Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which marks the start of the global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The diplomatic missions of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden call on all stakeholders in Myanmar – men and women alike – to participate in ending violence against women and girls.
Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread human rights violations across the world. It bears devastating costs for the survivors and their families, and affects all levels of society. Gender-based violence runs on a spectrum, which includes harassment, sexual assault, rape, human trafficking, intimate partner violence and death. Regressive gender norms and biases, ineffective laws, policies and social institutions all contribute to its persistence. These challenges are pertinent in Myanmar, as they are in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
During this year’s 16 Days campaign, survivors, activists, as well as women’s networks and organisations in Myanmar and across the world are rallying around the slogan “Generation Equality Stands Against Rape”. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience abuse or sexual violence in her lifetime. Myanmar is no exception. Women and girls of ethnic minorities and displaced peoples are extra vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence due to their double victimisation, as both women and girls as well as members of these vulnerable groups.
Yet, victims of gender-based violence rarely come forward and seek justice. This is due to a lack of trust in or simply the non-availability of violence response services as well as the fear of stigma. In situations of armed conflict and intercommunal violence, which exacerbate violence against women and girls, women may also fear deeply for their families and community members. Conflicts affect women and men long after the cessation of hostilities, and interventions to end violence against women and girls are essential to building peace and security.
Discussion, learning from the experiences of survivors, is needed in order to develop comprehensive approaches and broad-based awareness and understanding required for tackling the issue. The role of the government in supporting and facilitating this process is essential. Changing the way we think about gender norms and stereotypes; building nonviolent social norms; and engaging men and boys, are similarly essential. The full enjoyment of human rights for women and girls must become a reality; this includes combating all forms of violence and discrimination that restrict their freedom and possibility to participate fully in every aspect of society.
Through our development cooperation with government and civil society actors in Myanmar, the Nordic countries supports initiatives to advance such discussions and transformation. We see promising results through greater awareness of gender-based violence at the community level, increased number of male leaders role modelling gender equality, and increased provision and uptake of violence response services, for example.
During the 16 Days campaign, women’s networks and organisations in Myanmar continue their rallying for the adoption of a national Prevention of Violence Against Women (PoVAW) Law compliant with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which Myanmar ratified in 1997. The adoption of the PoVAW Law is a crucial opportunity for the government of Myanmar to effectively combat violence against women. This law should also consider the rights and needs of ethnic and religious minorities and women living in conflict-affected areas.
Legislation is indeed important, as it is an expression of the essential values embraced by society. Legislation must exist not only on paper but be implemented in coordination with all relevant stakeholders, which include law enforcement agencies, health care professionals, teachers, and civil society. This we know from experience in our own countries.
Today, on the 25th of November, we reiterate our call to the authorities of Myanmar to adopt and enact comprehensive legislation to protect women and girls from violence, and call on all stakeholders in Myanmar, men and women alike, to participate in ending violence against women and girls.