A girl in her teens — her body smeared with dirt from the floor where she sits crouching in a corner of her house, her face streaked by tears, bearing bruises and tangled hair; the signs of a recent beating — leans her head against the wall and tries to steady her hand from shaking as she wonders in her mind: “Lord, what have I done? What am I paying for? Forgive me.” This is her prayer of sorts, looking to God for answers to her pain.
Social movements this year targeted the persistence of gender-based violence. Now we need action to establish new norms. The #MeToo movement has highlighted normalized abuse and harassment violence in the developed and developing world.
On October 15th, the US actress Alyssa Milano sent out a tweet containing a hashtag that immediately went viral in the wake of reports of an ‘open secret’ of predatory behaviour in Hollywood. #MeToo.
The aim was to show the scale of the problem of sexual harassment and assault and the inability many have felt in speaking out. The majority of responses have overwhelming, in countries which have laws in place to protect against abuse and assault, yet the problems seem to be, if not accepted, seen as inevitable.
Violence directed at girls and women by an intimate partner is the most common form of gender-based violence. One in three (approximately 84 million) adolescent girls in formal unions aged 15-19 worldwide have been victims of emotional, physical or sexual violence committed by their husbands or partners at some point in their lives.
When considering the fact that some of the countries we work in have a child marriage rate of up to 76% (Niger), the magnitude of the problem becomes apparent. Child marriage is, in itself, an act of gender-based violence and in almost all cases leads to physical and sexual violence with serious consequences on a girls’ life, health and wellbeing.
One of the most important scenarios of fight against gender violence is the pivotal role of passive witnesses who, through their silence, normalize situations of abuse. The men in this particular ‘neighbourhood’ are brutal — real animals — but it was the family, neighbours and friends surrounding them (women) that allowed his violence to continue.