Despite the UN’s longstanding commitment to end violence against women, females continue to experience physical and sexual violence, especially during war.

Rwandans demonstrate against violence against women and girls, Kigali, 25 October 2013 (UN/Sara Hakansson)
Rwandans demonstrate against violence against women and girls, Kigali, 25 October 2013. (UN/Sara Hakansson)

(November 25 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, designated as such by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999.)

By Urvashi Bundel

It’s been 22 years since the UN adopted a declaration urging states to end all violence against women. Yet violence against women continues to be a global pandemic.

Consider these figures from the UN:

  • 35% of women and girls around the world experience some form of physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime;
  • An estimated 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation/cutting in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the harmful practice is most common;
  • More than 700 million women alive today were married as children, 250 million of whom were married before the age of 15.

Women’s activists have marked November 25 as a day against violence since 1981. On that day in 1960, three sisters who were political activists in the Dominican Republic were assassinated on the orders of then Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo.

In 1993, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. Seven years later, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, which classifies sexual violence in conflict as a war crime.

But abuses and atrocities persist in many war zones and affect millions of women and girls.

“The roots of violence against women lie in persistent discrimination against women.”

Sexual violence is frequently a conscious, large-scale strategy by armed groups like the Islamic State to humiliate opponents, terrify individuals and subjugate societies.

In Syria, sexual violence has tragically become a part of the political economy by generating revenue through trafficking, trading and ransoming women and girls, who are openly bartered on slave markets — sometimes for a few dinars or a pack of cigarettes.

Women, from grandmothers to toddlers, routinely suffer violent sexual abuse at the hands of military and rebel forces. Rape has long been used as a tactic of war, with violence against women during or after armed conflicts commonly reported in war zones.

During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, approximately 1,100 rapes are being reported each month, and it is believed that more than 200,000 women have suffered sexual violence since armed conflict erupted there.

Violence against women is not confined to a specific culture, region or country, or to particular groups of women within a society. The roots of violence against women lie in persistent discrimination against women.

Women and girls can be exploited sexually by those mandated to protect them, including parents and partners. After all, child brides still exist!

Take a step to end this today when you see it in your workplace, family, social circles or in personal life.


ubundelUrvashi Bundel is a specialist in public international law and international criminal law. She is currently working for the United Nations with a focus on conflict zones. She holds degrees from the Johns Hopkins University in the United States and Leiden University in the Netherlands. She is a 2004 winner of poetry competition at the National Book Fair in India.

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