Women Opinion

Violence against women a global scourge

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Too many women globally are victims of violence (Image via PickPik)

While violence against women is an issue gaining awareness in Australia, the problem remains serious around the world and requires an urgent remedy, writes Johanna Higgs.

* CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses domestic violence and rape

ORIGINALLY HAILING from Perth, I have spent as much of the last 20 years as I have been able to muster exploring every corner of this Earth.

While many of these travels have broadened my mind and changed my perspective, what I have learned after emerging from the safety of the hills of Perth, is that as a woman, my desire for travel and adventure is by no means something that everybody thinks I have a right to. Because, as I have learned – as a woman – venturing out into the world is fraught with danger and disrespect.

And what specifically makes it so very dangerous is the normality surrounding men being so violent and discriminatory towards women.

Throughout my travels, I have been told repeatedly that my status as a woman, especially as a Western woman, is low; the bottom of the barrel. I have been told that the incessant harassment and degrading behaviour that I have experienced consistently over the last 20 years is because I am a woman and this is something that I should expect as a woman.

People have dismissed this behaviour as “culture”. They have accepted it because they declare it “normal” and they have laughed at my complaints because this is “the way things are”. Violence against women throughout Africa, Latin America and Africa, Asia and the Pacific and to a certain extent the West is just something we are expected to endure. Apparently.

And endure we do because as the statistics that do exist show, violence and discrimination around the world is rife.

For example:

  • According to the United Nations, one in three women worldwide has experienced physical or sexual violence, predominantly by an intimate partner. This statistic has remained largely unchanged over the past decade.
  • That’s approximately 736 million women who are estimated to have been subjected to intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their lives. That's 30% of women aged 15 and older according to the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.).
  • In the United States, UNICEF estimates that one in five women has been raped at some time in their lives. Nearly one in six women have experienced stalking during their lifetimes, which often includes threats of violence.
  • ​In the European Union, a study found that about one in ten women have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 15 and one in 20 have been raped.
  • In 2021, the National Crime Records Bureau in India reported over 31,000 cases of rape, which equates to an average of 86 reported rape cases each day, though this number is likely much higher. Sexual violence against women in India remains a significant issue despite legal reforms and increasing public awareness.
  • Known for high rates of gender-based violence, South Africa has one of the highest incidences of rape in the world. According to South Africa’s Police Service, there were 42,289 reported rapes in 2019-2020. Though again, this number is likely much higher.
  • In conflict zones, sexual violence against women remains a critical issue. In Colombia for example, conflict and displacement have exacerbated sexual violence against women.
  • Globally, women are more likely than men to live in poverty. In 2021, an estimated 435 million women and girls were living in extreme poverty.
  • Women’s food insecurity levels were 10% higher than men’s in 2020, exacerbated by the pandemic. Small-scale female farmers earn on average 30% less than their male counterparts.
  • In many countries, girls are more likely to face barriers to education, leading to increased risks of violence, exploitation and early marriage​.
  • Over 50% of countries have laws restricting women from working in certain jobs or industries. This legal discrimination hinders economic independence and perpetuates poverty among women​.
  • The United Nations reports that in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, customary laws often deny women the right to inherit land. For example, in Zambia, despite statutory laws providing equal inheritance rights, customary practices still prevent women from inheriting land.
  • In some Middle Eastern countries, women often do not have equal parental rights. Custody laws can heavily favour fathers, limiting mothers' rights to make decisions about their children's upbringing.

These statistics are just a few, though highlight the pervasive nature of violence and sexual harassment against women and girls worldwide and underscore the urgent need for continued efforts to address and prevent these issues through education, legal reforms and comprehensive support systems.

And we must do this because women and girls everywhere should have the right to move freely and without the fear of harassment or violence.

This is especially so in Australia.

We claim to be a free country, we claim to be a progressive country and we claim to be a first-world country. However, being any of those things can only be measured by the ability of our women to move freely in our society.

We can only know how progressive we are by the level of confidence that our women feel to walk anywhere they want, wearing whatever they want without the fear of harassment or violence.

We can only know we are a country worth respecting when we have very low rates of violence against women and girls. We can only be proud of our country when we have police, our judicial system and an entire society at large that at all times, condemn all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls.

My only hope is that as we see this scourge of violence against women growing in Australia, we all step up and prove that Australia is a country to be proud of and show that at no time, ever, we tolerate violence and discrimination against women and girls.  

* If you are experiencing distress, please contact:

Johanna Higgs is an anthropologist and founder of Project MonMa, which advocates for women’s rights around the world.

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