Some you can argue about. Does child marriage count as violence against women?
I would say yes, in that a young girl is far more likely to die in childbirth than one who marries later, and yes again, because a very young bride is more vulnerable to domestic abuse, and in fact yes a third time, because a child wife is highly unlikely to complete her education, thus ensuring that the vulnerability that got in her into this predicament remains her lot for life.
Depriving a girl of a promising future isn’t the same as physical violence.
Sticks and stones…
But contrary to the children’s rhyme, while sticks and stones may break your bones, names can indeed hurt – especially those who can’t read them.
But let’s not argue. Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a good day to call time on anything but peaceful debate.
And there are plenty of forms of behaviour towards women – rape, sexual harassment, domestic abuse, trafficking, beating, stoning, female genital mutilation – that we all can agree are violent, and unacceptable.
Here’s just one example, of millions: Yatta*, a Liberian girl who was raped by a man she asked to help her with her schoolwork, and consequently had a baby at 13.
She is 14 now, and while she is receiving care from the Liberian rehabilitation organisation THINK (Touching Humanity In Need Of Kindness), supported by Save the Children, she is still out of school.
“I don’t feel happy,” she says, “because I’m young and I have a child. I want to go to school to help my daughter and my mother.”
A poisonous legacy
Violence against women is bad enough, but it also trickles down the generations: no child should have to live with the knowledge that they are the outcome of a terrible act, or the reason their mother remains uneducated; no child should witness – or worse, suffer – abuse, or grow up in a home or community where violence against women is tolerated.
Turning a blind eye to cases like this is no way to ensure the elimination of a horror that directly affects hundreds of millions of women and is passed on, like a vial of poison, from one generation to the next.
So on this day in particular, join with me, men and women, in saying No to violence against women. No. Not in this so-called modern era, not on our watch, and certainly not over my dead body.
*Name changed to protect identity