Ending Violence Against Women and Girls is Possible… I am hopeful!

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Ending Violence Against Women
Opening of Women's Protection Shelter in Savannakhet in December 2020. Deputy Minister of ICT, Savannakhet Vice Governor, LWU Vice President, UK Ambassador to Lao PDR, UNFPA Representative Lao PDR and President of Savannakhet LWU.

The following is an opinion piece by Mariam A. Khan, Country Representative UNFPA, Laos.

For most issues, the world marks a day. For VAW, the world marks 16 days!

Globally, one in three women has experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, primarily by their intimate partners.  In Laos, a 2014 Study on Violence Against Women (VAW) revealed the same data: one in three women had experienced physical or sexual violence or emotional abuse from their partners.

Covid-19 has exacerbated VAW, with data from the Lao Women’s Union indicating an increase in rape cases while the number of calls to hotlines during the strict lockdowns increased 3-5 times.

One in three women… look around you… of the three women and girls you see, do you ask yourself which one? …do you ask yourself why?

VAW is socially, culturally tolerated all over the world due to traditional gender norms, unequal power relations, and gender inequality….but culture is dynamic and can change.

Three years ago, when I came to Laos, the Lao Women’s Union and the National Commission for Action on Women and Children were supported by a handful of development partners for their work on EVAW. I have seen that handful grow to a coalition of over 48 partners taking action, from advocacy to interventions that protect women and girls. For the 2021 16 Days campaign, newcomers joining are well beyond any expectations I had! Led by Government and development partners, sports organizations, banks, private sector and individuals, young and old, male, female, those of diverse gender identities!

I salute the female leaders in all sectors who take space in the public domain to acknowledge and act on measures necessary to protect women and girls.

I welcome the male leaders who step out of their comfort zone to speak on this issue by sharing a personal or professional action to protect women and girls.

I admire the young men and women and those of varied gender identity who develop values to establish a more equitable balance in their relationships.

I acknowledge the comprehensive policy framework developed by the Lao Government for the promotion of Gender Equality and Elimination of Violence against women, which creates a pathway for individuals and institutions to invest in solutions for women and girls.

I celebrate that Lao PDR scores 96/100 for SDG 5.6.2 on bodily autonomy, amongst the highest scores globally! This indicator emphasizes laws and regulations that guarantee full and equal access to women and men aged 15 years and older to sexual and reproductive health care, information, and education.

Did I say I was hopeful? You see now I have good cause to be!

I invite you, my reader, to join efforts to implement the National Action Plan for EVAW and the essential service package for EVAW so we can collectively protect and advance the rights of women and girls and Lao PDR. Join the 16 Days campaign with us on UNFPA Laos Facebook Page and UNFPA Laos Twitter and through the social media sites of any of the 48 campaign partners.

Change happens when individuals are informed about rights and choices and they take action. Every positive action can make a difference! So, end violence against women now!

“End violence against women now!”  is the theme for this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The 16 Days is a global campaign to eliminate all forms of violence against women. Beginning in 1991, the 16 Days campaign kicks off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day, to emphasize that violence against women is a violation of women’s human rights.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Laotian Times.