Today marks the anniversary of the political assassination of three women known as the Mirabal Sisters. The Mirabals were four sisters who grew up in Salcedo, a city in the Dominican Republic, during the era of the dictator Rafael Trujillo. Three of them — Minerva, Patria, and Maria Teresa — were killed by Trujillo’s henchmen for their involvement in efforts to overthrow his dictatorial government. Their murders took place on November 25th 1960 and since the ‘80s, activists in Latin America have been commemorating their deaths as a symbol of gender violence. Since 1,999, United Nations has marked the day as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Back in July, I wrote about the UN Women report about “Progress of the World’s Women”. The report was an exhaustive analysis of the socioeconomic realities of women across the world. The report highlighted issues such as the fact that, on average 10 percent of women in 57 countries said they had been sexually assaulted, but only 11 percent of those who had been assaulted reported the crime. In some countries like Costa Rica, Paraguay and Peru, as many as 20% of interviewed women said they had been sexually assaulted. In the USA, 16 percent of women and men agreed that it is sometimes justifiable for a man to beat his wife. In Canada, this figure was 6 percent.
Few people would argue that gender violence is a reality and, in some places, an epidemic.
However, I was then disappointed by the UN Women omission of one of the most vulnerable groups in their report: trans women. Not a single line dedicated to highlight the very specific, virulent and pervasive kind of violence most trans women experience throughout their lives, everywhere in the world. Because while we debate which country has the “better” figures (i.e. in which country women experience less violence), trans women are, across the board, globally targeted. They are murdered, raped, beaten up, subject to institutionalized abuse, they lack access to health care, they face discriminations on a daily basis. Yet, the UN report about the situation of women worldwide did not dedicate any attention to their specific plight.
The report also left out the very specific kinds of violence that lesbian and queer women experience. There was not a single mention of corrective rapes, discriminations, murders, attacks or identity erasure. Yet another crucial group is purposefully left out, their struggles removed from the public eye, as if the violence they experience did not happen.
To make matters even worse (do you see where I am going already?), the report had nary a mention of women with disabilities and the many faces of violence against them. Not a word about sexual and/or domestic violence, physical abuse, lack of access to healthcare, abusive healthcare practices, caregiver violence, discrimination, unemployment, etc, etc. The very unique ways in which gender violence intersects with disability totally absent from the UN Women report.
Racism? Sorry, if I go by what the UN tells me, women worldwide do not experience it. It must be something that happens to non women only.
So, I have to point out the obvious: for United Nations, women are only cis, able bodied, heterosexual and obviously belong to whichever ethnic group is dominant in each country because they do not get to experience racism. Which is to say, for United Nations, in an effort not to irritate member States that would oppose them, only certain kinds of women deserve to experience International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Today, The Gender Wire, a news resource I regularly pursue because it gives space to many voices from the Global South who are usually not featured in mainstream media has started a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #16days. This campaign has a primary goal of getting people to talk about gender violence for the next sixteen days. Now, I think this is an important campaign, if anything because increased awareness can bring gradual change. People who might not consider the subject in their day to day lives might come across news items or conversations that could potentially help them or their loved ones in a time of need. Awareness also helps question certain notions that are ingrained in our social fabric. Awareness does not change the world, but it is an important and necessary first step to engage people with the topic.
Yet, I’ve been following the hashtag because I am attempting to Storify daily highlights and all I see is this narrow and dangerous definition of what constitutes gender violence and who are regarded as women who experience it. A campaign that does not decisively include all groups who encounter gender violence is not going to be an effective one. Moreover, a campaign that actively leaves out the specific forms of violence experienced by trans women, lesbian women, gender queer folks who are forcefully identified as women, disabled women and or women of color is going to actively harm all of these people by erasing them and their struggles from the public eye. What good is a campaign against gender violence that does not actively promote inclusion of those who need to have their issues heard the most?
For the next #16days, we can talk about gender violence. However, this conversation needs to include everyone and it needs to give prevalence to the vulnerable groups that United Nations, after all the international body that designated the day to begin with, purposefully left out of their report and their consideration. Unless we correct this glaring omission, this conversations is going to be incomplete and worse, possibly harmful.