International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women

One in three women will suffer some form of violence in her lifetime. It’s an alarming statistic that reverberates around the world. Violence against women and girls is a universal problem and perhaps the most prevalent violation of human rights experienced today.

Violence can include physical, sexual and psychological acts perpetrated within the family, in the general community and where perpetrated or condoned by the State.

The many contexts where violence occurs includes: sexual abuse of female children; dowry-related violence; marital rape; female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women; violence related to exploitation; including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation; forced labour; and trafficking in women and forced prostitution.

The impact of Violence against Women

Statistics reveal a shocking picture of the consequences of violence against women:

  • Violence against women is a major cause of death and disability for women 16 to 44 years of age.
  • It is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill-health than traffic accidents and malaria combined.
  • Several studies have revealed increasing links between violence against women and HIV/AIDS. Women who have experienced violence are at a higher risk of HIV infection: a survey among 1,366 South African women showed that women who were beaten by their partners were 48 per cent more likely to be infected with HIV than those who were not.

East Timor

Domestic violence is a significant issue in East Timor with over 70% of families thought to be affected. Luisa Marcal works for Caritas Australia’s partner in Dili, PRADET (Psycho-social, Recovery and Development Trauma East Timor).

For international women’s day, Lucia travelled to Australia to share some of the background to the issue and the ways in which PRADET is responding:

“Most women do not want to report domestic violence. When they do the husband feels he has lost his dignity with the family and in the community. He is angry and no longer wishes to stay with his family to support his wife and children. If he leaves the women and children have no means of support.

“We have been in partnership with Caritas Australia since 2002 training counsellors that help people affected by domestic violence and sexual assault.

“We have a private place for medical treatment, forensic examination, counselling room, administration room, kitchen and two bathrooms. Another two rooms are for sleeping, one for staff and one for the victims when they need to stay overnight.

“I will share with you how we help victims. (For instance) A husband and wife with one child lived together with the wife’s parents. The husband and wife had a disagreement. When the husband came home in the evening he was still angry and attacked and killed his father-in-law.

“Then he attacked his wife with a machete. The mother wanted to help her daughter and was also attacked. The women had many injuries and were taken to hospital for medical treatment and forensic examination.

“Because of their serious injuries we visited the hospital to support them and give counselling. We helped them look at ways to solve the problem and they decided to take their case to the Tribunal.

“In another case, the East Timor police brought a young, pregnant woman, about 20 years old to our safe room. She had run away from her parent’s farm where she was looking after the vegetable gardens. She was a little deaf and had no education.

“When she was working in the gardens which were away from the house, her father sexually abused her many times. He threatened to hurt her with a large knife if she told anyone. She became pregnant and told her mother about what happened to her. She went to the police for safety.

“She stayed in the safe room for two nights. She was given a medical examination. We went with her to the police office to support her during the interview. We do not have DNA testing because it is not available in East Timor so her personal evidence and history was given to the police for processing. We continue to counsel and support her.

“It is important to spread awareness among communities that there is help available and also to educate people about the seriousness of violence. Caritas Australia has helped us to develop and print brochures about our service so that we can give them to health clinics, hospitals and police stations.”

In East Timor, Caritas Australia conducts training at the local community level on prevention of gender based violence. They also have a crucial role in organising community groups to build forums about specialised areas on the issue of violence such as community education and awareness, legal aid and law, and assistance to survivors.

Combating violence against women and girls is one of the key strategic objectives to achieving Millennium Development Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women. This goal is crucial in the commitment to halve global poverty by 2015.

Caritas Australia’s development experience has found that the empowerment of women means empowerment of the whole community. This is why our development programs, wherever possible, aim to build women’s confidence, help them find a voice and support them in leadership roles.

Such an approach encourages women to be better valued within their communities and acknowledges the vital contribution they make. If women are empowered and confident. Then they are more likely to take their place in discouraging violence, and protecting and nurturing their communities.

This material is from "OzSpirit: International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women". Copyright © 2007, Caritas and Church Resources.