There are many problems which pervade society, problems which have existed from long ago, and will exist long into the future, problems which affect each and every one of us, problems which should be fading as humanity progresses but seem to be getting worse. It is true that suffering cannot be quantified, but, of these, there is perhaps one problem that affects us more than any other. And that is gender-based violence. This is a worldwide, rampant issue. Mere statistics are not sufficient to communicate the ubiquitous nature of GBV, yet those are still appalling: 35 % of women worldwide will experience violence in their lifetime, and this number doubles in some countries. GBV kills and disables as many women, aged 15-44, as cancer, malaria, traffic incidents and war combined.
In Sri Lanka, police stations routinely record between 8,000 and 10,000 cases of violence against women per month. Not only does this impact individuals, it hinders societal progression. We cannot go far when women are marginalised and abused, and their roles limited to the home and nothing more. We will not progress when women’s voices are not heard, their input into important decisions not received, their fundamental right to equality not recognised.
A recent World Bank report told us what we should already have known: that greater gender equality enhances economic productivity and improves development. As Bryant McGill, author and activist said, “Assaults against women are assaults against any potential positive future for the world.”
However, public awareness of this problem, especially in our country, is marginal. Almost everyone knows it happens, but few know the horrifying extent to which it takes place. Few realise it is something present in all walks of life, and is often perpetrated by youth (a CARE study revealed that 28% of those who committed sexual violence were between the ages of 15 and 19). But we should not only be aware of it. We should also have an understanding about how this issue can be tackled, and this might make us more willing and capable, to take part in the eradication process.
Generally, GBV is addressed using two main methods. The first one is prevention, which includes actions such as creating awareness, which is what this article aims to raise. It is crucial that people are aware of the existence and the magnitude of the problem. We must not pretend it does not exist just because we are not directly affected. We can also prevent gender-based violence by changing people’s attitudes and views. This is particularly important when it comes to the youth, and successful work has been done in Sri Lanka in altering children’s viewpoints, which should be further built on. Quite surprisingly, it has been shown that, women’s attitudes are just as, or more, demeaning towards women than those of their male counterparts. For example, shockingly, in a CARE study 67% of women as opposed to 55% of men thought that “in any rape case, one would have to consider whether the victim was promiscuous or if she has a bad reputation.” This shows how deeply ingrained these sexist attitudes are, in both women and men, and shows how difficult it is to defeat GBV. We have to change the way everyone in society thinks, which will not be quick or easy, but is essential.
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