women rights
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There is no democracy without gender equality

In addition to strongly condemning the fact that one in three women in the world experiences physical or sexual violence, we must question what we are normalizing as a society for this to happen

Velorio de Michell Dayana González
Family and friends attend the wake of Michell Dayana González, a 14-year-old minor who was murdered in Cali (Colombia).Ernesto Guzmán (EFE)

Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent and pervasive human rights violations in the world, a phenomenon that, to a certain extent, stems from what we consider normal in our societies. In addition to strongly condemning the fact that one in three women have been subjected to physical or sexual violence, we must also think about what we are normalizing as a society for this to happen.

Regarding this question, the Gender Social Norms Index published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reveals that 90% of people has at least one bias against women, ranging from believing that men are better business leaders and have more rights than women to hold a job, to the conviction that it is okay for a man to hit his partner. Gender violence does not arise out of nothing, and its prevention and eradication require each of us becoming aware of our own biases.

At UN Women and UNDP we work to reduce gender discrimination and transform sexist attitudes by promoting social norms and positive gender roles. This requires empowering girls and women, as well as working with the entire society to get rid of the stereotypes that promote violent masculinities. To achieve this, we apply behavioral sciences to engage men and involve them in the prevention of violence against women and girls with more effective awareness campaigns that adapt to the reality of each country. Social norms that limit women’s rights also harm society as a whole, as they restrict the expansion of human development and increase inequality gaps.

It is no coincidence that the difficulty in achieving progress in social gender norms is taking place in the midst of a human development crisis. The global Human Development Index (HDI) lost value in 2020 for the first time in history; the same thing happened the following year. In turn, for Latin America and the Caribbean, the UNDP estimated – based on its proposal for a Multidimensional Poverty Index with a focus on women – that in 10 countries in the region, 27.4% of them live in conditions of multidimensional poverty.

The impact of poverty on women varies, depending on their location. In the 16 countries analyzed, 19% of those who live in urban areas are multidimensionally poor, while 58% live in rural areas. The poorest women are those who face greater inequalities, participate less in the labor market and experience greater time poverty due to excessive unpaid care work.

These inequality gaps, in addition to being a barrier to human development, are a threat to democracy. Latin America and the Caribbean, the third most democratic region in the world and the only emerging region that aspires to achieve development through democracy and respect for human rights, will not succeed if it continues to be the most violent and dangerous region for women.

The Latinobarómetro 2023 report points to a clear democratic decline in Latin America: the percentage of its population that sees democracy as the preferred form of government fell from 60% in 2000 to 48% in 2023. Women remain underrepresented in decision-making and they are the most dissatisfied with democracy, with 70%. At the same time, according to the latest data reported by official organizations to the region’s Gender Equality Observatory, at least 4,050 women were victims of femicide in 2022: 4,004 from Latin America and 46 from the Caribbean.

This is a clear sign that despite the progress made in several countries in the region in the approval of specific and comprehensive legal frameworks and the establishment of specialized prosecutors and protocols to respond to gender violence, the fundamental rights of women are still not translating into tangible achievements. Without effective governance and solid institutions that guarantee women and girls the full enjoyment of their rights, including the right to live a life free of violence and discrimination, regaining confidence in democracy in the region will be impossible.

In the construction of more peaceful, fair and inclusive societies, universal access to justice is essential to eradicate gender violence and impunity. Girls, adolescents and women who suffer violence do not find enough protection in the justice system, and when they have the courage to report, they are often re-victimized until they give up their complaint and their search for help and protection from the public institutions. At the same time, these women have a triple workload: they face care tasks, domestic work and their paid jobs, which are usually precarious, informal and low-income.

Furthermore, much of the push for the judicial process falls on the complainant, who must not only appear before the court on numerous occasions, but also bear the costs of transportation, the difficulties in organizing household responsibilities and the fear of retaliation by the aggressor or other members of their communities.

To this must be added the possible lack of knowledge that many women may have regarding judicial or extrajudicial procedures, as well as the difficulties in accessing free services, or the lack of knowledge of their existence. There is also little or no public information about specialized services. For instance, in the case of violence, women usually distrust the speed and effectiveness of the judicial response to their situation, and they also often face re-victimization practices such as being forced to tell the facts on several occasions or have their testimony called into question.

From UNDP and UN Women we make a call to build more just societies for women. All people and societies can move forward, whether through education, social mobilization, the adoption of legal and political measures, advocacy for greater budgets to prevent violence, the promotion of dialogues and the search for consensus. To break down biases and make way for more peaceful, safe, fair, inclusive and egalitarian societies as a requirement to leave no one behind on the path to sustainable development.

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