25 November: The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Karen Ingala Smith

In July 1981, at the first Feminist Conference  for Latin American and Caribbean Women in Bogota, Colombia, 25th November was declared an annual day of protest, the International Day Against Violence Against Women, in memory of three sisters who had been murdered.  Patria, Maria Teresa and Minerva Mirabel were assassinated in a ’car accident’ in the Dominican Republic in 1960. They were political activists, killed for their involvement in efforts to overthrow the fascist government of Rafael Trujillo.

On 6th December 1989,  Marc Lépine shot 14 female  students  dead and injured another 10 at the University of Montreal, Canada claiming he was ‘fighting feminism’.  This led to  a group of men in Canada launched the first White Ribbon Campaign in 1991.  This has become a global campaign to ensure men take more responsibility for reducing the level of violence against women.

On December 17, 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Increasing though, the 25th November is referred to as White Ribbon Day.  I support men’s acknowledgement of their role in ending violence against women, it is essential for this to happen if we are going to end men’s violence against women and girls.  But the campaign by men is overshadowing, not complementing, the International Day for the Elimination of  Violence Against Women.  Based on a huge assumption about the founders of White Ribbon Day,  one  might be tempted to question the race and sex dynamics at play when a campaign founded by white men eclipses a campaign founded by women of colour.

Sadly, some fail to take the time to understand even the central them of ‘White Ribbon Day’, I’ve seen a ‘white ribbon event’ described as a ‘for all victims of domestic violence, because men can be victims too’, simultaneously erasing the crucial linking of the different forms of men’s violence against women and the campaign for men to take responsibility for their violence against women.

Men’s violence against women is endemic and worldwide:

  • globally 35% of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence (World Health Organisation)
  • In Japan 15% of women reported physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime; in Ethiopia it is 71%
  • 17%of women in rural Tanzania, 24% in rural Peru, and 30% in rural Bangladesh reported their first sexual experience as forced
  • 66,000 women are killed through men’s violence every year, in the USA four women are killed though men’s violence every day

Back home, in the UK

  • 131 UK women have been killed by men this year alone
  • 3 women were beheaded in London in less than 6 months
  • So far this year, at least 11 women have been killed by their sons
  • 144 women were killed by men in 2013,  67% of them by a partner or former partner

Women’s activists have marked November 25 as a day to fight violence against women since 1981.  For me the 25th November is The International Day for the Elimination of  Violence Against Women.  It is about recognising the global nature of men’s violence against women. It is about standing side by side with my sisters.

On The International Day for the Elimination of  Violence Against Women this year, I’ll be commemorating the UK women killed through suspected male violence this year on the twitter account @countdeadwomen.  Starting on the 8th January when 87-year-old Elsie Mowbray was killed by burglar Peter Harris, 33; 22-year-old Sarah O’Neill was killed by her former boyfriend Sergio Navarrete and Sameena Zaman was killed, a crime with which Mohammed Zaman has been charged. If I start at 8.00 am, and name a woman killed by a man every 5 minutes, I’ll still be naming women 10 hours later.

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