The 25th of November will be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It kicks off 16 days of global activism against gender violence.
Two initiatives, one global and one in the Philippines, give an insight into the lessons we must learn and the future we can build.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague has met rape victims in Darfur, Srebrenica, and just last month survivors in Sarajevo. He saw for himself how the lack of justice for survivors inflicts terrible suffering and makes recovery from war even harder. But this is not an isolated problem.
From Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of Congo and to Rwanda we have seen rape used as a weapon of war with the number of successful prosecutions shockingly low compared to the number of instances chronicled by the United Nations and civil society organisations.
Secretary Hague has launched a major new initiative that involves creating a specialist team of experts that will be deployed to conflict areas to support efforts to prevent and investigate sexual violence in conflict. We want other countries to create similar teams.
Elimination of this very specific problem is but one half of what the UK wants to see and links with a really important bilateral initiative we are proud to be involved with in the Philippines.
The Magna Carta project aims to increase female participation in all forms of public life. The Magna Carta for Women was passed into Philippine law in August 2009 and seeks to entrench women’s rights and awareness of them. The challenge is to make sure the Magna Carta is more than just a statement of good intentions and that it makes a real difference.
To that end, my Embassy works in partnership with the WeGovern Institute to build the capacity of women to participate in political life. Workshops and meetings have been taking place around the country.
Members of my Embassy team went along to one in Cabanatuan City and met over a hundred women of all ages wanting to make a contribution. Another workshop just concluded this month in Davao City. This project follows up similar work last year, which helped hone the skills of community women leaders in changing attitudes about domestic violence not just among their women constituents, but within their entire community.
I launched this project in Valenzuela City in the presence of such women leaders as Senator Loren Legarda and WeGovern President Liza Maza.
We are also working with the Philippine Centre for Islam and Democracy (PCID) to train Aleemat, or female Muslim religious leaders in conducting human rights counselling in Madrasah, or schools, focusing on serious issues such as human trafficking.
This builds on a previous PCID project on empowering the Aleemat as human rights defenders. PCID have already conducted a workshop last August specifically on developing information materials such as visual aids to help the Aleemat in their human rights advocacy.
Getting women more involved in government, business and all sectors of society is not simply a matter of fairness. In most countries, women represent a majority of the population. No country can afford to waste so much skill and productive capacity. Discrimination against women also fuels some of the attitudes which can lead to the horrors of rape we see around the world.
Ending discrimination against women has been a long battle. Unfortunately the battle is not over. However, initiatives such as the global elimination of sexual violence and efforts to increase participation of women in public life in the Philippines can take us closer to that goal.