We Need an Intersectional, Not Just an International, Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women

By Himaja Balusa

CW: rape, transphobia

According to the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual of psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.” For this year’s International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, United Nation’s UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign will focus on the issue of rape as a specific form of harm committed against women and girls during times of peace and war.  

Since the establishment of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), there have been multiple treaties and declarations urging governments to play a larger role in ending gender-based violence. And while we shouldn’t overlook the progress that has been made, it is time to start asking ourselves who is at the table while decisions are being made about how to eliminate violence against women’s bodies. To what extent do these treaties and declarations take into account the lived experiences of women?

The United Nations highlights that marginalized communities, including transgender women, refugee women, intersex women, women of color, and low-income women are almost always disproportionately affected by sexual violence. While the UN makes it clear that the horrors of racism, transphobia, imperialism, colonialism, and classism have created technologies of power that have dire effects on some women more than others, there is still failure at creating safe spaces for these communities. Still, the nation-states–without which intergovernmental agencies such as the UN cease to exist–are led by lawmakers who are mostly men, therefore effectively silencing the voices of women. 

As an international student and woman of color majoring in International Affairs and Gender Studies, I constantly study and experience the dichotomy between codified language and the perspective on the ground. Rape, the focus of this year’s Elimination of Violence Against Women campaign, is often defined through cis- and heteronormative frameworks via legislation. This is despite the fact that more than fifty percent of queer women of color have experienced sexual violence once in their lifetime. This year on International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, let’s learn to build solidarity across our differing identities and continue to organize a mass movement to combat sexual violence. 

Feminist theorist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde said:

There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not lead single-issue lives.

And a single-issue struggle such as sexual violence is often experienced very differently by different people. It is past time we realize, acknowledge, and incorporate this truth into legislation and daily activism. For more on the topic, below are some resources for you to engage with this International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women:

Why Soldiers Rape? by Baaz and Stern
A piece on rape during wartime 

“Have We Got A Theory For You?” by Lugones and Spelman
On building cross-cultural alliances 

Sexual Violence & Transgender/Non-Binary Communities by National Sexual Violence Resource Center
An infographic to drive awareness

Connected: Islamophobia and the anti-sexual violence movement by Adam Kulikowski
On ending racism and Islamophobia within our own movements

Prevalence Rates by End Rape On Campus (EROC)
For statistics about sexual violence in the lives of people of color

By Himaja Balusa

Himaja (she/her/hers) is a junior studying International Affairs and Women's Gender&Sexuality studies at the George Washington University. At school, she is actively involved with No Lost Generation, an on campus refugee advocacy organization and Students Against Sexual Assault, a peer led student group committed to raising awareness about sexual violence and providing survivor centric resources.

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