From tweets to grenade attacks: violence against women takes many forms

Last night I saw a tweet from journalist Laurie Penny which made me do a double-take:

Ppl creating accounts to send me pics of naked women being hung with the words 'It could be you. Imagine people wanking over that.' #sunday

— Laurie Penny (@PennyRed) November 24, 2013

I don’t know why it surprised or depressed me quite so much. It’s not like misogyny is unusual on Twitter (ask Stella Creasy or Caroline Criado-Perez), or surprising that a woman in the public eye would be targeted. As I noted not long ago, it seems as a woman you can’t even appear in a TV show about baking without attracting sexist vitriol

But today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, so last night Laurie’s tweet struck a chord. What a depressing image to be presented with. The day before the world highlights the fact that a third of all women experience violence, some low-life flippantly suggests wanking over your dead, naked body.

Except it’s not flippant when, as highlighted by Twitter campaign @countingdeadwomen, at least 199 women have been killed in the UK this year by suspected male violence. Look around you at work, or think about your family and friends, 1 in 4 of the women and girls you know (in the UK) are likely to experience rape, beatings or abuse.

The figures are high in the UK and we still have a long way to go in developing effective solutions. But you’d be hard pushed to find a country in which it is not an issue; and in some, women face particularly high levels of violence.

Amnesty campaigns against violence against women all over the world. Here in the UK we’re focusing on Afghanistan, both because we think the UK government can make a real difference to women’s lives there, and because of the scale of the problem. Afghanistan has been called the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman

One study estimated that 87% of Afghan women experience some form of violence. Many women experience domestic violence, but attacks from the Taliban and other armed groups are also common.

Even women who work as teachers and doctors are at risk; in fact they can be doubly exposed, targeted both because of their work and, simply, because they are women. For example:

  • Parween, a headmistress from Lagham province, was targeted for running a girls' school. After receiving repeated threats from unknown men, her son, Hamayoon was abducted and killed.
  • Dr D works as a gynaecologist providing healthcare to women suffering from abuse, including rape and domestic violence. In 2007 she started receiving death threats because of her work. In 2009, in separate grenade attacks, her son was badly wounded and her brother killed.

Women like Parween and Dr D are active all over Afghanistan and they really are on the frontline of pressing for women’s rights and for an end to violence, despite being at great risk themselves.

Protection for women or proper investigation of attacks against them is rare – even when it involves high profile women. The Afghan government passed an ‘Elimination of Violence Against Women law’ in 2009 but they must speed up implementation and ensure women at risk are able to get help.

But given that a new draft penal code includes a proposal to restore stoning as a punishment for adultery, tackling violence against women does not seem to be high on the Afghan authorities’ agenda.

The UK government, given its potential for influence and their public commitment to supporting women’s rights in Afghanistan, also has a responsibility to do all they can to support and protect women activists against violent attacks.

We are calling on the UK government to take the lead in protecting women’s rights – email your MP today and join our call.

On International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in particular, women like Parween and Dr D. should not have to fight alone.

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