"Sexual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination. Let us not forget that the gender inequalities that fuel rape culture are essentially a question of power imbalances." — UN Secretary-General António Guterres
This past Monday marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – a public opportunity to meaningfully discuss this issue that pervades every economy around the world. The WHO estimates that 1 in 3 women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most frequently by an intimate partner.
Sexual violence takes many forms. Almost 750 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday, while 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation. Almost 50% of women with a partner are unable to make their own decisions about sexual relations, contraceptive use and health care. Stigma, shame and safety concerns often prevent women and girls from speaking out.
Some people are taking notice and demanding change. On Sunday, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in France to protest against domestic violence, where 130 women are believed to have been killed by their partner or ex-partner this year.
Earlier this month, the British Government set aside £67.5m (HK$679 million) to scale up projects that are effectively reducing violence against women and girls across Africa and Asia, and to pilot innovative ideas. Some projects have reduced violence against women by 50% in less than 2 years, showing that it is possible to tackle this global crisis.
Hong Kong has thus far not prioritised tackling violence against women, despite the severity of the problem. One out of 7 women in Hong Kong has been sexually assaulted. Yet, 9 out of 10 choose not to report the incident. Various factors, such as social stigma, trauma, fear of retribution, and lack of access to information and services, play a role in discouraging survivors from seeking help.
TWF remains deeply troubled by ongoing reports of sexual violence in Hong Kong over the last few months. We are further concerned with the number of allegations made against the Hong Kong Police regarding sexual violence and the public release of information and media commentary by the police in relation to an ongoing investigation. TWF’s public statements on these issues can be found here and here.
Any acts of sexual violence concerning any gender are completely unacceptable and all reports should be treated seriously, and thoroughly, appropriately and confidentially investigated.
We all need to push back against the apathy that often accompanies this protracted issue and support survivors. Laws and education curricula must be updated; businesses need to build work environments that not only provide safe channels to report sexual harassment and sexual assault, but that actively deter predatory behaviours; and coordinated public action for change must be stronger. Lives depend on our collective efforts to make Hong Kong a safer city for all. Together, we must do all that we can to eliminate violence against women and girls.
Get in touch Fiona.Nott@twfhk.org