November 25th, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
It's November 25th, 1960. We are in the Dominican Republic, during the dictatorship of General Trujillo. Three activist sisters (nicknamed las mariposas), Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa Mirabal, were brutally murdered by regime henchmen while returning from a prison visit to their husbands, political prisoners. It is in this grave crime of history that we find the roots of the commemoration, officially established in 1999 by the United Nations General Assembly to honor the lives, activism, and courage of the three sisters who became symbols of opposition to violence against women.
Every year the 25th of November is an opportunity to continue raising awareness about this issue and actively push to combat this widespread violation of human rights that persists today.
Definition and Forms of Violence
In 1993, the United Nations issued the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, defining gender-based violence as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life."
Applying this definition, various forms of violence against women can be recognized: physical, psychological, economic, and verbal violence inflicted by partners and others, harmful traditional practices, including female genital mutilation and "honour" crimes, stalking or sexual harassment, forced or early marriage, and extremely brutal acts such as sexual violence and femicide.
The main types of gender-based violence include:
- Stalking: persistent and unwanted behaviors causing anxiety or fear (such as surveillance, following, harassing phone calls, messages, letters, or unwanted communication).
- Psychological violence: attitudes that diminish a woman's dignity (insults, threats, blackmail, pathological jealousy, derogatory or disparaging behaviors).
- Physical violence: any violent act causing harm to a person (beatings, use of weapons, deprivation of water or food, kidnapping, injuries).
- Sexual violence: any imposition of unwanted and non-consensual sexual acts (such as coercion or pressure for unwanted sexual acts, humiliating sexual practices, preventing the use of contraception).
- Economic violence: actions limiting a woman's economic independence (such as preventing her from working, having a bank account, denying her money, stealing money, denying maintenance after separation).
In April 2020, the Canadian Women's Foundation launched a simple, silent gesture, which has since become popular around the world, in order to be able to report a situation of violence: it is the Signal for Help, thumb of the hand folded across the palm, four fingers up then closed into a fist, a signal that communicates the urgent call for help and that we all need to be able to recognize and replicate if the need arises.
Data, Stereotypes, and Women's Rights
According to the weekly report from the Ministry of the Interior, from the beginning of 2023 to the 19th of November 2023, 106 women were murdered in Italy, of which 87 in a family/affective environment, 55 by their partner or ex. The latter figure marks a 4% increase compared to the same period in 2022.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights," but the discussion of violence against women today challenges this statement.
The Women, Business, and the Law Index 2023, a World Bank index, examined the state of women's rights globally. Italy was rated as a country that is fair regarding employment opportunities for women, freedom of movement, and equal pay. The only area where Italy falls behind is related to marriage rights. According to our Civil Code, a woman can remarry only after 300 days from the annulment of the first marriage, while for a man, there are no restrictions or obligations.
Women face a stronger situation of inequality in Africa and the Middle East, where, especially in some areas, their rights are undermined by religious laws and political regimes that consider women inferior to men or only exist for procreation and household and child care.
Education and Financial Independence of Women
Violence against women — important to remember not only on the International Day of November the 25th — is a manifestation of unequal gender relations, as stated by the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe, ratified unanimously by our Parliament with Law No. 77 of 2013. This commitment requires comprehensive efforts to counter and prevent violence, with a crucial role played by the education system.
To counter and, more importantly, prevent violence, it is essential to address its cultural roots and causes. This underscores the need for policies focused on education, awareness, and the recognition and achievement of equal opportunities in all aspects of public and private life.
A step forward has been taken by the Ministry of Education (the Italian MIUR), which has developed the "National Plan for Respectful Education: For Gender Equality, Prevention of Gender-Based Violence, and All Forms of Discrimination." This plan aims to promote educational and training actions in all levels of schools to ensure the acquisition and development of social and civic skills, in continuous synergy with families, while focusing on the experiential and emotional dimensions.
