Fight against gender-based violence is everybody’s job

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Juha Pyykkö - The Philippine Star

It is still prevalent in all our societies – gender-based violence or GBV. More than one in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. Violence against women and girls is a serious human rights violation, and it negatively affects women’s general well-being, their families, their community and the country at large. It has tremendous costs, from greater strains on health care to legal expenses and losses in productivity.

At least 155 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, and 140 have legislation on sexual harassment in the workplace. But challenges remain in enforcing these laws. Not enough is done to prevent violence, and when it does occur, it often goes unpunished.

At the global level, a women’s right to live free from violence is upheld by international agreements such as the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The Philippines was the first ASEAN country to ratify the Convention in 1981. UN Women is the central United Nations Agency working on the issue, partnering with other institutions to find ways to prevent violence against women and girls. Prevention is still the most cost-effective, long-term way to stop violence.

In Europe, the Council of Europe is a European Inter-Governmental Organization with 46 member-states, covering some 700 million inhabitants, working to promote democracy, rule of law and human rights across Europe and beyond. The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence from 2014, called the Istanbul Convention, is a landmark treaty opening the path for creating a legal framework at pan-European level to protect women against all forms of violence and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence. Importantly, the Istanbul Convention is open to countries outside of the Council of Europe.

The Istanbul Convention is based on the premise that no single agency can deal with violence against women alone. The Convention calls on all societal institutions and all members of society, in particular boys and men, to help reach its goal.

The Convention has a strong focus on prevention. State parties will have to, among other things, take steps to include gender equality in teaching materials, set up treatment programs for perpetrators of domestic violence, work closely with NGOs and involve media and the private sector in eradicating gender stereotypes and promoting mutual respect.

Furthermore, the Istanbul Convention defines and criminalizes the various forms of violence against women as well as domestic violence. This entails that the law enforcement agencies will have to respond to calls for help, collect evidence and assess the risk of further violence to adequately protect the victim. Furthermore, state parties will have to carry out judicial proceedings in a manner that respects the rights of victims avoiding secondary victimization.

In my native country Finland, we have been struggling with the challenge of gender-based violence for decades. The Istanbul Convention entered into force in Finland on Aug. 1, 2015. The results of a recent Finnish GBV survey indicate that the prevalence of violence against women is very high in Finland, amongst the highest in the EU. At the same time, the willingness to report about experiences of GBV in Finland is quite high.

In the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, various reforms have recently been undertaken in Finland: further skilling of youth workers about online risks, such as grooming and sexual violence against children and young people; further training of the police to prevent and recognize violence against women better. The key change in legislation is that since Jan. 1, 2023, the definition of rape is now based on lack of consent. In terms of protection, shelter services have been further increased.

One avenue for involving boys and men in the battle against violence against women is the work done by civil society organizations. This work is importantly progressing in the Philippines, as well. In Finland, ‘Miessakit’ Association – meaning ‘a bunch of men’ – is a non-governmental expert organization established to support the mental, psychological and social growth of men and to improve boys’ and men’s life skills so as to, in this broader context, fight inclination for violence against women, as well. Under this national level umbrella, the objective at the local level is to gather boys and men across the country into small groups for discussing issues on being a man and using each other as mirrors to find material for personal growth.

Violence against women is pervasive because misogynistic attitudes towards women persist. Each and every one of us can help challenge gender stereotypes, harmful traditional practices and discrimination against women – an effort where boys and men need to engage, everywhere in the world. Attitudes, mindsets, societal structures and legislation need to change. It takes education. The change starts with oneself.

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Juha Pyykkö is the Ambassador of Finland to the Philippines.

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