By Jennifer McCleary-Sills
Today is International Human Rights Day, an important commemoration in its own right, but also the day that marks the end of the annual global campaign 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. As this year’s campaign draws to a close, it’s a good time for us to pause and reflect on the progress we have made toward ending violence against women and girls (VAWG) in the 20 years since the Beijing Conference, a significant turning point for the global agenda for gender equality. In 2015, the global development community recommitted itself to this vision by creating a stand-alone target for gender equality among the Sustainable Development Goals. Many multilaterals and development banks are increasing their investments to prevent and respond to VAWG year on year. Across the globe, activists are mobilizing men and whole communities as allies in efforts to end this violence.
This progress is something to celebrate, but we still have a long way to go. Thanks to efforts of researchers and institutions who have been committed to documenting and eliminating VAWG for more than two decades, we now know that across the globe at least one in three women experience physical and/or sexual violence over the course of their lives. We also have incontrovertible evidence of the terrible effects that this violence has on women’s health, well-being, and development- and on their families. We know what services these women and girls need and are learning how to provide these in a survivor-centered way that addresses their needs and that helps them recover from violence and reach their full potential. And we are learning more every year about how to prevent this violence in the first place.
So, where do we go from here? We need to translate these insights into action. This means ensuring that policy makers and aid agencies keep VAWG as a priority and that they have the tools to make informed decisions about how to invest in ending VAWG.
As a highly prevalent human rights violation, VAWG should raise an alarm bell for all policy makers. Yet, it is not currently prioritized as a foreign policy and development imperative.
This is why the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and its partners are expanding the evidence base about the social and economic costs that different forms of violence have not only on the lives of women and girls, but also their families, communities, and societies. This work is part of two current initiatives: ‘What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls’ – a flagship global program of the UK Department for International Development (DFID), dedicated to generating rigorous evidence of effective approaches to preventing and responding to violence against women and girls; and a partnership with the World Bank Group, which is demonstrating that there are significant economic costs of child marriage in addition to the harmful effects on girl’s health, education, rights and wellbeing.
A critical part of this current work is promoting knowledge sharing and influencing the policy agenda. The findings from these studies will underscore that the costs of inaction are far greater than the costs of action against violence. We will communicate this emerging evidence to policymakers, practitioners and activists around the world to help ensure that this knowledge translates to action by informing effective policies and programming to prevent and respond to VAWG.
As these policy changes and commitments gain momentum, we also need to offer tools to practitioners that show how to address to VAWG. This is precisely why ICRW, with its partners at the World Bank Group, Inter-American Development Bank, and Global Women’s Institute, created the Violence Against Women and Girls Resource Guide, which provides guidance for development professionals on effective and sustainable solutions to prevent and respond to VAWG across a range of sectors. Further, the guide aims to improve the linkages between stand-alone violence prevention activities and broader development initiatives, showcasing promising approaches for integrating prevention and response to violence across development sectors. Actionable, practical, and evidence-based guidance like this can help us continue to make greater strides toward eliminating violence against women and girls.
We have come a long way over the past two decades.
Next year and in years to come, we will continue to celebrate the incremental successes of prevention efforts as we pave the way for greater change. But I look forward to a day when we can truly celebrate – a day when we no longer have to accept VAWG as a part of life, a day when campaigns like 16 Days are no longer necessary. The progress we have made thus far should motivate us all to continue generating new evidence, sharing knowledge, and turning insight into action that will lead us to that day.
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