November 24th, 2012
07:33 PM ET

A year of progress in eliminating violence against women

By Janet Walsh, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Janet Walsh is the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights divisionYou can follow her on Twitter: @JanetHRW. The views expressed are her own.

“If I looked nice, he hit me,” Ana L., a mother of five in Colombia, told me.

Ana (not her real name) detailed years of abuse by her partner. He beat her when she was pregnant, and hit her head so hard that she suffered permanent vision damage. She sought help from a prosecutor’s office, but they never charged him, and failed to offer Ana an order for protection. Ana said she lived in a two-room house with 14 people, and struggled to feed her children. A dismal situation, but Ana was anything but dismal the day we spoke earlier this year. Surrounded by strong women in a community organization fighting for women’s rights, Ana’s voice rang out as she described helping other women, as well as her plans to start her own business.

In my line of work – human rights research and advocacy – violence against women and girls is a constant. My colleagues and I interview hundreds of women and girls around the world every year who endure domestic violence, rape, trafficking, female genital mutilation, and other abuses. We hear women’s accounts of cruelty, but also of resilience and courage. Many survivors go on to campaign to stop the violence, and to force their governments to act.

On November 25 every year, a grim accounting takes place: the world takes stock of violence against women, the toll it takes, and progress toward eliminating it. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women has been commemorated on November 25 for more than three decades. It’s a day each year when my colleagues and I focus on the courageous women we have met, the injustices they’ve suffered, and the hope they inspire.

Over the past year, progress, both big and small, has been made in efforts to reduce violence against women and to improve governments’ response.

Take Afghanistan. Women and girls there face extraordinarily high levels of violence. But rather than protecting victims, Afghan courts often jail them. About half of the women in prison and close to 100 percent of the girls in juvenile detention in Afghanistan are imprisoned for either “running away” from home (which is not even a crime under Afghan law) or being suspected of engaging in sex outside of marriage. Human Rights Watch interviewed women and girls in Afghan prisons, and found that most had fled home to escape domestic violence or forced marriage. Some had been raped and then convicted for unmarried sex. Judges ruled against them on the flimsiest of evidence, and prosecutors routinely failed to bring charges against the abusers.

But exposing this injustice and pressuring the government made a difference. In April 2012, Afghanistan’s attorney general issued instructions that girls who run away for the purpose of getting married are not to be prosecuted. In September, the Afghan parliament held a meeting on the issue where the minister of justice and a deputy minister of interior publicly confirmed that “running away” is not a crime and there should be no arrests or prosecutions under this charge. This is far from the end goal, but important progress nonetheless.

Or take the situation of domestic workers. There are some 50 million to 100 million domestic workers worldwide, the vast majority women and girls. Domestic workers face a wide range of serious abuses and labor exploitation, and some suffer physical and sexual abuse by employers.

“The woman [her employer] beat me whenever I did something she didn’t like,” Fatima K., a child domestic worker in Morocco, told us earlier this year. “She beat me with anything she found in front of her. Sometimes with a wooden stick, sometimes with her hand, sometimes with a plastic pipe.” Hundreds of domestic workers in dozens of other countries have described to Human Rights Watch physical abuse by employers ranging from slaps to severe beatings using shoes, belts, sticks or household implements; knocking heads against walls; and burning skin with irons.

Fortunately, in 2012, enough countries ratified a landmark international treaty on domestic workers to trigger it coming into force next year. The International Labour Organization’s Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers establishes the first global labor standards for domestic workers worldwide, and includes specific protections against abuse, harassment, and violence.

Fatima told us, “I would like to do a job to keep girls from working as child domestic workers because I know how they feel.” We have a long way to go in combating violence against women and girls, but with Ana, Fatima, and countless others like them in the fight, perhaps next November 25 we’ll have less to mourn – and more to celebrate.

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Topics: Women

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. deniz boro

    Abused women who do not know what ABUSE stands for gets more or less into a stage where they do not know what is happening to them. They may think they have been abused because they misbehaived. And they may also think this abuse is done for their own good.
    So Janet Walsh you might as well give an easy to understand account of a women's psychology who is being abused. Because if you ask her she will never say that her life is anything different.

    November 24, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Reply
  2. deniz boro

    Also, abuse to women goes in the society. Fathers do it...so the husbands do it. It's a part of life. And when the husbands do it to the girls, it is accepted on the same paralel.
    On the Men side, it is just the same. Their father hit them when they did wrong, so they hit their kids. etc.etc.

    November 24, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Reply
    • deniz boro

      I recently learned that there are men who bit their partners when they are angry. When you get down to the primary description o human psycology: ID -EGO- SUPEREGO....Well bitting sadly falls into ID.

      March 27, 2013 at 11:11 am | Reply
  3. deniz boro

    I guess the most sensible way to educate them all is to define the word ABUSE to them all. Because abusing any other creature is a sin in Muslim. We have ways of butchering an animal in which it will not have any terror or pain.That is why Muslim people only eat HALAL meat.
    Please express abuse in this context.

    November 24, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    Violence against women doesn't necessarily be physical. Pakistan's Malala is a perfect example. She was shot because she voiced girls' right to education.

    November 26, 2012 at 4:53 am | Reply
  5. krm1007 ©™

    50 million girls in India have gone missing in 3 generations through practices like infanticide, feticide, deliberate starvation, dowry murders, bride trafficking, honor killings and witch hunts !!!! We need to demand accountability and action from the Indian Hindus and the Indian Brahmin government to stop female genocide in India forthwith. It is immoral, illegal, against all civilized norms, against the principles of most religions and above all it setting a bad example for all the neighboring countries. We strongly urge you to join this movement that is now ongoing on all social media.

    November 26, 2012 at 9:54 am | Reply
  6. deniz boro

    It will not stop untill parents see their female children as something else but cattle to exchange for something lse. . However, I can not propose any means since "girl child rights" are not very well established in Turkey.

    November 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  7. G HUBBARD

    abused women face tough q

    November 28, 2012 at 10:30 am | Reply
  8. deniz boro

    To get to a higher up advanced stage... Some people just can not deal with the freedom offered by a democratic state which offers basic human rights. They still need to be ruled around just like 9-11 year children who need an autority figure to lead them.
    Physical abuse is the extreme form of abuse. It's like giving a dog an electric shock to make it "take the commant". Rather than teaching it how to act.
    Well it took Erick Fromm a whole book to explain the current needs of people. Is it democracy? or is it a form of sentimental/ religious belongingness.
    Who is the father/ authority figure here?
    So many people are afraid to deciide and take their life in their hands that they would rather take a beating to have a secure place in life.

    May 2, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Reply

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