In 2021, violence against women (VAW) remains unacceptably high. The Asia-Pacific region is no exception in this regard. Over 37% of women in South Asia, 40% of women in South-East Asia and up to 68% of women in the Pacific have experienced violence at the hands of their partners. Across Asia, studies show that 30% to 40% of women also suffer sexual harassment in the workplace.
In a webinar on “Promising Practices to Protect Women’s Rights, Help Survivors of VAW and End VAW in Asia and the Pacific”, organized on 10 December 2021, UNESCO emphasized the urgency and prevalence of VAW in the region and in the world, with distinguished speakers such as Nick Newland (Advocacy Director, Associated Country Women of the World); Boldsaikhan Sambuu (Secretary General, Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO); Madelaine Yorobe Alfelor (Mayor of Iriga City, Philippines); Urvashi Gandhi (Director-Global Advocacy, Breakthrough India, and MenEngage Alliance representative); and Francesca Borgonovi (Head of Skills Analysis, OECD Centre for Skills and British Academy Global Professor, UCL). The discussion was moderated by Mariagrazia Squicciarini (Chief of the Executive Office, Social and Human Sciences Sector, UNESCO).
The problem is very clear, and the outcome we want to achieve is also very clear. The pathway, however, remains to be defined with such clarity.
We have to provide women with equal access to education, health care, decent work and representation in political and economic decision processes as this is key to social cohesion and prosperity.
Drawing from their respective work and expertise, the panellists addressed a myriad of issues including the role of bystander mobilization, appropriate victim response and overall prevention strategies. Despite, and thanks to, the diversity of their backgrounds, they agreed on a general collaborative pathway and found consensus on one key fact: harmful gender norms and stereotypes are at the heart of VAW, and of gender inequalities more broadly.
We must be aware of the social conditions that accept violence against women, challenge those stereotypes that perpetrate myths about women deserving sexual violence, as well as extend and reinforce educational efforts that make young men and boys understand that really no level of violence can ever be acceptable.
The work is on women and protecting victims but we need to make sure that boys do not escalate and adopt or normalize behaviours that allow them to perpetrate violence.
Key takeaways included the need to increase women’s political and economic representation to enable a direct pathway towards the prioritization of their needs. Work with men and boys to deconstruct toxic societal understandings of what it means to be a man and to genuinely sensitize and mobilize them to become actors of sustainable gender-transformative change is crucial in this endeavour. Addressing VAW by using a wide array of tools including social media and long-term strategies is also key. In this way, the webinar stressed, both in content and in form, the need for multilateral cooperation and dialogue.
One lesson we learned is that multistakeholder partnerships and intersectoral cooperation need to be enhanced significantly. We need to promote the idea that VAW is an issue that everyone should be concerned with: governments, civil society, journalists, police, men and boys… Everyone should be engaged as a proactive stakeholder.
We need to walk the talk. If we continue to say that gender equality is a priority but no money is allocated to gender-related actions, and gender-related implications are not taken into account when designing and implementing policies, then gender remains a void word.
The webinar contributes to UNESCO’s Transforming MENtalities Initiative which tackles harmful gender norms of masculinity and engages men and boys as proactive and accountable allies for gender equality. For this Initiative, UNESCO has partnered with MenEngage Alliance, Promundo-US, the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, and White Ribbon. Together, they are developing a modular Action Plan for Member States to address VAW and gender inequality through contextualized promising practices, tools and recommendations, which will be piloted in countries based on local needs.