Since last week, I have attended a series of events to commemorate the International Women’s Day which falls on March 8.
Several organisations celebrated the day in their own way. The university had a seminar and spoke about supporting women in leadership; the mining industry had Women in Resources award gala breakfast, a friend whose birthday falls on IWD had speakers (including two men) talked about the women who have been influential in their lives, UN Women had a fundraising breakfast and at work we took part in.
In all of this, the people that stood out the most for me were Zayn, a Muslim female police officer and Sister Garasu from Papua New Guinea. Both these ladies spoke about gender based violence.
A friend also commented to me that one in three women in the world are victims of gender-based violence. This statistic is the same around the world—Africa, Australia, Europe and America. That drove home the point to me that we often associate GBV as a cultural issue. We assume in traditional societies, GBV is a cultural norm in places like Africa and the Pacific. Culture does have a role to play but the common denominator in that statistic is men: men are the problem. And women are culpable, too.
It is widely recognised that there is a link to violence against women and girls and risk of HIV and Aids. There are many ways violence puts women at risk of HIV: violent sex causes vaginal tearing that increases the risk of HIV transmission; fear of violence prevents women from negotiating safe sex; violent partners often have multiple sexual partners; fear of violence prevents women from seeking counselling, testing and treatment; children who have been sexually abused are more likely to engage in risky behaviour as adults; and boys who witness or experience family violence are more likely to perpetrate violence and rape.
At one of the events, one of the speakers asked people to reflect on what they stand for: Are you a compassionate bystander only getting involved when it affects you or are you proactively doing something to address gender inequality?