“When I questioned the male councillors on the way they conducted meetings…they retaliated with threats and violence. They kidnapped me for a week and I was beaten repeatedly and not given food. My family were also threatened.”
Marta Martínez, Bolivian Councillor
When I first heard the words above, spoken by a Bolivian Councillor whose organisation I work with, it gave me chills. I’m sure I am not alone amongst politically active women in the UK in taking for granted the comparative freedom from violence I enjoy when I exercise my basic right to have my voice heard.
But we must never forget for a moment, that this is not a freedom enjoyed by all women. Hundreds of thousands of brave women around the world face horrendous violence on a daily basis because they dare challenge the gendered expectation that they should stay silent. And whilst they risk their lives and their families to fight for their freedom, raising our voices to support them is a very small – not to mention relatively risk-free – action that we in the UK can take.
So, I welcomed the announcement last week – on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – that the government would be installing Lynne Featherstone MP as the Overseas Champion on Violence Against Women. Over the last few months, I have worked through One World Action and partner organisations like Care and Action Aid, to ensure that this position, which has lay dormant since the general election, be reinstated.
And whilst the announcement was most definitely a step in the right direction, the fact that this is to be a ‘championing,’ rather than a Ministerial position is a little disappointing. It has left many wondering if Lynne with have the resources and political clout she will need to do her job effectively?
After all, this is not a simple problem to solve and Marta’s story above is just one in a highly complex web of pervasive violence against women worldwide. From Bibi Sanubar, the Afghan widow brutally flogged and shot dead by the Taliban for the crime of being pregnant, to Samar and Juwariya, the young Indian women who had acid thrown in their faces for turning down a marriage proposal. Violence against women has political, economic, social and cultural dimensions. It can be domestic or institutional. It can be physical, sexual or psychological. In short, Lynne Featherstone is going to need her fingers in a lot of pies if she is going to make her mark on this role.
So, even if it looks as though the battle on this issue in the UK has been won, now is definitely not the time to walk away from all of the hard work. We need to make sure that the Overseas Champion has a remit that covers the work the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and Department for International Development. That she has a seat on the National Security Council. That she leads cross-government action to drive forward Resolution 1325 on Women Peace and Security.
So we’re calling on all activists out there, not to risk kidnapping and torture like Marta to stand up for women’s rights. Just to sign our petition and lend your voice to the campaign against violence. That’s all.
Marie Birchall, LCID member and Coordinator of the More Women More Power (http://www.oneworldaction.org/more_women_more_power) Campaign.