By Anitta Underlin, Director, IFRC Europe zone.
Today, 8 of March, many Red Cross Red Crescent Societies and countries join their voices to celebrate women. Various are the ways that International Women’s Day is perceived and commemorated across the world, ranging from celebrations of respect, love and appreciation of women for their achievements in the economic, political and social sphere, to commemorations and awareness-raising initiatives about women’s struggle against gender-based discrimination and violence.
Not all, however, will be able to cherish and celebrate this day equally. During the last General Assembly of the Red Cross Red Crescent, in November 2011, the Federation launched a Strategy on Violence Prevention, Mitigation and Response for 2011-2020, where it highlights the duty and responsibility of National Societies and the IFRC to respond and work on the prevention of episodes of violence, many of which are perpetrated on women and girls.
Violence does not have boundaries of age, culture, race and social class and status, and can occur in the most diverse places. Violence can take many shapes, from sexual harassment, threats to murder, beating, kidnapping, trafficking, rape, coercion and arbitrary deprivation of freedom. Women and girls are particular vulnerable and as, an example and according to UN figures, represent the 80% of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually worldwide, with 79% trafficked for sexual exploitation.
As of today, almost one third of National Societies around the world have on-going violence-prevention programmes, including initiatives linking prevention to non-discrimination and respect for diversity, advocacy and humanitarian diplomacy, International Humanitarian Law (IHL), the Youth Action for Behaviour Change (YABC) and other youth-related projects. Some of these have a specific focus on women and girls.
In Spain, the Red Cross provides psychological, legal and social support to vulnerable women, through a network of emergency and foster houses for abused women with their children, and actively works on preventing gender-based violence both nationally and abroad, thanks to a 24/7 tele-assistance service covering the national territory, and more than 90 projects in Africa and Latin America for the promotion of gender equality and a culture of non-violence and peace.
In Kyrgyzstan, where up to 75% of marriages take place as a result of bride kidnapping, a joint Kyrgyz Red Crescent/British Red Cross programme works on improving the social and economic position of almost 50,000 vulnerable women, providing them with vocational and life skills and informing them of their rights, including access to social and health services.
In Austria, the Red Cross is coordinating two EU-funded projects aimed at preventing violence against older women in care setting, through awareness-raising activities of this phenomenon within families and the empowerment of health and social service professionals to early-detect it and prevent it.
Strategy 2020 calls for the promotion of a culture of non-violence and peace. National Societies across the world advocate for a wider understanding and fuller, practical application of our Fundamental Principles, by promoting social inclusion, advocating for the adoption of non-violent approaches and delivering humanitarian assistance sensitive to gender, age and other socio-economic conditions. Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers and staff, with youth in schools, with our fathers, mothers, children and friends, with communities, working on a change in mindsets, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. National Societies’ community action combined with humanitarian diplomacy through their respective governments, decision- and policy-makers as well as opinion-leaders, is the way to change, to foster environments that respect human dignity and diversity.
Today, on International Women’s Day, let us undertake personal efforts to prompt a collective difference and actively impact on the future.
Happy International Women’s Day.