Bakera excelled in school. As a girl who grew up in a rural, poor community, she had, against all odds, realized her education goals and was elated to go to the capital city, Kampala where she would now work.
She had studied Statistics – a field where women were few. She knew many girls and women over the years who either didn’t have a chance at education or who dropped out. Bakera saw the common threads of women’s experience that limited them. In her small hilly village, she had seen many Aunties, physically abused by their husbands and resolved to get educated as she believed this was her way out.
At her first job, Bakera was excited to work for a Company where she would be their first female Statistician hire. Excited about this experience, Bakera worked with passion. At her company, she saw first-hand the sexual harassment that her female colleagues were experiencing. She realized that what she had experienced while at the university was happening at work now,.
In her Kampala neighborhood, Bakera regularly heard women scream for help; one morning the noise was so loud it startled Bakera out of her sleep. It was her next-door neighbor who was being beaten by her husband calling for “help”. Bakera couldn’t sit by, she went to their door, knocked loudly. Her neighbor was badly beaten and needed medical care. She took her to the hospital for medical attention where they spent the day nursing her to health.
Bakera had to explain her absence to her employer – but didn’t feel she could be honest without putting her job on the line. It was a turning point for Bakera – she felt that the violence was too much. She thought about how so many women’s lives were interrupted by violence. She reflected on what it meant for women who were in intimate partner relationships and the constant fear they lived in — without control over their own bodies, sexuality or even to be able to feel safe at home – a most basic right every person should have.
Bakera’s experience is one we can all identify with and relate to. When someone asks: Why should we care about equality? Why should we care about violence against women?
We must care because violence against women and girls is a profound symbol of gender inequality and social injustice. It hurts women and girls’ bodies, minds and hearts, prevents participation, hinders social and economic development and costs families, communities and nations. No one should have to live in fear.
While more women enter the workforce, let us think about whether they can enjoy their most basic human right of safety in both private and public spaces.
When women as a group are at risk for violence because they are women, this means it is not just a result of an individual woman’s behavior or choices – it means that the violence is systemic. This means that the systems – social, legal, economic, educational – ignore, allow and perpetuate the inequality that allows violence against women to happen.
These systems are upheld by norms – or our individual and collective beliefs and actions. Inequality and violence against women is the norm – but just like Bakera, we need to ask: is this normal?
Addressing negative norms through approaches like SASA! means helping communities identify and question unspoken barriers to women’s empowerment. Rather than focus on negative norms, we can encourage communities to explore how positive power can benefit both women and men in intimate partner relationships and enhance wellbeing.
#Metoo and #AidToo campaigns and other programmes are further breaking the silence, revealing that regardless of their location and achievements, women are still at risk.
According to World Health Organisation, 1 in 3 women is likely to experience physical or sexual violence, making this a public health issue that requires many voices and actions to create change so every girl and women live free of violence.
As the world reflects on gender equality this International Women’s Day, guided by the theme, “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change” how can we challenge ourselves – as individuals and collectively – to question the norms and systems that keep women down. What do we need to question within ourselves? Within our workplaces? Within our communities? How can you speak out and start to create an environment that supports non-violence and equality?
How can we get more creative and innovate to advance gender equality? How about we each take more action to increase men’s accountability to women’s basic human rights? How can we commit, this Women’s Day to stop tolerating any form of violence.