The UN women’s agency kicks off 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, targeting the often-unpunished crime of rape that afflicts women and girls in every country and has been used as a weapon in conflicts.
Tens of thousands have rallied across the world to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, as France unveiled new measures to combat domestic violence.
Demonstrators on Monday gathered in countries as diverse as Guatemala, Russia, Sudan and Turkey.
The French government announced it would make it easier for doctors to share information on vulnerable women and write into law the concept of psychological "entrapment", following massive rallies in France over the weekend.
Roughly 87,000 women and girls were murdered across the world in 2017, according to the United Nations.
Monday's rallies – animated by growing anger over the failure of justice systems to punish offenders – follow a weekend of protests against what is being termed femicide.
Crowds marched through the streets of Moscow to highlight the government's failure to pass laws protecting women, and hundreds of Sudanese women chanted "freedom, peace and justice" as they gathered in Khartoum in the first such protest in decades.
In Mexico City, masked demonstrators with sledgehammers smashed glass panes of bus stops, spray-painted monuments and clashed with riot police Monday to protest authorities' failure to halt soaring rates of femicide and rape in the country.
'Sexist, patriarchal attitudes'
Tens of thousands of Spaniards marched in Madrid on Monday evening following a weekend of protests. Spain's long-standing laws against gender violence have not halted the problem – 52 women have been killed by their partners or ex-partners since the start of 2019.
South Africa has one of the worst records of any country on gender violence and the government has faced several rounds of mass protests on the issue.
President Cyril Ramaphosa used Monday's events to launch a campaign to improve victims' access to justice and urge men to drop their "sexist and patriarchal attitudes".
The UN warned that more action was needed around the world, singling out Afghanistan as a country where too little is done to counter sexual violence and rape.
And in a rare move, global police cooperation agency Interpol launched an international appeal to find eight men suspected of murdering or committing violence against women.
The French government is among those to face sustained pressure for reform – at least 117 women have been killed by their partner or former partner since the start of the year, according to a count by AFP, compared with 121 women last year.
Also, 213,000 women have suffered physical or sexual violence carried out by their partner or ex-partner, according to the latest official figures.
The lights of the Eiffel Tower were switched off for one minute at midnight to mark the day.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said he hoped his new measures would deliver an "electric shock" by focusing on ending "absurdities" and "dysfunctional aspects" in the law.
He said the measures, to be put to parliament in January, would be backed by 360 million euros ($400 million) of additional funding.
Advocates for women's rights broadly welcomed Philippe's announcement but called for more concrete help.
"What is needed is to bolster special measures such as offering sanctuary and then supporting the victims," said Francoise Brie, who heads the National Federation of Women's Solidarity.
Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa promised that the new measures would be funded, but also stressed in a newspaper interview that the "fight against marital violence is not just a question of money".
An AFP examination this month of every case of femicide in France showed how the justice system had failed to act in the face of warning signs of the potential for violence.
But in an open letter Monday, more than a dozen top French judges urged women to keep faith in a system that is "improving and adapting itself".
UN launches campaign against gender violence targeting rape
The UN women’s agency kicked off 16 days of activism against gender-based violence on Monday, targeting the often-unpunished crime of rape that afflicts women and girls in every country and has been used as a weapon in conflicts from Bosnia and Rwanda to Syria and Myanmar.
The executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said rape “can have life-changing, unchosen effects — a pregnancy or a sexually-transmitted disease, immense trauma and an unwarranted sense of shame.”
“If I could have one wish granted, it might well be a total end to rape,” she said.
Despite headline-grabbing movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, UN Women said that “sexual violence continues to be normalised and embedded in our social environments.”
It said there is a “rape culture” that includes the trivialising of rape, victim-blaming, the use of misogynistic language and the “objectification” of women’s bodies and glamorisation of violence in advertisements, on television and in movies.
Exact numbers or rapes or sexual assaults are notoriously difficult to determine due to many victims’ fears of reporting sexual abuse.
But the UN says approximately 15 million adolescent girls worldwide ages 15 to 19 have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other sexual actions.
And one of every three women worldwide are estimated to have suffered either physical or sexual violence, or both, from an intimate partner, or sexual violence by a non-partner.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated the UN’s commitment to end all forms of violence against women, saying in a message that “these abuses are among the world’s most horrific, persistent and widespread human rights violations.”
“Sexual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination,” he said. “Let us not forget that the gender inequalities that fuel rape culture are essentially a question of power imbalances.”
Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman, a UN Women goodwill ambassador, urged people everywhere in a statement to join the campaign “to stand against rape and be a part of the efforts to end all forms of violence against women.”