#Article (Archive)

ACTIONAID - Open letter for International Women's Day

Mar 8, 2011, 12:07 PM

Break The Norm!
Culture' does not excuse human rights abuses

Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. Yet it remains a scandal that one in three women worldwide will still be raped, assaulted and physically or sexually abused in their lifetime. Of all human rights abuses, violence against women is the most systematic and accepted because, in so many places it is considered 'normal'. Year in year out, 'culture' is used to legitimise the violation of women's fundamental human rights.

We recently visited Liberia, where it was deemed culturally 'normal' for groups of girls to be genitally mutilated with a single knife, 'normal' for male teachers to demand sex in exchange for good grades and 'normal' for women to be beaten or abused with no repercussions because until two decades ago they were sold in the womb to the highest bidder. In Europe, cultural norms encourage girls to be impossibly thin. Attitudes and cultural norms have to change everywhere.

Across the globe, violence and cultural norms also stop girls from going to school, earning money or even being heard. Vera, a 22-year old Liberian woman spelt it out: "Here's what prevents girls from getting educated – early marriage, teenage pregnancy, traditional beliefs and practices, poverty and rape." Despite this, Vera and women like her all over the world are challenging the cultures that legitimise violence, determined to be part of creating a more equal society, often at great risk to their lives.

This is a global human rights crisis demanding immediate action. We are calling on governments to: reject 'cultural' excuses and treat all forms of violence against women as criminal offenses, punishable by law; abide by their legal obligations to tackle violence against women and girls; send a message that violence against women in any form is unacceptable and preventable, by bringing perpetrators to justice; and scale up essential services and support for girls who have experienced violence.

Today people across the world have the chance to collectively commit to challenging violence against women and finally say no to 'the norm'. If we're not equal everywhere, we are not equal anywhere.

Emma Thompson, ActionAid Ambassador
Joanna Kerr, ActionAid Chief Executive