One in three women worldwide will experience violence in her lifetime. They are subjected to brutal violations of their human rights. Many are denied justice at the most fundamental level. On February 14, 2014, the world will come together for One Billion Rising for Justice to demand justice for survivors and an end to all violence against women and girls.
At the World Future Council, we will mark the occasion by opening nominations for the 2014 Future Policy Award, which this year will focus on uncovering the best laws and policies that strive to end violence against women. The gross injustices that women and girls are subjected to, and which can occur in any country on the planet, often leave us feeling overwhelmed and powerless. But the World Future Council focuses on spreading innovative and proven solutions, which already exist. We identify concrete laws and policies, which provide the necessary foundation and enabling framework for all other measures to not only protect women and girls, but also hold perpetrators to account and change mind sets that perpetuate violence.
If we look back just a few decades, governments did not even perceive themselves to have a role in addressing violence against women and girls. Violence within families was considered a purely private matter and systematic violence was often protected by claims of "culture" or "tradition." Many crimes against women were not even defined as such. This has changed. In the past few decades, legal and policy responses to violence against women have been introduced at the international, regional, national and local levels. They address violence against women in the family, in the community, in times of war and of peace and in the migration process, to name, but a few. They challenge the notion that "culture" can justify human rights abuses, or that husbands "own" their wives.
Yes, things have changed. But violence continues to undermine women and girls' equal participation in all spheres of life. Still today, 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered a crime. And even in countries where rape and intimate partner violence are punishable acts, most women do not report the crimes committed against them. Measuring the phenomenon remains a challenge: the collection and analysis of data on violence against women seems to have remained a tragically low priority for too many decision-makers.
Perceptions and attitudes that cause or justify violence against women also continue to be omnipresent and unchallenged. Wherever in the world we live, there are people who believe that a woman must have somehow "provoked" her rapist or attacker, that she should have known better and avoided a certain situation, or that she should have defended herself with more vigor. These attitudes are particularly harmful when held by those in power, those in charge of implementing the very laws and policies that are supposed to protect women. Too often, the result is impunity for the perpetrators and the denial of justice for the victims. We must find ways to alter mind sets that trivialize or justify violence when it is committed against women. The burden of responsibility for rape and abuse must be shifted once and for all from the victim to the perpetrator.
Violence against women and girls affects all of us, and men need to be as active and outspoken against violence as women have been for a long time. Men must be included as "part of the solution," not in the least because, in most parts of the world, they still constitute the majority of legislators and policy-makers.
In the coming months, the World Future Council will identify the most innovative and successful laws and policies to tackle violence against women and girls. After all, "Laws," said Martin Luther King, "do not move the heart but they restrain the heartless." They are the road that we are taking on our journey towards justice for all.