A third of all women experience violence – it’s time to be bold for change
However, this year’s theme, Be Bold for Change, poses a challenge to each and every one of us. It is a rallying call for everyone everywhere to step up and act to end the gender inequality between men and women.
This year Islamic Relief is calling you to be bold for change and tackle an issue that affects a third of all women – violence. We are calling on Muslims and non-Muslims alike around the world to stand up and be counted when it comes to ending violence against women and girls.
One in three women and girls worldwide will suffer some form of physical or sexual abuse in their lifetimes. This is often by those closest to them, with two women a week in England and Wales being killed as a result of domestic violence at the hands of a current or former partner.
Such violence, controlling and coercive behaviour, and spousal abuse must end. The health and happiness of our children, our families and our communities are in jeopardy if we continue to allow women and girls to be beaten and abused.
Violence against women and girls is universal and transcends religious and cultural barriers, whether Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jew or no faith at all. However, the sad truth is that many people use religious tradition to justify violence against women. This is why Islamic Relief is working with Islamic scholars and other faith groups to challenge and demystify religious and cultural justifications for domestic violence, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation / cutting.
Another barrier to ending violence against women is the stigma that still exists when those who suffer come forward, which in turn prevents people from seeking help and allows perpetrators to escape justice. The Muslim Women’s Network estimates that in the UK alone incidents of domestic violence account for one call from the public to the police every minute, with only about one third of incidents even reported.
Let us be clear, Islam prohibits all forms of oppression and injustice, and Muslims scholars agree that Islam does not allow any form of abuse. Whilst the majority of faith groups and organisations do not condone violence against women in any form, faith communities must do more to help end it once and for all. Not only do we need to stop individuals using religion to justify misogyny and violence, we also need to challenge this stigma; empowering women to speak out and providing support for them when they do so.
Islamic Relief believes that in order to end violence against women, not only do we need to prevent it from happening but we also need to empower women around the world by giving them access to education and financial independence.
Our Invisible Lives report, published last year, looked at how the international community is failing Syrian women refugees and highlights the link between the risk of violence against women and fewer Syrian female refugees taking up jobs and working. Research conducted in 2015 by a consortium including UN Women and the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR found that these women’s main challenges in accessing work included sexual aggression and violence by their husbands, male family members, colleagues, neighbours, police, government employees and NGO staff.
Through Islamic Microfinance Loans around the world Islamic Relief is helping women to set up co-operatives that provides them with the start-up funding they need for their small businesses. These projects give women power over their own lives and futures, perhaps for the first time in traditional patriarchal societies.
We want to see a world where all women and girls are not seen and treated as second-class citizens but are free to be themselves and shape their own destiny.
Join us this international women’s day and pledge to #BeBoldForChange, helping to end violence against women and girls once and for all.