supports the civil society initiative, the United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women campaign (UNiTE campaign) with this year’s theme as “Orange the world: End violence against women now!”
To support these efforts, UN Women USA is hosting the first-ever national virtual walk—the Women’s Empowerment (WE) Walk: Strides Against Violence across its seven UN Women USA chapters. The all-inclusive effort aims to promote awareness, advocacy and funding of UN Women programs to eliminate violence against women and the public is invited to follow and participate in all events.
“Gender-based violence does not discriminate by race, ethnicity, marital status, religion, age or socio-economic status,” said Elizabeth Thompson-Locke, president of UN Women USA. “In our first grassroots, nationwide campaign, we aim to shed light on the root causes of gender-based violence, reduce any stigma against speaking out, and encourage more men and women to become advocates.”
UN Women currently oversees a number of successful programs and strategies around the world, and all WE Walk fundraising proceeds go directly to support the work of UN Women, including programs that prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls. The Strides Against Violence campaign will culminate with a virtual recognition event on December 10. Registration is now open to the public at WE Walk: Strides Against Violence.