Every day, millions of women and girls around the world are subject to violence, discrimination and are disadvantaged simply because of their gender.
Grassroots women’s rights organisations in Liberia are leading efforts to end violence
In the last year alone we have heard stories of refugee women exploited as they have travelled to Europe in search of sanctuary for their families, horrific reports of a 16 year old girl gang raped in Brazil and the release of a video of the Chibok girls reminding us that the safety of girls and their ability to access education is far from secure.
These aren’t isolated incidents. It’s likely to be an issue women reading this are all too familiar with. ActionAid’s latest research shows that three quarters (75%) of all women in the UK have been subject to public harassment or violence in their cities.
This figure rises to 79 percent of women in India, 86 percent of women polled in Thailand and 89 percent in Brazil. These stats represent an outrageous and global abuse of women’s basic right to safety. It robs women and girls of control over their own bodies and lives. It stops them securing a decent education, earning a living, and lifting themselves out of poverty. This violence not only holds back women and girls, but also their families, communities and entire countries - this can’t continue.
But all around the world, fearless and determined women are standing up against this, leading grassroots organisations that are working to end this violence. These organisations provide vital support to survivors, fix laws and institutions that are failing women, and challenge the attitudes that allow violence to continue.
At ActionAid we meet women like this every day. Women like Jimisha who runs Women Speak, a group established at The United Methodist University in Monrovia, Liberia in 2012.
“We want to break the silence around sexual violence, harassment and rape. If we don’t talk about things it means that the men who carry out these acts don’t have to take responsibility for what they do.
Jimisha is a student at United Methodist University and an active member of Women Speak
Theresa, another member, says: “I have been sexually harassed at university, like most women I know. Sadly it is normal for women to experience this at university. Women like me face many issues. We face harassment on the streets and at university but we are fighting back. Our women’s group brings us together, like minded women and men to tackle these issues and to bring them out in the open. By not feeling ashamed and refusing to feel shame and by discussing things, only then can things change.”
Women Speak is supporting Theresa, Jimisha and others stand up against violence. The group has 50 members and meets weekly on campus to discuss issues affecting women students, such as sexual harassment and lighting on campus.
In 2014 ActionAid Liberia and Women Speak successfully pushed the government to fit lights at the university. Lighting has been put up in the corridors, at the entrance and exits of classrooms and street lights have been installed outside campus, where women pick up public transport for their journeys home. Now almost half of classes are made up of female students.
But sadly, like many women’s rights groups around the world, Women Speak are chronically underfunded. Grassroots women’s rights organisations receive less than 1% of total UK aid for gender equality.
The UK has established itself as one of the leading voices on gender equality and tackling violence against women, from confronting the use of sexual violence in conflict to championing education as a route out of poverty.
Last September in New York Secretary of State Justine Greening stood up and pledged the UK’s commitment to gender equality, with a specific target on ending violence against women, but almost a year on too little progress has been made.
The clock is ticking. The UK Government must take real action and commit to properly funding grassroots women’s rights organisations. Just a small amount of funding could make a huge difference to these crucial organisations.
It is only by standing with fearless women and girls and supporting the life changing work of women’s rights organisations around the world that we can bring an end to the violence.
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