November 25 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a U.N. day designated to highlight the issue of violence against women and girls and to call for action to combat it. Over time, the day has evolved into a global, widespread initiative that now incorporates 16 Days of Activism and the UNiTE campaigns. Marking the U.N. day and the campaigns, on November 29, during a reception at Buckingham Palace, Camilla, Queen Consort, stressed that “throughout the world, individuals and organizations are coming together to call for the prevention and the elimination of violence against women and girls. Why? Because, over a period of 16 days worldwide, more than 2,000 women will be killed by a partner or a member of their own family. Because, in England and Wales alone (…) police will report that more than 3,000 women have been raped. And because, up to one in three women across the globe, will endure domestic violence in the course of their lifetime. Behind every one of these statistics lie individual stories of human suffering and heartbreak.”
Queen Consort remembered a few of the women and girls who lost their lives this year in the U.K.: “we remember Brenda Blainey, Mariam Kamara, Lucy Powell, Samantha Drummonds, Yasmin Begum, Sally Turner, Hina Bashir, Jillu Nash and her 12-year-old daughter Louise, to name but a very few of those who have been killed this year alone. And we remember – because we cannot forget – all the other women and girls who died in similarly horrific circumstances.”
Queen Consort emphasized that “we are uniting today to confront, rightly, what has rightly been called a global pandemic of violence against women. Faced with such challenges, it can be hard to know what practical steps we can take to even begin to make a difference.” Indeed, despite international campaigns, the situation of women and girls globally continues to be severe, and affected by crises. As U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres stressed that “violence against women and girls is the most pervasive human rights violation in the world.” He added that “every 11 minutes, a woman or girl is killed by an intimate partner or family member — and we know that other stresses, from the COVID-19 pandemic to economic turmoil, inevitably lead to even more physical and verbal abuse. Women and girls also face rampant online violence, from misogynistic hate speech to sexual harassment, image abuse and grooming by predators.” Indeed, since the pandemic began, 45% of women reported that they or a woman they know has experienced a form of violence. 7 in 10 women said they think that verbal or physical abuse by a partner has become more common. 6 in 10 felt that sexual harassment in public spaces has worsened. 85% of women globally have experienced or witnessed digital violence against other women.
Queen Consort was also joined by Queen Rania of Jordan, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Queen Mathilde of Belgium, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska, the First Lady of Sierra Leone Fatima Bio, all joining the call to raise awareness about violence against women and girls. Indeed, during her visit to the U.K., including addressing the Ministerial Conference on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI), First Lady Olena Zelenska has been raising the situation of women and girls in Ukraine as a result of Putin’s war, the issue of rape and sexual violence used as a weapon of war by Russia, “a type of weapon with which they fight against Ukraine and our people.” As Ukraine’s First Lady said during the conference, sexual violence is being used “systematically and openly” and the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine has documented more than 100 cases of sexual violence, with the youngest victim being only 4 years old, and the oldest over 80. However, as Olena Zelenska stressed, “these are only those cases where the victims found the strength to testify.”
The issue of conflict-related sexual violence, which significantly, but not exclusively, targets women and girls, requires urgent attention. However, the issue of violence against women and girls is much greater than the violence experienced in conflict. Women and girls continue to be killed and abused in countries which have not seen conflict for a long time. Violence against women and girls is all around us. It is a pandemic and it is worse than the COVID-19 pandemic because we are not even close to finding a way to address it, let alone prevent it.