End violence against women so I don’t have to write the same damn blog every year.

Lina AbiRafeh
6 min readNov 25, 2023
Man in Sierra Leone, 2007. Photo by author.

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Every year we “commemorate” this day. And every year, I say: There is something seriously WRONG in the world if we even need such a day.

And every day, I scream: Violence against women is one of the most prevalent — and best hidden — human rights violations in the world. It has to stop.

Many of us scream every day. But today — November 25 — our screams might be a little bit louder.

Historically, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women originated from the 1960 assassination of three political activist sisters in the Dominican Republic — Patria, Minerva and María Teresa Mirabal — known as “las Mariposas” (the Butterflies). Their murder fueled public outrage, and throughout the Dominican Republic young children grow up learning the tale of the brave butterflies — now a well-known symbol across the country.

November 25 has been widely recognized and honored by women in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1981. In 1993, the UN General Assembly defined violence against women as resulting in, or likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women in public or in private life. And in 1999, the UN formally recognized this date.

And today, 24 years later, where are we?! Still screaming.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women marks the start of what we call the “16 Days of Activism” — essentially 16 days of more screaming — ending on December 10, International Human Rights Day.

OK, sure, the world is a little less silent these days — although certainly not loud enough for my liking. Feminist movements worldwide are calling for action and an end to violence against women at last. But every year, we scream the same things. Every year, we cite statistics. And every year, those statistics aren’t getting better. Yup. Not.Getting.Better.

Every year, we start with this awful fact: 1 in 3 women and girls worldwide experience some form of violence in their lifetime. That’s nearly 736 million women and girls. That’s more than TWICE the population of the United States.

And this figure does not include sexual harassment. Because then that would be ALL of us.

Violence against women is happening here and now and in your country and in your town and your culture and your religion and your community and in whatever group you belong to. You’re not immune or exempt. Neither am I. I’ve already experienced enough of it to make me the “one” in three. And maybe you too. And other women and girls that you know.

Need more proof? Hang on, here it comes.

Intimate partner violence is the most common and best hidden form. 1 in 4 young women will experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner before they even reach their mid-twenties. Violence perpetrated by people they love — who claim to love them.

Every hour, more than five women and girls are killed by someone in their own family. FIVE every hour. Meaning in the time I’ve taken to write this blog, at least five women have been murdered.

But it’s not just in our homes. It’s on our streets, our schools, our offices, and everywhere in between.

If it’s all over the place, why haven’t we stopped it yet?! Yes — my question exactly. For starters, there might be more laws in place, but even when those laws exist, they remain incomplete, unapplied, or outright ignored. And where there is no law, forget it.

Even when laws are applied, women hardly have access to justice. They are too often revictimized by the systems that are supposed to be there to protect them. Less than 40% of women seek any help at all, and less than 10% report to the police.

Why does this keep happening?!

Around the world, patriarchal beliefs and practices remain pervasive. Meaning too much of the world still believes in the dominance of men over women. And too much of the world believes that it is acceptable for men to control women’s bodies and lives, curtailing their freedom and denying their rights.

In my view, the worst form of violence against women is sexual violence. That’s not just rape, it is also all forms of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The truth is we have absolutely no idea of the exact figures because it is just so overwhelmingly pervasive.

There are some figures that might help illustrate just how unbelievably awful this is. For instance, 1 in 16 American women say their first sexual experience was forced. A forced sexual experience is called rape. Around the world, fifteen million adolescent girls have had this experience. And, data from 30 different countries shows that only 1% have ever sought professional help.

Violence against girls continues in too many forms. Girl-child marriage rates have gone down, yes, but they are still 19%. Every year, at least 12 million girls are married before they turn 18. Every single year. And, at least 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation.

New forms of violence against women are being created all the time. For instance, technology-facilitated violence, meaning things like cyber-harassment and so on, are becoming a serious problem — and they do not remain confined to the virtual world.

Climate change also fuels increased violence against women. Resource scarcity, food insecurity, and resulting loss of livelihoods and possible displacement also increases risks for women and girls. For instance, rates of rape dramatically increased in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a result of displacement. [5].

Droughts in Ethiopia led to families having to sell girls off to be married in order to cope with the economic impacts. Up to 20,000 women and girls were trafficked in Nepal as a result of the 2015 earthquake.

This list could go on and on.

There’s also an economic argument — in case you need one of those. The global cost of violence against women is projected to be $1.5 trillion — and it keeps increasing. The Egyptian economy loses 500,000 working days each year due to marital violence. In the European Union, violence against women costs EUR 289 billion a year.

These forms of violence are all around us, insidious. We have barely begun to understand — much less address — the many ways power is abused and abuse is inflicted on women.

We know what is happening. We know what it does to women and girls. We know what it costs communities and countries. And yet, we still don’t dedicate enough money to ending it. In 2022, only 0.2% of aid budgets were dedicated to violence against women prevention and response. That’s clearly not enough.

All around the world, women and girls are still not able to fully participate in all aspects of social, economic, and political life. They have less choice and less voice — and are further burdened with the responsibility of rectifying this imbalance. Meaning: most of those who scream out today — and every damn day — about violence against women are women.

We seem to be no closer to “eliminating” violence against women than when we started these campaigns. And no, we don’t just squeeze our action into 16 days. Too many of us do this every.damn.day. Why? So one day we do not have to do this anymore. End violence against women, end these campaigns, and begin to live full, free lives.

Meanwhile, I’m not stopping. I’ll keep screaming about it every day, every year. But there aren’t enough voices screaming along. What arguments do you need to be convinced? Surely it is the right thing to do!? Surely a life free of violence is everyone’s right!?

We need more men with us. Together our voices will be louder. And ending violence is better for all of us. This means, in Sarah Ditum’s words, men giving up power in exchange for a less brutal world. I think it’s worth it.

Nowhere in the world is a woman completely safe from violence. Meaning: nowhere in the world is it actually safe to be a woman.

At the same time, there’s pushback. Backlash. There are anti-feminist groups and individuals trying to shut us up and shut us down. Everywhere.

What to do?! Support women-led women’s rights organizations who are on the frontlines. Fuel feminist movements that are pushing forward, against the pushback. Take action in whatever ways you can — amplify women’s voices and movements, donate to causes you believe in, volunteer in organizations, march in protests. In short: Scream. With whatever voice you’ve got.

I don’t want to have to write the same blog next year… but I know I will.

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Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights activist, author, speaker, aid worker with 3 decades of global experience - and lots to say! More on my website: www.LinaAbiRafeh.com