Endemic violence against women and girls
A wave of anger marked March 2021 as thousands took to the streets to protest against violence and discrimination against women. The contexts varied enormously across settings such as Turkey, Australia, Mexico, the UK and the US, but the frustration was universal. Many women recounted the fear they live with and a sense of hopelessness and helplessness in the face of the situation. And yet, the strength of these conversations inspires measured optimism for the future.
In this gloomy picture, however, lurks the potential for optimism. Precisely because of its foundational character, adolescence is a window of opportunity to establish healthier gender dynamics. The report stresses that violence against women is not inevitable and urges that prevention programs be more widely tested and scaled up. Profound societal changes are needed, starting with creating gender equality that encompasses economic empowerment and access to education. Real change also requires a fundamental questioning of social norms around gender roles and behaviors, which adolescent health professionals are well placed to do.
The WHO report is a valuable addition to the increasingly open discussions of gender-based violence in recent years, as women reveal their experiences. The speech is a step towards creating a new reality, and the breadth of the discussions today should give us hope that change is possible in the future. To end violence against women, these discussions must cover all genders – with much greater reflection of men and boys on their role in this issue – and they must include adolescents, whose participation offers the promise of changing cultural norms, creating more gender-equitable societies, and developing healthy relationships.
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