By Francesca Del Mese , a 2002-2004 Rotary Peace Fellow, University of Queensland
I recently travelled to Pretoria, South Africa on behalf of UN Women as part of the newly formed group of investigators for sexual and gender based crimes as war crimes. When I was in South Africa, I was struck by a comment I heard from a prominent South African Minister. She made parallels between apartheid and sexual and gender based crimes, saying that apartheid had been defeated and so could violence against women. When I heard the comparison, I instantly dismissed the idea; the two are completely non-comparable.
To me apartheid was country and colour specific and held together by an archaic and corrupt government that eventually crumbled under international pressure. Violence against women is a global pandemic, crossing every social divide: race, class, religion, ethnicity, age and culture. Violence against women is unstoppable, I thought.
Colleagues, who had come straight from the field, were sharing stories about women and girls in the Congo who face a high probability – sometimes certainty – that they will be raped on the way from their homes to the markets to buy food. Humanitarian agencies are handing out rape kits in the way that condoms might be handed out in other countries.
International Women’s Day is 8 March, a chance for us to reflect on those women who are victims of every type of gender-based crime and discrimination. It’s also a chance for us to celebrate those who are working to eliminate these violations, both at a policy and grass-roots level. Millions of these women go unnoticed and will never be publically thanked for what they are doing.
Since going to Pretoria I have challenged my own assumption that violence against women is unstoppable. South Africans probably thought the same about apartheid when they were living under its oppression. It’s true that violence against women is a much bigger challenge to overcome and may take longer to eliminate. But if we believe we can do it then I believe it can be done.
If you are interested in doing more peace related work through Rotary I highly encourage you to join the newly established Rotarian Action Group for Peace or learn more about the Rotary Peace Fellowship.
- Learn more about the Rotary Peace Centers program