By Viola Levy
Trigger warning: this article contains very sensitive subjects and some graphic descriptions that may be triggering.
oday may be International Women’s Day (IWD), where we rightly commemorate the achievements of women worldwide – but as we approach the anniversary of Sarah Everard’s death, we need to remember that the situation for many women around the world is still dire.
And while it’s important to celebrate how far many women have come, enjoying access to rights and freedoms our grandmothers could have only dreamt of, there is still a long way to go until the world is a safe and just place for women everywhere.
Below are five shocking examples illustrating why we still need to keep fighting for women’s rights and safety…
Over a million Ukrainian refugee women and girls are at increased risk of sexual violence and death in childbirth
As Russia’s attacks on Ukraine intensify, an estimated 1.7 million Ukrainian refugees are fleeing their homes – the majority of whom are women (some of them pregnant) and girls. It is well documented that during times of conflict, women and girls face increased risk of sexual violence, not just in war zones, but also when trying to cross borders and seek shelter in refugee camps.
Pregnant women are also having to give birth in bomb shelters and those requiring Caesarean sections are struggling due to a lack of blood available (due to rising military casualties who also require transfusions), as well as limited access to medical treatment and supplies with hospitals among the hundreds of civilian buildings to be wiped out by Putin’s army.
Girls aged 12 and over in Afghanistan are not allowed to go to school
Since the Taliban took power of the country on August 15th, 2021, Afghan women have had their rights rolled back. Besides healthcare workers and a few other exemptions, women are unable to return to their jobs or travel in public without a Mahram (male chaperone) - this includes doctor and hospital appointments. Since 20th September, girls aged 12 and above have not been allowed to go to school, while many women in higher education have had their studies curtailed.
Speaking to The Stack World, former medical student Solmas Moquimi (who was recently banned from her studies) explained, “The situation here is getting worse by the day. Our economy has collapsed and you see more and more women and children begging on the streets. We constantly live in fear. We can’t go into the city, or to school, or to our jobs. We can’t travel alone – we have to just stay at home. In addition to this, the Taliban have recently started searching our houses, and no one knows why.”
In Brazil, transgender murders increased by 41% during lockdown - all of the victims were women
Life for trans women in Brazil has always been fraught with danger, especially those living in favelas (tightly packed slums in urban areas) which the conditions of lockdown only exacerbated. A dossier by Brazil’s ANTRA showed that 175 trans women were murdered during the height of the pandemic in 2020, the majority (68%) of whom were Black.
Antra also identified that 72% of the murders were sex workers – a profession which 90% of Brazil’s transgender population is said to be involved in, with many believed to be trafficked and forced to work in highly dangerous conditions.
In 2021 Brazil remained the most dangerous country in the world to be transgender, with the highest death rate for the 13th year running. Laura Magalhães Zonta is an English teacher based in São Paulo. “The situation for the trans community here in Brazil is much worse than in other parts of the globe,” she says. “Most crimes happen here in São Paulo, the most developed state in the country. Trans bodies are decapitated and thrown in the main squares as a display of power.”
Thankfully Laura is able to live a free and happy life but she is aware that for others it is not the same. “As I'm a white trans woman and work for a great school, things are completely different for me. My family has always supported me, but people of colour from the same area don't have the same advantages. I work for a school that offers English, Spanish and technology courses for trans people called Casa 1. We try to foster educational support to help introduce the community to the jobs market.”
Less than 1 in 60 rape cases leads to a charge in England and Wales
The rate of sexual assault and rape in England and Wales increased by 13% in 2021, despite the rape conviction rate remaining at an all time low, down by almost two-thirds from 2016-17. In 2020, there were 52,210 rapes recorded by police in England and Wales but only 843 cases were charged – a rate of 1.6%, or less than one in 60. Despite these low conviction rates, violence towards women remains endemic. The Office of National Statistics reported "notable increases" after April 2021, a month after Sarah Everard was kidnapped, raped and murdered by police officer, Wayne Couzens.
They attributed these figures to the "impact of high profile incidents, media coverage and campaigns on people's willingness to report incidents to the police, as well as a potential increase in the number of victims”.
70 million girls are at risk of Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is defined as injury or cutting of female anatomy for non-medical reasons. It is particularly prevalent in 28 countries in Africa, the UK, parts of India and some of the Middle East. It’s an act of violence – and currently 70 million girls are at risk. Aside from the horrific trauma of the ‘procedure’ itself, the consequences are life-long, ranging from severe bleeding and problems urinating; to cysts, infections, pain during intercourse; as well as complications during childbirth.
This goes hand-in-hand with the deep psychological trauma which often manifests in depression, anxiety and PTSD. Activists fighting to end FGM practices include Nimco Ali in the UK, Josephine Kulea in Kenya and Jaha Mapenzi in the Gambia.
Check out the below organisations to find out more and how you can help:
Rape Crisis UK provides specialist support and services for victims and survivors of sexual violence in England and Wales. The Women’s Equality Party are a political party in the UK campaigning to end violence against women.
Daughters of Eve co-founded by Nimco Ali, is a non-profit organisation created to raise awareness and help bring an end to FGM.
While we celebrate International Women’s Day, let's not forget the millions of women who are still suffering from injustices around the world…
By Viola Levy
In 2012, Dr Torfeh was appointed as the UN Director of the Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit in Afghanistan. Here she shares her expertise with The Stack on the power shifts she thinks will occur there following the West’s recent withdrawal.