As the 16 days of activism against Gender-based violence following the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against women on the 25th of November comes to an end, I see a positive trend in the fight against gender based violence across the world. From the illumination of famous buildings like the National Monument of Pakistan in orange, to events like the International Istanbul Marathon, the world stands together in carrying out “Orange Events” as a part of the UNiTE to End Violence against Women Campaign, with an aim to ”Orange the World”.
Defined as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” by the United Nations, violence against women is a repercussion of the lingering inequalities that exist between men and women, leading to discrimination against women in practice. With every one in three women experiencing physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, violence against women remains a global endemic that not only affects mental and physical health but also has socio-economic costs as it inhibits development in terms of poverty alleviation, peace and security, and in the struggle against AIDS.
As mentioned above, the underlying cause of violence against women is rooted in the notion of gender inequality arising from lack of education, awareness, and from taboos attached to the idea of women being inferior to men. While much progress is being made in changing the attitudes of people towards gender equality, practices including honour killings such as women being murdered for giving birth to girls, acid attacks, domestic abuse, and child marriages still exist to a large extent.
Today around 700 million women are reported to have been married as children, many of whom were married before the age of 15. Education plays a vital role in gender inequality and practices of violence against women, as girls who undergo child marriage are less likely to complete their education and more likely to be a victim of domestic violence. This lack of safe access to education for women serves as a barrier in breaking the cycle of poverty as less educated women are more likely to marry at an early age and that too unwillingly, and they are more likely to undergo childbirth problems that could result in their own or their children’s death. They are also less likely to understand the importance of education to send their children to school. Thus if all women have access to quality education that advocates gender equality, it will have a rolling effect on the future generations not only in terms of gender tolerance but in ultimately eliminating poverty, and raising living standards in general.
Hence, a lack of education is not only a consequence of violence against women, but a cause as well. The need for formal and informal education for both genders to promote respectful relationships and gender equality highlights the importance of education in preventing violence against women in the first place. Based on research reports, attitudes and tolerance towards violence against women are seemed to develop at an early age, reinforcing the need for schools and universities to create a conducive environment that advocates gender tolerance.
With a favorable environment that the University of London International Programmes (UOLIP) provides, I feel privileged to be studying in a programme that encourages diversity and does not place preference on one gender over the other. The institution where I study has also played a part in shaping my views as a large number of girls study with me and we have learnt how to respect and interact with one another respectfully, without having to discriminate against the opposite gender. Moreover, the flexibility that the UOLIP entails in order for students to study independently provides young girls and women with the opportunity to gain an internationally recognised degree at their own pace. Women are often held back in gaining quality education due to family commitments and responsibilities. However, this degree takes this into consideration and thus provides women with safe access to education.
The flexibility that the UOLIP offers in terms of balancing your studies with extra-curricular activities, allowed me to work with Seeds Theatre Group Inc, an organisation that uses theatre and drama as an effective communication tool to address issues that are affecting Papua New Guinea (PNG) socially, economically and politically. One of the issues that Seeds Theatre Group Inc is working on is gender and development, and violence against women in PNG. I played a part in analysing and editing a drama activity awareness report, ‘Women Not Witches’ that was specifically aimed at ending violence against women, promoting human rights, and ending the killing of women accused of sorcery in PNG. This volunteer experience heightened my awareness of how every human being can set an outstanding example in having an impact on the promotion of gender equality and elimination of violence against women through various media including volunteering over the internet from any part of the world.
Let’s promote gender equality, which is also one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to eliminate violence against women, and continue to ‘Orange the World’ using education as a tool, not only for the 16 days of activism but every single day of the year.
Zara is studying the BSc (Hons) Economics at a recognised teaching institution, University College of Islamabad (UCI), in Islamabad, Pakistan.