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UN-backed TV series peels back silence surrounding worldwide sexual violence

UN-backed TV series peels back silence surrounding worldwide sexual violence

With one in three women worldwide suffering rape or attempted rape during her lifetime and at least one in three likely to be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused, a United Nations-backed television series starting tomorrow will seek to peel away the silence surrounding these brutalities.

“Even where there is no war, women's bodies continue to be battlegrounds,” says Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which with other UN agencies provided information for “Women on the Frontline,” the seven-part investigative series by BBC World to be broadcast to some 300 million households.

“Women and girls are at risk of violence when carrying out essential daily activities – within their homes, or while walking, taking public transport to work, collecting water or firewood. Demanding the end of violence against women is about protecting human rights and ensuring that women live in safety and dignity.”

British singer Annie Lennox, presenting the series, stresses that violence against women threatens the lives of more young women than cancer, malaria or war. “It affects one in three women worldwide. It leaves women mentally scarred for life, and it is usually inflicted by a family member,” she says.

Trafficking, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, dowry murder, “honour” killings and female infanticide are also part of the problem.

“The gaps in addressing violence against women are in terms of political will, resources and the strong involvement of men and boys in insisting on zero tolerance,” says Joanne Sandler, acting Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

“If we can't put an end to the pandemic of violence against women, we can't achieve any of the other agreed goals: development, equality or peace.”

The seven films cover:

  • Nepal, where thousands of women are trafficked each year;
  • Turkey, where killing in the name of honour continues;
  • Morocco, where women political activists who have survived torture and imprisonment testify before a Government truth and reconciliation commission;
  • Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where women bear the brunt of a 10-year war in eastern provinces;
  • Colombia, where women have been tortured in the shadow of a guerilla war;
  • Mauritania, where women who have been raped may go to prison;
  • and Austria, where, under a new law, perpetrators of domestic violence are forced to leave home.

“We found girls who said they had been raped and who were being sent to prison for the simple reason that there was no tangible proof of this violence,” says Zeinabou Mint Taleb Moussa, a lawyer who heads the Mauritanian Association for Maternal and Child Health. “I would prefer them to go through the justice system or even better, I would prefer that the boys are arrested and the girls are recognized as victims.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, acknowledging the depth of the problem, launched a multi-year campaign eight weeks ago to eliminate the scourge and a number of UN agencies are involved in various aspects of the battle.