Two weeks ago, Jennifer Schlecht, a leader in the field of family planning and the mother of a five-year-old, was brutally murdered by her estranged husband. He also murdered their daughter before hanging himself. Jennifer was like many of my global development colleagues: smart, passionate, and dedicated to humanitarian causes. She devoted her career to women and girls in crisis situations. And she was experiencing ongoing intimate partner abuse. She was afraid to stay and afraid to leave.
Gender-based violence knows no societal boundaries. It affects women (cis-gendered, trans, and genderqueer) in all socio-economic levels, all ages, all sexual preferences, and in every country. And gender-based violence isn’t just about physical abuse – it’s sexual and psychological abuse, financial coercion, and withholding a woman or girl’s ability to go to work or school. This is not a female problem – it is a human problem. It’s rooted in the attitudes, cultural norms, and behaviors of men worldwide. When men and boys are educated about ingrained sexist and systemic biases, they begin to see how they can stop these behaviors and practices from harming the next generation.
The LGBTQ community is also affected. Rates of intimate partner violence is actually higher than in heterosexual relationships and often underreported due to fears of discrimination and bias.
We have made progress towards SDG 5 and SDG 10, but we have an immense amount of education and work to do to meet our 2030 goals. It’s not only about helping survivors; it’s about changing the entire paradigm. SDG 5 not only sets the goal to end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere but also to eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
Last week at the Global Washington conference, I moderated a panel of experts on gender justice and gender-based violence. Joining me were Puja Dhawan, Director, Initiative to End Violence Against Girls and Women at the NoVo Foundation; Rebecca Hope, Founder and Executive Director at YLabs; and Zainab Ali Khan, Founding Working Group Member of Every Women Treaty. The discussion was engaging, honest and informative, and, it helped me to understand that while women are inherently powerful and leaders for the solutions to this issue, at its core this is a human issue, and everyone needs to be involved in understanding and stopping gender-based violence.
The Every Woman Treaty mandates that nations enact interventions that have been proven to reduce rates of violence. There are five points of action: legal, training and accountability, violence prevention education, services for survivors, and funding.
New data from the Women, Peace, and Security Index shows that in some countries, women still report up rates of intimate partner violence in the 40th percentile. One rapidly growing of harassment is tech-based – mobile phones and social media, in particular. Almost three quarters (73%) of women have endured some form of online violence.
While there are challenges and ethical issues in putting a dollar amount on such a complex issue, several studies have calculated the financial burden of GBV. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that the annual cost of intimate partner violence against women in the US exceeds $8 billion in medical and mental health care and lost productivity. A study of the cost of GBV in Bangladesh amounted to 2.05% of national GDP with majority of this cost borne by survivors and their families.
Gender-based violence only stops when women speak out and are treated as equals, not commodities. We need to establish violence prevention education to teach boys and men how to build and navigate healthy relationships. On a local, national, and global scale, we improve lives and outcomes when we believe and protect the survivors as well as insisting on transparency, domestic violence laws, education, and funding.
Whether you are in the U.S. or elsewhere, if you see a woman who is experiencing gender-based violence, ask her what is happening. Use your voice so she can find and use hers.
If you are experiencing gender-based or intimate partner violence in the U.S., please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. They are experienced, resourceful, and will help you right now.
Image: Habiba Osman carries a placard denouncing violence against women during a march in Lilongwe, Malawi, Sept. 14, 2017. (L. Masina/VOA)