World cannot ignore acts of violence against women

The motto of this year’s Women’s Day, “Inspiring Change”, underlines the fact that women and girls around the world continue to experience discrimination and violence in their everyday lives. This must change.

Discrimination and violence against women is a global scourge. Violence takes many forms, including physical, mental or sexual violence, violence based on so-called “honour”, trafficking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, rape as a war tactic, unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at work. In the absence of an effective remedy, acts of violence against women too often remain unpunished.

Violence against women and girls is a worldwide phenomenon, crossing all borders, all generations, all nationalities, and all communities. Yet it remains hidden, under-reported, underprosecuted and underpunished. This trend must be reversed.

According to a 2013 global review by the World Health Organisation, 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either sexual violence at the hands of someone who is not their partner, or physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, or both. The European Union, Hong Kong and Macau are not immune to the problem. Recognising this reality is the first step in addressing the problem.

Violence against women is a violation of fundamental rights. Too often still, it is wrongly perceived as a “private” issue or condoned on grounds of custom and tradition. There are also serious consequences for the health of victims, such as the spread of HIV and unwanted pregnancies.

The public interest to act is high. A 2006 Council of Europe study put the annual cost of domestic violence in the EU at €16 billion (HK$171 billion); this includes health costs, law enforcement expenses and loss of productivity.

The experience of violence unifies women of all social backgrounds. The specific situations of vulnerable groups and individuals should be addressed, such as women and girls with disabilities, elderly women, domestic workers, migrant women and refugees, journalists and sex workers.

There is no uniform solution to addressing the problem nor to ending impunity. The European Union countries have adopted a variety of approaches, including awareness-raising campaigns, eviction orders against perpetrators, capacity training for judges and police, and strengthening the criminal, civil and administrative legal framework. Media campaigns raise public consciousness, leading to greater women’s awareness of their own rights and an increase in the number of cases reported.

In Hong Kong, gender equality and protection against violence are recognised in law. Organisations such as the Women’s Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission, as well as active non-governmental organisations, civil society and private-sector firms contribute to the improvement of the conditions of women.

On women’s rights, we must not be complacent. Let us strengthen our resolve and join forces with the UN secretary general’s “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” campaign. Our goal must be that women and girls everywhere can fully realise their right to a life free of violence – and can do so now.

Vincent Piket is head of the EU Office to Hong Kong and Macau. This article is also on behalf of all the consuls-general of the EU member states accredited to Hong Kong

A link to the article can be found here.