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Reducing the chasm between legal reform and change for women

Violence against girls and women is rooted in nearly every other social injustice whether it be sex slavery, poverty, homelessness, human trafficking, immigrant exploitation, or racism. Despite numerous laws to protect women from violence, little has changed. How do we as a society reduce the gap between rhetoric and reality, and change the culture and mindset that condones violence against girls and women in whatever form it persists?

Photo of Janice Wong
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At the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) in March 2013, the chasm between legal reform and change for women emerged as a key challenge.

Legislative change is not, on its own, enough. Legal reform is faltering and weaknesses of implementation, under-resourcing, poor enforcement, and a failure to address the core causes of violence against women are robbing women of the power to defend themselves or their interests.

Culture and tradition are often used to obstruct progress in this field. One avenue of promise is transferring to men responsibility of the issues so often pigeonholed as "women's matters" and helping them identify the unequal power and broader injustices they see around them and respond to, rather than just ignore, injustices they witness.

In India, the award winning campaign Bell Bajao, harnesses the mantra that human rights begin at home and encourages men to take a stand against violence towards women through small acts, such as ringing the doorbell when and where they hear violence occur.

As part of the UK's police training programs, the film Banaz: A Love Story is shown to educate officers on the real threat that face many young women trapped inside honour-based cultures in Britain. "Banaz: A Love Story" is the account of an "honour" killing in south London in January 2006 when Banaz Mahmod, aged 20, was raped, murdered and her body buried in a suitcase by her family, Iraqi Kurds who felt she had dishonoured their community by deserting her abusive rapist husband and later falling in love with a man of her own choosing.  

In Germany authorities are trying to understand perpetrators as victims of their own culture and are sentencing accordingly.

Without excusing the abuse meted out on women, often men are trapped within their communities and bound by expectations they didn't necessarily ask for such as in the case of honor-based killings.

Deeply engrained systems take time to change and while positive, these actions are small parts of a very complex process. However we welcome all steps in the right direction as otherwise changes to the law itself will become hollow gestures, evoking rhetoric and having little impact on reality.


Join the conversation:

Photo of ElsaMarie Dsilva

Hi Janice,

I believe involving men into the solution is the key. Most of the judiciary, police, perpetrators, bystanders are men. If they could be more sensitive to a woman's perspective and not necessarily look at the problem as a "woman's issue" might change the way they react.

Here is an organisation that is also working to change how people intervene at the right moment without aggravating the incident or upsetting the perpetrator thereby causing potential harm to themselves.

I quote this organisation as you have also mentioned some others who are doing work in this space. We in India through Safecity are also trying to get men involved in reducing street harassment and make it a wider problem rather than a woman's problem.

Kind regards,

Photo of Janice Wong

Thank you so much for sharing this great link and resource. As it states, we can all work together and do our part to prevent violence against women and girls.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great to hear about your work with Safecity, Elsa. Perhaps you might try out our Interview Toolkit and speak to some women on the ground in low-income contexts?

And here's a friendly tip: update your OpenIDEO profile so folks can dig who they're collaborating with. Think skills, experience, passions & wit! Looking forward to seeing more of you across conversations on this challenge...