UN Women: Rewriting the narrative is key to addressing sexual violence

Date: Thursday, December 19, 2019

Author: Nancy Mitchell

Photo: UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking
Photo: UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking

Bangkok, Thailand — Sexual violence remains prevalent and devastating, despite recent efforts around the world. More is needed to fundamentally change the narrative and make this violation of the rights of women and girls unacceptable, including commitments at work, in schools and in homes.

That was the key message underscored through deeply personal and powerful stories, a fireside chat with experts, and thrilling performances at the regional commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on the margins of the Beijing +25 Asia Pacific Ministerial Conference.

“We have to be a lot angrier about the situation of the epidemic of violence against women”, said Anita Bhatia, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women.

Worldwide, on average, one in three women experiences some form of violence or abuse during her lifetime. In many countries of the region, that figure is considerably higher.

To illustrate this statistic, every third person in the audience of 400 was invited to stand up by Anna-Karin Jatfors, Deputy Regional Director of UN Women Asia and the Pacific.

“If this room was all female, that would mean that a third of you will experience or have experienced some form of violence at some point in your life,” she said in her opening remarks.

“For the men in the room, think of all the women in your life. Imagine a third of those women experiencing physical or sexual violence at least once in their lives. The prevalence of violence is astronomical, and has real, devastating consequences.”

Anna-Karin Jatfors delivering opening remarks. Photo: UN Women/Sarapat Plus Co., Ltd
Anna-Karin Jatfors delivering opening remarks. Photo: UN Women/Sarapat Plus Co., Ltd.
Cindy Bishop sharing her personal story. Photo: UN Women/Siraphob Werakijpanich
Cindy Bishop sharing her personal story. Photo: UN Women/Siraphob Werakijpanich
Natasha Noel sharing her personal story. Photo: UN Women/Siraphob Werakijpanich
Natasha Noel sharing her personal story. Photo: UN Women/Siraphob Werakijpanich

UN Women’s Rewrite the Narrative launch event included a discussion about the issue of inequality and sexual gender-based violence. Guests heard the real and raw impacts that gender-based violence has on individuals, families, and communities from survivor-activists of violence.

“Rewriting the narrative can be as simple as calling out sexual harassment when you hear it, not using language that objectifies women, or talking to your son about consent and respect,” said Cindy Bishop, TV host, model, actress, and founder of #DontTellMeHowToDress. “Every one of us has the power to make a difference and collectively write a new story of hope, healing, empowerment, and change.”

A fireside chat followed featuring Dubravka Simonovic, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, and Deputy Executive Director Bhatia. Both highlighted the importance of early-age prevention and the need for institutions to adopt zero-tolerance for violence against women policies to show that violence of any kind will not be tolerated at any establishment.

Fireside chat featuring Dubravka Simonovic and Anita Bhatia and moderated by Anna-Karin Jatfors. Photo: UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking
Fireside chat featuring Dubravka Simonovic and Anita Bhatia and moderated by Anna-Karin Jatfors. Photo: UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking

Thematic, artistic dancing and drum performances reflecting on the consequences of violence and the possibilities for empowerment got participants off their feet and encouraged them to challenge the status quo of violence against women.

Def-G Dance Troop setting a tone of hope and empowerment. Photo: UN Women/Sarapat Plus Co., Ltd.
Def-G Dance Troop setting a tone of hope and empowerment. Photo: UN Women/ Sarapat Plus Co., Ltd.
Guests dancing to the drum performance. Photo: UN Women/Siraphob Werakijpanich
Guests dancing to the drum performance. Photo: UN Women/Siraphob Werakijpanich

The event ultimately garnered concrete commitments toward fighting equality and violence on behalf of ministers, ambassadors, and members of civil society, including:

“To talk to younger members of my family about the meaning of consent”

“To bring up my sons to be respectful to all women and raise their voice against violence against women wherever and whenever they see it”

“To make the topic of ending violence against women the mainstream agenda of governments in the region”

“To continue to use my voice and my platform to speak out against violence against women and girls”

This year’s theme for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence is Orange the world: Generation Equality Stands Against Rape. Orange refers to the colour of the campaign, used to drape public spaces or worn on clothing in solidarity. Generation Equality is a recent UN Women campaign in the context of the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for action, a landmark international agreement on women’s rights.

Given the alarming statistic that 15 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 worldwide have been subject to forced sexual acts, the Generation Equality Stands Against Rape theme will be the focus of both 2019 and 2020 campaigns.

Guests share their concrete and tangible commitments for change. Photo: UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking
Guests share their concrete and tangible commitments for change. Photo: UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking
Guests share their concrete and tangible commitments for change. Photo: UN Women/Siraphob Werakijpanich
Guests share their concrete and tangible commitments for change. Photo: UN Women/Siraphob Werakijpanich

Associated participants of this event include:

Cindy Bishop, TV host, model, actress, and founder of #DontTellMeHowToDress; Dubravka Simonovic, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; and Natasha Noel, survivor-activist, social media influencer, and yogini.

16 Days of Activism is a UN Women international campaign challenging violence against women and girls held annually from November 25th, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, until December 10th, Human Rights Day.

The UN Women 16 Days of Activism launch event took amidst the Beijing Platform for Action 25th Anniversary Commemoration (Beijing +25). 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995). Considered to be the most visionary agenda for the human rights of women and girls, the Beijing Platform for Action, signed by 189 governments, commits to the removal of systemic barriers that hold women back from equal participation in all areas of life.