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Tomorrow, we will find the time from our busy schedules and in our silence, we will remember the lives of the women who have been killed or maimed due to their gender. Some of us have experienced the crime. Others have read in newspapers, witnessed with eyes, heard stories from friends or listened to the sound of a neighbour’s cries. Tomorrow, we will denounce these acts.
In 1999, the United National officially recognised November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This day marks the sixteen days of activism against gender violence that culminates, most appropriately, on December 10, International Human Rights Day. Tomorrow, we make a pledge to denounce gender violence from domestic battery, to rape and sexual harassment, to state violence including torture and abuses of women political prisoners. Our silent offerings should be more than the musings of our mind. We must utilise this time to make changes in our daily lives, however small, to initiate further changes in our communities to stop this process.
Women have come to recognise that our legacy is important and our words and deeds have impact on future generations. There are mothers who do not understand their daughter’s rebellion against the system of female compliance. And there are mothers who encourage their daughters’ right to exercise her individuality. They encourage the changing of the guard so that the old restrictions are discarded. A new generation will carry a torch, but we must ensure that the light we leave them is strong.
The major form of violence against women happens in their homes and the shocking reality is that depending on the social fabric of the country, it tends to be ignored. In many countries, this crime is disregarded because of the lowly status of women. We read about brutality in Africa, South America, North America, Central America, Europe, Australia, Asia and the Caribbean.
Let’s journey around the world and hear the cries:
Kenya: At a boarding school, 300 boys attack the girls’ dormitory. Seventy-one girls are raped. Nineteen are trampled to death in the stampede to escape. The school’s vice principal remarks, “The boys never meant any harm against the girls. They just wanted to rape.”
Brazil: A man who confessed to stabbing his wife and her lover to death is for the second time acquitted of murder by an all-male jury. The acquittal is based on the argument that he acted in legitimate defence of his wronged honour.
United States: A 51-year-old woman is stabbed 19 times and killed by her former boyfriend as she waits inside a courthouse to extend an order of protection. Twice before he had been charged with harassment. Both times the charges were dropped.
In the Caribbean, if a woman calls the police about the brutality of her husband, the police seldom respond. We have few shelters for abused women because the state is not willing to protect a portion of its citizens. Think of the number of men who have been arrested for domestic abuse. The number is not very high.
For this basic human rights to be addressed, it must be acknowledged, not only by the victims, but the entire society. The government must acknowledge that its role is to protect all citizens. As women, we must ensure that our agenda and needs are addressed by the government.
In our day to day lives, whenever we have the opportunity we must:
Raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue in our homes, at work, at play and in politics;
Strengthen the existing local work around violence against women;
Show solidarity with women around the world;
Create tools to pressure governments to implement promises made to eliminate violence against women;
Draw men into our circle and let them understand the plight. They have daughters, sisters and mothers and many of them have witnessed or experienced violence;
Ensure that religion maintains its place as a spiritual centre and not encroach into the structure of government and impede social equality; and
Inform leaders and the community that we are tired of this injustice.
Solidarity will bring about the changes and the world will understand that we want to eliminate gender crimes. When Miss Costa Rica, Miss Denmark, Miss Panama, Miss South Africa and Miss Switzerland boycotted the upcoming Miss World pageant in Nigeria to protest the stoning sentence of 31-year-old, Amina Lawal Kurami, who has been sentenced to death by stoning by a sharia court for bearing a child out of wedlock, they illustrated their solidarity to the movement. This sentence is to be carried out when her child is weaned, likely sometime in 2004. The original Miss Belgium and Miss France also boycotted the pageant, but pageant organisers persuaded the first runners-up to travel to Nigeria.
These women held onto their strong political convictions and gave up what many consider to be an opportunity of a lifetime. Their sacrifice upholds the sanctity of the crowns they wear, the solidarity of womanhood and the ‘Misses’ they represent, not only in their respective countries but around the world. They represent the true Miss World.