Bring Back Our Girls protest

When is violence against girls going to stop?

Today marks the UN's International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, another awareness day on the calendar promoting girls' rights. But when violence against girls and women (VAGW) affects one in three in every part of the world, why do we still need a campaign to raise awareness?


Globally, 33 per cent of females are affected by violence - this is a massive number! And yet, many remain unconvinced that VAGW is a problem. From those who make a living out of normalising sexual violence, such as the 'pick-up artist' Julien Blanc, to those who endorse the catcalling, verbal abuse and intimidating behaviour women experience walking around the world's cities, the issue is simply not being taken seriously enough.


And it's not just men. Many women also aren't treating VAGW seriously: in response to undercover filming in New York by street harassment organisation Hollaback, one female journalist said that catcalled women should learn to "take a compliment". Just last week in Nairobi, when a woman wearing a miniskirt was stripped naked at a bus stop, both men and women were quick to argue "she only had herself to blame".

Perhaps most troubling is how VAGW shapes children's perception of "normal". According to Plan International's report in Pakistan, Mali and Cambodia, between 30 and 45 per cent of children interviewed said it's OK for a boy to hit a girl. And in India, some men and women believe domestic violence is justified in particular circumstances - for example, if a woman leaves the house without telling her husband, or neglects the housework.

UN Women's executive director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, brought it home when she pointed out at a UN event for the HeForShe campaign: "Of all the women killed in 2012, half were killed by their family members or intimate partners. The World Health Organisation has declared violence against women to be a global health problem of epidemic proportions."


Thankfully, many people are speaking out and calling for change. Just recently we've been heartened to see:

VAGW is not "a cultural thing", "a private or family issue", "just banter" or something that's "dependent on circumstance". It's unequivocally unacceptable, and we won't stop talking about it until it ends.


To change attitudes, we need to break down the culture of stigma and shame around violence. Across the world, it's still not guaranteed that a complaint about sexual or domestic violence will be taken seriously, and there's even less chance of it being taken forward and resulting in a conviction.

In many circumstances it's not safe for a girl or woman to report violence. For more people to come forward, laws need to change and police training needs to be improved, but community attitudes are an issue too. A girl forced to marry young risks being alienated by her family and the community if she attempts to leave an abusive marriage. And without the relative economic freedom that comes from a decent education, what alternative does she have but to stay? We need to make it safe for girls to not only speak up, but to also imagine a life for themselves afterwards.

In India, work is being done to make it easier to report VAGW. Initiatives such as iClik, the ATM-style reporting machine in Bhubaneswar, show us that new ways of addressing the stigma and shame of VAGW are working. Roughly five women a day are reporting VAGW using iClik, with one mother-of-two commenting that iClik not only saved her from her husband's assaults but also helped her escape social stigma, as no one knows that she reported the crimes.

Innovations such as this, and Harassmap in Egypt - a way to report sexual violence anonymously from your mobile phone - are examples of positive progress. But while it's good that more women feel able to report VAGW, we need to address the cause as well as the effect - and that means changing attitudes on a global scale. 


Today, on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the UN is turning its headquarters - as well as the Empire State Building and other iconic landmarks - orange. It's part of the Orange YOUR Neighbourhood campaign, with the colour intended to symbolise a brighter future without violence, and aims to raise awareness and mobilise action to end VAGW. #OrangeUrHood marks the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence from @SayNO_UNiTEFind out what's happening around the world and get involved.

But ending VAGW doesn't have to mean posting a tweet or watching a webcast. You could show support for someone who's shown courage to speak up about violence, or challenge someone who trivialises or justifies it. VAGW will not end until enough people demand it ­- men and women - and while encouraging progress is being made, we still have a long way to go.