No real conversation on women’s rights can happen without addressing the sheer scale of violence directed towards women in society today. We may think of dedicated days as superficial, but the truth is that even a single day for a cause such as this helps in spreading awareness about women’s issues in society today. In this context, the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is a highly welcome one.
Let’s get straight to the facts. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence, predominantly by a romantic or intimate partner. While violence against women and girls (VAWG) has been a common occurrence for decades, the pandemic brought to the fore these concerns even more. As per 2021 data from UN Women, since COVID-19, 45% of women reported that they experienced a form of VAWG or knew someone who had. Additionally, 70% (7 in 10) of women feel that verbal and/or physical abuse by a partner is becoming increasingly commonplace.
This isn’t limited to only intimate settings, for 6 in 10 women also feel that they are not safe in public places and sexual harassment has worsened outside. Closer to home, in Asia-Pacific, 75% of women have experienced sexual harassment. Additionally, in East Asia and the Pacific, women and girls comprise 68% of all trafficked persons. As for the social evil of child marriage, that continues to be rampant too, with 44% of all child brides being from East Asia. Data from the international NGO—Girls Not Brides—shows that 12 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year in Southeast Asia. These are staggering numbers that bear testimony to how grave the situation is at the moment.
Protecting women from violence
With domestic violence cases against women being a pertinent issue around the world and in Singapore as well, the Women’s Charter, specifically Part VII titled “Protection of Family”, paves the legal way to ensure protection of women from domestic or family violence. Domestic or family violence occurs when one is wilfully placing a family member in fear or hurt among other things.
However, the biggest change that further ensured the protection of women from family violence occurred with the Criminal Law Reform Act 2019. Prior to the change, marital rape (non-consensual sexual intercourse between married spouses) had partial immunity from legal prosecution. Post January 2020, married women are now also protected from sexual assault from their husbands. This is an important development since most statistics show that the perpetrators of sexual violence are usually close/known people. In fact, 20,000 women in Asia were killed by intimate partners or family members in 2017.
Again, it cannot be overemphasised that awareness about violence in all its manifestations is critical. Some of the broad categories of such violence that women are subjected to include intimate partner violence, sexual violence and harassment, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, and child marriage.
Women and the workplace
When it comes to the topic of harassment, in particular, it’s easy to assume that it is only physical in nature. The fact, however, is that harassment at the workplace takes many forms, from the subtle expectation of sexual favours to downright exploitation. Activist Tarana Burke’s Metoo movement was a prime example of how such abuse is not only prevalent but rampant around the world.
In Singapore, when asked about the most prevalent types of workplace discrimination that Singaporeans have personally experienced in a 2021 Blackbox poll, sexism and sexual harassment both figured in the list of top 5. Again, it’s important to understand that violence has many forms—physical, emotional, and mental.
As public sentiments in our poll clearly reveal, the time to act on workplace discrimination is now, so the Singapore Government certainly has its work cut out. But the responsibility falls equally on organisations themselves who must adopt stricter policies and action plans in place to prevent and address such issues. The role of leadership and an empowered Human Resources (HR) department cannot be overemphasised here.
A gender-equal society is the way forward
Violence, regardless of the way in which it is meted out, leads to lasting physical and mental health challenges and concerns that deny victims the opportunity to lead a basic human life of dignity and worth. If not tackled with a sense of urgency, there is a real threat of creating a society where women simply do not feel safe anymore, leading to a host of challenges and general breakdown of society’s values and sense of cohesion.
All days such as Women’s Day, Men’s Day, Mother’s Day, and many more end up being lip service in the absence of concrete action plans and strategies to combat the issues facing society today. While the role of governments, organisations, and law enforcement is undoubtedly critical, more awareness and education at the school level itself to sensitise all genders about such issues would go a long way in ensuring a respectful, peaceful society.
Regardless of the genders, roles, and identities such days represent, the end goal is clear: a kinder and more respectful world for all. Companies with inclusive work cultures, governments with valuable policy protections, and individuals with their agency to do better can achieve such a world. To know how each stakeholder can contribute, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Blackbox Research Team