As you know, on the 8th of March, the whole world was celebrating the International Women’s Day (IWD). On this occasion, WILPF attended a side event of the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) on how to involve youth in the struggle to end violence against women and girls. On that same day, we also attended three different discussions organised by the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH), all of them focusing on the daily violence women have to face around the world.

Rape as a weapon of war

The discussions during the FIFDH mainly focused on the issue of rape, which is the major human rights violation women face (300 000 cases of rape are reported each year!).

Photo of the panel on sexual violence at the FIFDHIn the UN Security Council resolution 1820, systematic rape is defined as a weapon of war; it constitutes a massive crime, exacerbated in times of conflict. Indeed, during internal and international conflicts, a woman’s body becomes a battlefield. It is particularly the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is arguably, according to the statistics, the epicentre of sexual violence against women today.

The panellists reminded us that rape and women trafficking are committed not only by military groups and rebel groups, but sometimes also by UN peacekeepers, which is even more appalling! During the various debates, most of the panellists and stakeholders denounced the lack of efficiency of the United Nations and its peacekeepers and their failure to protect women in conflict and post-conflict contexts.

In the very touching and inspiring film Difficult Love, Zanele Muholi, who defines herself as a visual activist, provides a glimpse into her life and reveals the challenges faced by black lesbians in South Africa. Indeed, the film shows that in many African countries, including South Africa, many people keep thinking homosexuality is a “white” thing. Zanele denounces, in particular, corrective rape, which is committed against lesbian women because of their sexual orientation.

Check out her interview where she is talking about her documentary:

The difficulties of accessing justice

The documentary Outlawed in Pakistan, directed by Habiba Nosheen and Hilke Schellmann, showed us that violence against women does not end after the rape, but continues if victims want to seek justice. Outlawed in Pakistan follows Kainat, a young Pakistani woman who was raped by four men at the age of 12, and now wants to prosecute her rapists. Yet, her fight for justice turns out to be a lot more complicated than expected: the Pakistani legal system is far from efficient and is often indifferent, even terribly unfair, to women.

This raises the issue of women’s access to justice: indeed, the film reminded us of the great number of prejudices women have to face in their quest for justice. Kainat and her family have to overcome many obstacles in seeking to obtain justice before a judicial system that is corrupted and favours rapists; they risk their own lives and have to live under the permanent protection of the police, only because they are seeking justice.

Education and awareness-raising

Photo of a side event on violence against womenDuring the discussions, the panellists stressed that women’s situation on the ground is getting worse and worse despite the UN resolutions, the laws, the conventions and so on. Indeed, they insisted on the fact that there was legislative progress, but victims don’t see any changes on the ground, owing to the lack of concrete measures that would complement the laws. It is therefore absolutely essential to educate both girls and boys and to raise awareness about women’s human rights through a holistic approach.

Panellists also underscored that today we have a fantastic communication tool to educate and raise awareness: social media. It provides space for young people to engage, discuss and share. WILPF believes that social media is a way to take activism beyond what is reported in the mainstream news and to informally educate men and women – youth in particular – to human rights.

Also, we should not forget to involve and integrate men and boys in our struggle to end prejudice and violence against women. Yet, it is necessary to be careful to send the right message to men and boys, since most of them are still under the impression that their main role is to play the protectors…

What do you think? Do you have any original ideas on how to involve men and raise awareness about rape? Share your opinion, we would love to hear from you!