Violence against women and girls in the Sustainable Development Goals

Lee Webster | Nov 30, 2016
ZWLA staff working on SDG Goal 5
During 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, our Head of Policy and Communications - Lee Webster - blogs about how solidarity and support for women's movements will help bring an end to violence against women.

Achievements made by ordinary people doing extraordinary things

It is proven beyond doubt that any positive change in our lives, any advance in rights, reduction in inequality or poverty, is not handed out on a plate by benevolent politicians, it is demanded, campaigned for by ordinary women and men, by movements of people who want a better world for themselves, their families and communities.

Now, let me tell you about a particular group of people, working with and within these movements all levels, often leading from the front, always to be found adding their expertise, experience and unrivalled passion. You may have guessed it, it’s not a mystery, I’m talking about women’s rights organisations.

I have seen movements come together, in small villages in Ethiopia, in capital cities of Zimbabwe and Mozambique and in international spaces such as the United Nations. They all have been united under a common injustice or problem, and they have a vision of a better world. This is what the Standing Rock protectors in North Dakota have in common with the Fees Must Fall campaigners in South Africa, with the Black Lives Matter movement, with the Delhi women who led street protests after the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in 2012. And these movements are just the tip of the iceberg, just the ones that make the news.

Just as important are thousands upon thousands of women and men working at community level to protect and improve the conditions in their local area. From environmental justice, to shelters for violence survivors, to more doctors, teachers, midwives, better access to rights-based family planning and the freedom to choose when and whether to have children, to an end to the bombing and inclusive peace.

Long fought battle for gender equality

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed by the international community in September 2015, offering a global road map towards a better world, where poverty has been eradicated, and rights are realised. After long, hard efforts, we can celebrate that we have a standalone Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality which has clear targets on the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls, including the elimination of all harmful practices. But it wasn’t always the case by any means. It was women’s movements and gender justice advocates who provided the evidence and made the case to include the goal on gender equality. We collectively had to campaign hard, with many southern based women’s rights organisations and networks – and we won!

If we are to really make the SDGs a reality, we have to begin by working with those women and men who are most marginalised – women with disabilities, ethnic minority women and LBT women.

Supporting women’s rights Organisations and movements

If there’s one thing I’m thankful for working at Womankind Worldwide, it’s that I get to work with brilliant women’s rights organisations and movements from around the world, every day. It is women’s rights organisations around the world who run services for women, to meet their practical and immediate needs, often in times of crisis. Meeting women’s needs, helping them survive and recover from violence will be a key part of meeting the SDG target on eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres. And these services will need to be delivered on a much greater scale, reaching many more women, and be delivered in tandem with the full implementation of national laws on violence, and with training for police and judiciary to properly address violence against women.

Perhaps even more fundamentally, women’s rights organisations are crucial actors in holding governments to account on the commitments they have made on the international stage. This is where we go back to the idea of movements, and the millions of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. For example, the Feminist Dalit Organisation is working as part of a Womankind project on the SDGs to translate every single Sustainable Goal and Target into Nepali, and running workshops in villages so that Dalit women understand the SDGs and what they mean in their community.

Reading them in your own language, and discussing their relevance, is the first step in whole communities demanding their local and national governments deliver on their promises. The Federation of Women Lawyers - Kenya is organising workshops and planning sessions with different organisations in the women’s movement – at local and national level - to develop an advocacy plan – so that the women’s movement holds the Kenyan government to account and demands action on the SDGs.

It is these spaces – where civil society can hold governments to account – where we will see change happening. And while the SDGs provide a global framework, change will start small, in villages and local communities. Yet change multiplies;  one change sparks another, and another, until the momentum is such that there’s no going back. And there is potential in the SDGs for real and long-lasting change, but it won’t happen without the sustained advocacy of women’s rights organisations and movements, ensuring that government promises are kept.

We’ll be working in solidarity with those movements, to ensure there’s no going back.

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