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Human rights for women: is 16 days of activism enough?

16 November 2018
International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
The United Nations General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1999. Sydney experts reflect on how far human rights for women has come.

Governments, international organisations and NGOs were invited by the UN General Assembly to arrange activities designed to raise public awareness of the issues.

The date recognises the assassination of the three Mirabal sisters – political activists from the Dominican Republic – on 25 November 1960 and commences a period of 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign leading up to 10 December, International Human Rights Day.

How awareness of violence against women has changed

“In Australia, 18.4 percent of women have experienced sexual assault since the age of 15. Research suggests that by the time children in the US reach 17 years of age almost 27 percent of girls will have experienced sexual abuse,” says Associate Professor Ruth Phillips from the Sydney School of Education and Social Work.

“Indeed, high rates of sexual violence against women are a constant around the world with prevalence rates in many countries exceeding 30 percent,” she says.

There is little evidence that Australia is successfully curbing the incidence of violence against women and very little evidence of strong political leadership on this serious social problem.
Associate Professor Ruth Phillips, Sydney School of Education and Social Work

Awareness of the issues around sexual and intimate violence, as well as attitudes towards women generally has surged in recent years with the #MeToo movement having impact globally and, nationally, Rosie Batty who set up the Luke Batty Foundation to fight family violence in memory of her son who was murdered by her ex-partner.

As a result, the Australian government introduced The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 in September 2012 setting out a framework committed to upholding the human rights of Australian women. This, however, has not been reflected in the community with murder and harassment increasing; one woman dies each week, on average, at the hands of an intimate partner, current or past in Australia alone.

“There is little evidence that Australia is successfully curbing the incidence of violence against women and very little evidence of strong political leadership on this serious social problem. I exhort the federal government, as a matter of urgency, to highlight the regular incidents of deaths of women at the hands of their current and past intimate male partners. We must address what this implies about Australian society and implement real short- and long-term solutions,” says Professor Phillips.

How prevalent is violence against women globally?

The latest global data indicates that 35 percent of women experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence at some point in their life and 7 percent of women have experienced sexual violence by a non-partner in their lifetime.

Sexual violence, and other related forms of violence and victimisation, place a heavy burden on society which is extremely difficult to measure but clearly extends beyond mere economic costs to include profound social, psychological and health impacts throughout society.

Violence against women transcends ethnicity, religious, political and socio-economic boundaries. It affects women across the whole of society and throughout communities.
Associate Professor Rita Shackel, Sydney Law School & Sydney Institute of Criminology

“Some studies have attempted to estimate economic costs; for female child sexual abuse in the US, the estimated lifetime economic cost has been placed at US$282,734 per victim with the lifetime economic cost of sexual assault at US$122,461 per victim, or US$3.1 trillion for all victims.

“One study estimates the cost of rape and attempted rape in the US is 1.7 times the cost of cardiovascular disease and 3.9 times the cost of cancer,” says Associate Professor Rita Shackel from the Sydney Law School and Sydney Institute of Criminology.

“Violence against women transcends ethnicity, religious, political and socio-economic boundaries. It affects women across the whole of society and throughout communities. Sexual violence has pervasive, serious, long-lasting and inter-generational impacts,” concludes Professor Shackel.


International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is on 25 November 2018, marking the beginning of 16 days of activism culminating on International Human Rights Day on 10 December. The 2018 theme is Orange the World: #HearMeToo.

If you – or someone you know – are experiencing violence and need help or support, please contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).

Facts & figures

Violence against women

  • 18.4 percent Women experience sexual assault since the age of 15 in Australia
  • 120,000 million Girls under 18 globally experience forced sexual acts
  • 750 million Females alive today married before their 18th birthday
  • 200 million Females worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM)

Helen Loughlin

Assistant Media & PR Adviser

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