If you bring up the topic of violence against woman to 10 people anywhere in the world, you’ll likely get 10 opinions about how common it is, why it happens, and how to eliminate it.
Reading experts’ assessments yields a similar variety of causes and solutions. For example, according to one recent study in Nicaragua, about 1 in 8 Nicaraguan women and men report that domestic violence occurs in their homes. Many other sources suggest that the rate is much higher. The tragedy of violence against women is one that casts its shadow in Nicaragua, in the United States, and in every country and at every social and economic level.
In countries around the world, violence against women takes place in and outside the home. The violence includes murders, beatings, sexual assault, psychological abuse, and other forms. Gender violence affects families, economies, and communities’ safety and security.
Law 779, Nicaragua’s newly passed comprehensive law on violence against women, takes a strong stand on the unacceptability of all forms of violence against women. Laws are just one part of the solution. The next critical step is to work together to improve implementation of this and other laws in order to increase accountability and address impunity.
Breaking the cycle of violence also requires increased advocacy and more interaction between policymakers and those who work in the field. Communities, local governments, and non-governmental organizations each have a role to play.
Two Nicaraguan organizations that have had successes are Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres (The Autonomous Women’s Movement) and Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia (The Women’s Network against Violence).
We need to empower girls to speak up for themselves, and educate boys to speak up for their sisters. We must support the inclusion of men, boys, and other critical community stakeholders – such as religious leaders – in addressing and preventing violence and changing gender attitudes.
Last year, I had the good fortune to meet with Shirley Jones, a U.S. citizen originally from Honduras who has spent decades working on intervention programs that address the underlying causes of violence. Shirley advocates for the inclusion of men in approaching and solving the problem, and she has achieved remarkable results by educating men to reevaluate their relationships with women and changing their behavior.
But the real key to solving the problem is to overcome the deep-rooted gender inequalities that either tacitly allow or actively promote violent, discriminatory practices.
Today kicks off 16 days of activism leading up to International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. This 16-day period also highlights other significant dates, including: Nov. 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day; Dec. 1, World AIDS Day; and Dec. 6, which marks the Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, when 14 women engineering students were gunned down for being feminists.
These 16 days remind us that violence against women is a violation of human rights. We must recognize that violence against girls and women is, at its root, a manifestation of the low status of women and girls around the world. Ending the violence requires elevating the status of women and girls and freeing their potential to be agents of change in their communities.
Phyllis Powers is U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua.
Read The Nicaragua Dispatch’s two-part interview with Ambassador Powers here.