International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women. 25/11/09

By resolution 54/134, taken on 17 December 1999, the General Assembly of the United Nations designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Governments, international organizations and NGOs were invited to organize activities designed to raise public awareness of the problem on that day1. This article attempts to contribute to the cause by presenting disturbing facts on violence against women.
 Statistics on violence against women: the global picture
Sexual and gender based violence against women paints a disturbing picture2:
  • Up to one-third of adolescent girls report forced sexual initiation.
    • For example, a recent study suggests that in the United Kingdom:
      • one in three teenage girls has suffered sexual abuse from a boyfriend,
      • one in four has experienced violence in a relationship,
      • one in six has been pressured into sexual intercourse,
      • one in sixteen said they had been raped.
  • Mass rape of women and girls continues to be seen as somehow a legitimate military weapon.
    • Reports suggest that, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in a war that lasted a mere three years, somewhere between 10,000 and 60,000 women and girls were raped.
  • Sexual violence against men and boys continues undaunted, unreported, understudied, and too often a source of ridicule and derision.
    • According to a number of studies, somewhere between 5 and 10% of adult males report having been sexually abused in their childhood.
  • Women suffer violence in health care settings, “including sexual harassment, genital mutilation, forced gynecological procedures, threatened or forced abortions, and inspections of virginity.”
  • Sexual violence in schools abounds almost in every country in the world
  • In Canada, 23% of girls experience sexual harassment.
  • There was a 25% rise in rape and sexual assaults between 2005 and 2007: Among all violent crimes, domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault showed the largest increase.
Around the world, the numbers speak for themselves, but to whom do they speak, and who is listening, who is taking the count and who is assessing accountability? It seems the whole globe, in its entirety and in each of its parts, is haunted by sexual and gender-based violence. Around and about the world daily, reports and studies on sexual and gender based violence are published3.
Where does it start?
According to Daniel Moshenberg, gender and sexual violence begins and ends at the intersection of sexual inequality and gender inequality4.
Some abusers learned abusive behaviour from their parents. Their early history consisted of receiving abuse themselves and/or seeing others abused (one parent abusing the other or their sibling, etc.). As a consequence, abuse is the normal condition of life for these people. Such people have internalised a particular relationship dynamic, namely the complementary roles of "abuser" and "victim". They are familiar with and fully understand the terror of being the helpless victim from their own childhood experience. The opposite of being a victim is not simply opting out of abuse; it is instead, to be abusive.
Given the choice between being the out-of-control victim, or the in-control abuser, some of these people grow up to prefer the role of the abuser. As they become adults, they simply turn this relationship dynamically around and start acting out the "abuser" side of the relationship to which they have been conditioned. By choosing to be the aggressor and abuser, they may get their first sense of taking control over their own destiny and not being at the mercy of others. That they hurt others in the process may go unregistered or only occur as a dim part of their awareness. behaviour can also result from mental health issues or disorders. For example, someone with anger management issues, a diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder, or a drinking or drug problem may easily get out of control during arguments (e.g., because there is something wrong with their ability to inhibit themselves at the brain level) and verbally or physically strike out at their partners and dependents.
Still other people who abuse end up abusing because they have an empathy deficit, either because of some sort of brain damage, or because they were so abused themselves as children that their innate empathic abilities never developed properly
What can be done about it?
It is obvious that people exposed to gender and sexual based violence will need physical, psychological, emotional and social support. In many countries the support is being supplied by the government and locally, by a variety of non-governmental organizations. Good examples are rape crises centres, help-lines, health services and shelters. The problem with people who become victims of gender and sexual violence is that they are often afraid or even ashamed and stigmatized to find such help and support.
A more sustainable solution must be found. Preventing sexual violence will require a cultural shift in terms of gender role expectations, acceptable mechanisms for conflict resolution and the unacceptability of violence5.
This will necessitate work with children to challenge gender stereotyping (e.g. masculine aggression and female passivity) and to promote non-violent conflict resolution skills. This could be reinforced by similar work with parents in relation to developing non-violent parenting and conflict resolution skills. This may need to be reinforced by sensitisation and advocacy work with existing community structures, leaders, and local agencies to promote the unacceptability of sexual violence and the adoption of appropriate social sanctions against its perpetrators6.
Certain institutions may be strongly associated with "cultures of violence" and their members may be among the likely perpetrators of sexual violence. Specific targeting may therefore be necessary in order to reach military, police and security personnel or inmates and staff in custodial settings, such as prisons.
The relationship between the structural determinants of sexual violence and development need must be better understood. It is highly likely that the same activities which address gender inequality (such as education for girls and women’s access to resources including credit), poverty and sustainable livelihoods, and which promote civil society participation and good governance will also be helpful to the prevention of sexual violence7.
Gender and sexual violence is not just an illusion. Treating sexual and gender based violence as exceptional likewise leaves the conditions and situation unchanged. The work of transformation, in Africa, as around the world, is slow, long, and necessary.
For further reading visit our current awareness section to view regular sexual violence news items.
  1. UN: The Dag Hammerskjold Library, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Available at and accessed on 28 October 2009.
  2. Moshenberg, Daniel: Sexual and gender based violence: every day, everywhere and yet … 16 September 2009. Available at
    and-gender-based-violence/ and accessed on 28 October 2009.
  3. Subscribe to the newsletter of the South African Sexual Violence Research Initiative at for more information.
  4. Moshenberg, Daniel: Sexual and gender based violence: every day, everywhere and yet … 16 September 2009. Available at
    -and-gender-based-violence/ and accessed on 28 October 2009.
  5. Crehan, K &  Gordon, P: Shades of sadness: gender, sexual violence and the HIV epidemic. Available at
    GenderSexualViolenceandHIV.doc and accessed on 31 October 2009.
  6. Ibid
  7. Ibid
Author: Pieter Visser
Reviewed by: Hendra van Zyl and Marike Kotze
Date: November 2009
Last updated: 11 November 2009
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