Op-Ed by Ambassador Doherty: End Violence Against Women

Imagine three women anywhere in the world: a celebrity, a family member, or a friend. Research indicates one of these three women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t do something to stop it.

A comprehensive 2014 study showed 33% of women in EU countries have also experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15.  Most often, the perpetrator of the violence is the woman’s partner, boyfriend, or husband.  In the Turkish Cypriot community, statistics compiled by the 183 Domestic Violence Hotline and the authorities show that, since January 2014, an average of roughly 20 women per month have reported domestic violence incidents.  As is the case in much of the world, domestic violence here is heavily underreported, with many survivors afraid or unwilling to report the crime.  In the Republic of Cyprus, police statistics show that 30 women have been murdered by their partners or former partners in the last ten years.  As is the case in much of the world, domestic violence here is heavily underreported, with many survivors afraid or unwilling to report the crime.
According to the United Nations, violence against women around the world causes more death and disability for women and girls between the ages of 15 and 44 than do cancer, traffic accidents, malaria, and war – combined.  No culture or society is immune to this serious problem; in the United States, an average of three women a day are murdered by their intimate partners, and every nine seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten.

Gender-based violence comes in many forms, such as intimate partner violence, rape, and sexual assault to early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation and cutting, but each form of violence is a stain on our collective humanity, a barrier to peace and stability, and a call to action for all of us.  Violence is not inevitable—and each of us can do something to stop it.

This violence doesn’t only affect women and girls, but it threatens entire communities, precludes economic growth, and fuels cycles of violence and conflict.  A recent World Bank study showed that violence against women carries a significant economic burden, which includes health-care costs, lost income for women, decreased productivity, and negative impacts across generations, just to name a few.

Just imagine the cost to a family or an economy when a woman stops working because she’s hurt.  Because gender-based violence happens on such a large scale, these costs add up.  In the United States, domestic violence is estimated to cost the economy $8.3 billion a year.

Searching for Solutions

The 2014 EU study asked respondents to explain how they had overcome physical and/or sexual violence by a partner.  The most common answer was support from family and friends.  If you know someone that you think might be experiencing domestic violence, reach out and offer your support – even just listening to a survivor of violence can help.

Education is also part of the long-term answer: the 2014 EU study showed men with only a primary school education were about three times more likely than men with university education to commit violence against women.  Help educate boys and men about the costs of violence, and how to stand up and stop it.

The 16 Days of Activism is an opportunity for everyone to act.  Every November 25, the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women kicks off the 16 Days, which ends on December 10, Human Rights Day.  Launched by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the campaign calls for action from everyone— men and women, boys and girls, government officials and community leaders.  And around the world, people are taking action.  On November 25, activists representing a wide range of Turkish Cypriot NGOs held a protest in the Dereboyu neighborhood to raise awareness on this important issue.  The Turkish Cypriot authorities have also started to move forward, deciding in September to allocate land for construction of a women’s shelter.  In the Republic of Cyprus, the Ombudsman on November 15 concluded a two-year campaign to raise awareness on this important issue, targeting both the general public and specific groups of professionals.

We are grateful to civil society for its role in ensuring that gender equality was central to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.  Now, we must turn our attention to implementation.  Partnership with other governments, the private sector, and especially civil society will be critical to these efforts.
Ultimately, gender-based violence will only end when women and girls are fully valued by society and able to fully participate.  Even as we tackle this major problem within our own society, the United States is committed to being a part of the global effort to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.  Around the world, we support projects to raise awareness of gender-based violence, educate policymakers to increase legislative support, train service providers to better address the needs of survivors, and increase justice and accountability.  We fund projects that provide safe spaces and vocational training for survivors, and work to mobilize religious, business owners, and community leaders to end different forms of gender-based violence.

But we can’t do this alone.  Only through collective action will violence against women be eliminated.  I urge all Cypriots, all Americans, and everyone to speak up, act, and help end violence against women.