Another tool for preventing and reintegrating women victims of violence is financial independence and economic inclusion. The relationship between financial independence and vulnerability to violence is complex: economic violence, often hidden, hinders the full independence of women who, in situations of distress resulting from experienced violence, are at high risk of exclusion from the socio-economic context in which they live.
And on this aspect, too, the key role of education comes back: according to a 2023 Bank of Italy survey, men have greater financial skills than women, who often perceive the need to manage their own money independently as non-priority and tend to delegate this practice. The first step in reversing this dynamic is to strengthen women's economic-financial literacy through pathways to awareness, empowerment and financial literacy initiatives.
Having economic autonomy not only helps women reintegrate into society after an experience of violence, but also reduces violence within the relationship because it grants women more bargaining power in the couple.
How to fight violence against women
- Listen and believe: we must provide a safe space for those who need to report, making them feel heard and understood.
- Teach and learn from the new generations by challenging traditional roles of men and women, initiating conversations about gender, rights, and stereotypes.
- Demand better responses, laws, and services: shelters, counseling centers, and support facilities for those who have experienced violence should be able to ensure their services, even in challenging times such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Emphasize the importance of consent: there is only a "yes" when it comes to sexual consent, and we should not have unclear ideas but always wait for a clear and unequivocal signal.
- Speak out, not allowing violence to be a "taboo" to be ashamed of.
- Recognize the signs and not underestimate or trivialize them.
- Fight against the "rape culture": make a daily effort to examine ourselves, identifying behaviors that could fuel this culture, in order to eradicate them.
- Showing solidarity with other movements is crucial because gender-based violence is strongly interconnected with other forms of discrimination, such as racism or homophobia. By advocating for improvements in these areas, positive outcomes can be observed on multiple fronts.
- Reporting harassment and taking a stand when recognizing violence is the first step to stopping it. For this reason, there is a national tool to support women: the 1522 hotline of the National Anti Violence Network, a multilingual call center available 24/7, where operators provide psychological and legal support while ensuring anonymity for the caller.
- Understanding the data is essential to effectively identify where the problems lie and in which specific areas to intervene.
Initiatives and Projects
The projects we support to prevent gender-based violence and assist women victims of violence are based on UN principles. Donne in Rete (D.i.Re.), we have supported two projects: since 2022, we have contributed to the creation of the Autonomy Fund for women victims of violence leaving Anti Violence Centers. This fund covers their most significant expenses (rent, utilities, essential purchases for their homes, or starting small business activities), supporting them in their path to independence and freedom.
Alongside UNHCR, we protect refugee and asylum-seeking women who have experienced various forms of violence. Our assistance materializes through support to aid centers, ensuring their access to sexual and reproductive health services through specialists and cultural mediators.
We support the Pangea Foundation and the national anti violence network "REAMA" to enhance the operational response capacity to victims and open a new refuge in Calabria (one of the most challenging regions), managed by women for women.
We have also supported the Metropolitan Italian Women's Center of Milan in the "A vele spiegate" project, offering paths to escape violence, promoting women's autonomy, and working on their empowerment and the development of new skills applicable in the workforce. In Tuscany, we support "Fili intrecciati," the activity of Oxfam Italy Intercultura, providing protection to women who have survived violence through a network of anti-violence and anti-trafficking centers, frontline professionals, and teachers who can raise awareness among students on the issue.
Our commitment aligns with a strong global will for initiatives worldwide. One notable example is the "Zapatos Rojos" installation by Mexican artist Elina Chauvet on August the 22th, 2009, in Ciudad Juárez, placing 33 pairs of red women's shoes in a square. The idea, born to commemorate her sister murdered by her husband at only twenty years old, resonated strongly in the country and later globally, making the red shoe a symbol of women victims of violence.
Among others, "16 Days of Activism" and "Orange the World" are two year-round campaigns by the United Nations, encouraging entities, institutions, cities, and individuals to participate in the fight against gender-based violence, becoming activists and sending strong signals that promote concrete change.