Violence against women is a shadow pandemic – we must take action to stop it

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Bincheng Mao, Global Shaper, New York Hub


  • Violence against women around the world has increased amidst COVID-19.
  • Recent data shows that nearly 1/4 of all girls have faced gender-based violence by the age of 19.
  • We must take urgent action against this and ensure women’s rights around the world are respected and protected.

Violence against women and girls has reached a devastating scale around the globe. A United Nations report recently revealed that one in every three women, approximately 736 million worldwide, have endured physical and psychological violence. From intimate partner violence to sexual harassment, these various forms of abuse are deeply harmful to women. And unfortunately, this situation has further deteriorated since the start of COVID-19.

A close analysis of the data uncovers that violence against women starts at an early age: nearly a quarter of all girls have faced gender-based violence by the age of 19, if they’ve been in a partner relationship. Physical and sexual assaults are now a threat to female well-being to such a degree that it could be called a pandemic.

One of the defining moral challenges of our times will be to eradicate violence against women. And it is achievable.

Survivor-centric solutions are key

Civil society organizations can play a major role in connecting legal and personal safety specialists to women in at-risk communities. These communities include rural areas with persistent poverty, where survivors of gender-based violence often have no one to turn to. Sexual violence often goes unchecked as a result. We must prioritize increasing access to legal services for women both as a prevention and accountability measure. Civil society groups with relevant resources should be encouraged to engage with women survivors and their communities to reverse past neglect.

Violence against women – 2019 data Image: OECD

There are also regions where traditional systems of justice may victimize survivors. Here, we need specialists on the ground to help women and girls. In regions with traditional justice systems, such as Eastern Africa, the public leadership structure begins with elders in villages. Service and advocacy organizations should facilitate dialogues with respected elders about lingering stigmas and stereotypes.

Survivors of sexual assault must be humanized by illustrating to elders the traumatic first-hand experiences of these survivors. Civil society can also deliver mental health support to women survivors. Together, we must set an example that care is the right response to survivors, as opposed to marginalization.

“Together, we must set an example that care is the right response to survivors, as opposed to marginalization”—Bincheng Mao

International organizations should collaborate with local government authorities to empower women to consider sharing their stories. Offering protection for survivors is indispensable and the international community should provide adequate material resources to lower-income regions to build gender-based abuse shelters. Promoting access to feminine care is also critical to the process of empowering women.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in ten countries across three regions. Accelerators are established in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Panama in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

All Country Accelerators, along with Knowledge Partner countries demonstrating global leadership in closing gender gaps, are part of a wider ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, that facilitates exchange of insights and experiences through the Forum’s platform.

In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

Educating the next generation

Teaching the next generation to stand up for women and girls must be a priority. WHO-sponsored research shows that effective early education can help prevent intimate partner violence. International institutions should provide guidance on gender equality education reform and domestic women’s rights organizations can then localize the message. Men and boys should learn from an early age how to choose respectful words and actions when addressing women. In other words, men and boys should become an active part of the prevention effort.

In addition to implementing fair and just education strategies, it is crucial to ensure the safety of women and girls getting to school. In particularly high-risk communities, school buses should have ticket inspectors to verify identities. A case study of Tanzania has shown education to be a critical pathway to ending poverty. Ensuring women’s rights to receive a high-quality education helps break down the cycle of poverty and allows women to understand their human rights.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle inequity.

The Forum’s work on Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Social Justice is driven by the New Economy and Society Platform, which is focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity.

The Platform produces data, standards and insights, such as the Global Gender Gap Report and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0 Toolkit, and drives or supports action initiatives, such as Partnering for Racial Justice in Business, The Valuable 500 – Closing the Disability Inclusion Gap, Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work, Closing the Gender Gap Country Accelerators, the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality, the Community of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers and the Global Future Council on Equity and Social Justice.

Moral action is also smart economics

To mobilize decisive action, it is imperative to remind hesitant people of the severe economic costs of gender inequality. When humans experience physical and sexual violence, they will see their overall health decline and start to miss work. Every day abused women who miss work leads to losses in a country’s productivity and overall economic output. It is therefore in the interests of any government to step up and address violence against women.

Gender-based violence can harm anyone, but certain groups are particularly vulnerable. For instance, it disproportionately impacts women and girls living in less developed regions. UN Women has pointed out that women in those classified as “least developed countries” have been subjected to a substantially higher rate of intimate partner violence in the past year—a staggering 13% higher. This signifies that a larger portion of women in low-income regions face abuses that may limit them from contributing to local economic development, perpetuating a cycle of violence and poverty. The fight against gender-based violence will be most important in the world’s poorest areas. A global effort to eradicate violence against women is an opportunity for poor countries to accelerate economic growth and alleviate poverty.

Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights

Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights. When this principle was declared at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, people dared to imagine a more inclusive and compassionate 21st century. Now, with violence against women on the rise yet again, we need to urgently take concrete steps to advance the rights of women.

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