The Summer of Summits - ending violence against women?

The Girl Summit, held to galvanise action to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child, Early and Forced Marriage was held this week in London. It had extraordinary political support with David Cameron and three other Cabinet Ministers present. And of course it follows hot on the heels of the Ending Sexual Violence Initiative Summit in June, hosted by the formidable if unlikely paring of Angelina Jolie and former Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Together these mark the culmination of an unprecedented focus by the UK government – effectively panning for the gold at the end of the rainbow - an end to violence against women internationally.

The ESVI Summit marked two years of commitment from the UK, led by William Hague.  This is no small matter. No attempts to create global change are straightforward - but the successes have included a G8  and UN declaration, two new UN Security Council Resolutions and commitments made at the Summit itself

The Girl Summit also represents ongoing commitment to finding solutions to complex forms of violence both in the UK and internationally – including significant funding and programming from Governments, agencies and individuals.

While the Summits focussed on very specific forms of violence, these are embedded within a much broader range of violences against women, from domestic violence to sexual assault and rape.  They are all part of the same problem and the solutions are similar. 

We need to think of the steps needed to end violence against women as a jigsaw - there are multiple intersecting pieces which make up the overall picture.  We often make the mistake of focussing on one or two because this feels more achievable – but we will struggle to make an individual piece work if taken in isolation.

Primarily we need to act to end gender inequality wherever it has taken root – from girls unequal access to education and employment through to the burden of unpaid care which they carry and the lack of women in decision making roles.  Violence against women isn’t down to individual ‘bad’ men – gender inequality is the fertile ground from which it grows – and violence holds women in situations of inequality more effectively than any other tool. 

We should take the promising examples of work which sustainably shift negative norms and values on women creating communities founded on greater equality - and implement similar work globally.  For example, innovative work to end FGM carried out by Amnesty International and the Advocacy Movement Network (AMNET) in Sierra Leone

As Malala Yousafzai said at the Girl Summit this week – ‘we should not be followers of traditions that go against human rights… we are human beings and we make traditions.’

However - as those of us who have tried to chase rainbows know - they keep shifting - tantalisingly just out of reach.

It need not be this way with violence against women however.  We know what the problem is.  We know what the solutions are.  Women’s organisations and movements have been working to end violence for decades – and their voices were coming through loud and clear throughout both the ESVI and Girl Summits.

We now need action from governments to legislate and fund the initiatives they have promised. A summer of summits is all well and good, but it needs to be followed by an autumn of action.

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