3rd World Conference of Women's Shelters Offers an Opportunity to Connect and Act to End Violence Against Women

by Bina Shah, a writer and columnist living in Karachi, Pakistan. She blogs at Bina Shah and can be found on Twitter @binashah.

[Content Note: This post contains discussion of violence against women and girls. Below the fold, there is an image of a woman with injuries from domestic violence. She publicly posted those images to raise awareness and challenge the stigma of surviving abuse.]

image of a banner promoting the conference

It's a matter of grave concern and great sadness that in the 21st century, despite all the world's advances in technology, science, society and economics, violence against women remains endemic. In fact, one out of three women around the world is a victim of gender-based violence: domestic violence, sexual assault and rape, sexual harassment, honor killings and many other permutations of this crime play out in millions of homes, workplaces, streets, villages and cities in every part of the globe. Violence against girls and women is rightly called one of the greatest crimes against humanity, occurring across all nations and cultures, classes and religions.

Women have been joining hands since time immemorial to help each other out of violent situations, when lack of money, resources, or family support stand in the way of a woman's ability to leave an abusive situation. One of the most important aspects of this help involves finding a safe place for a woman to go when she experiences violence in her home. Women's shelters provide those safe spaces where a woman can take her children and find safety away from her aggressor, knowing that he won't be able to find her when she's gone. Women's shelters help save lives, because domestic violence kills.

To help raise awareness about the worldwide problem of violence against women, and to help people involved in the battle to stop violence against women, the 3rd World Conference of Women's Shelters will take place in The Hague, the Netherlands, from 3-6th November, 2015. Organized by the Dutch Foundation of Women's Shelters and its partners, the conference is a unique opportunity to connect and act to end violence against women, and there are many ways in which you can participate!

Over the four days of the conference, 1000 participants from more than 100 countries will share and increase their knowledge with their fellow delegates about the causes of violence against women and girls (VAWG). This will happen through keynote speeches, workshops, focus groups, and formal and informal networking opportunities with practitioners, case workers, legal professionals, and survivors of violence against women.

The conference organizers want to involve economists, businesses, scientists, technology specialists, and many other disciplines not traditionally involved with the area of VAWG, in order to increase and expand knowledge, as well as coming up with creative solutions to the problems that women face when trying to escape violence. One of the biggest problems for these women is lack of economic resources, so helping women to become economically empowered and strengthening their economic positions is a vital part of combatting the issue.

image of Hina JilaniThe conference will include keynote speeches by three remarkable people, one of whom is the superstar Pakistani lawyer Hina Jilani. Ms. Jilani is an attorney at the Supreme Court of Pakistan, a women's rights and human rights activist, and member of The Elders, a group of statesmen, peace activists and human rights defenders brought together by Nelson Mandela. Ms. Jilani founded the first all-female legal aid practice, and helped set up and manage shelters in Pakistan for women fleeing violence and abuse. There is nobody more knowledgable about the subject than Ms. Jilani, and as a Pakistani, I'm particularly proud that she'll be one of the keynote speakers.

image of Emma MurphyOther keynote speakers include Emma Murphy, a 26 year old Irish fitness blogger who shared a heart-breaking video on Facebook about being abused, both physically and emotionally, by her boyfriend. That video shows Ms. Murphy, a young blonde woman, sporting a horrible black eye: more than 9 million people saw her video, which resulted in domestic violence helplines receiving 50% more calls than usual. Her courage will be an inspiration to all the participants of the conference.

image of Dr. Denis MukwegeAnd we'll also hear from Dr. Denis Mukwege, a renowned Congolese surgeon and gynecologist who specializes in treating women who have been gang-raped by rebel forces. He founded and works at the Panzi Hospital, which treats women for free and provides psychological and legal services for them; the hospital has treated more than 30,000 survivors of sexual violence as a result of armed conflict. Dr. Mukwege believes that rape is the "monstrosity of the century" especially when used as a weapon of war. "It is a method of torture. A way to terrorize the population. When I see some of the injuries on the women and children, I realise this type of violence has little to do with sex and much more with power. It is a type of terrorism."

Amazingly, people and organizations still treat violence against women as a taboo, something to not speak about in public. This conference will go a long way towards breaking that taboo, with a call to action for governments, NGOs, businesses, and governments to pledge their resources, time, knowledge and support to ending violence against women. It will also urge companies to take specific actions to break the silence and increase support for the victims. This is a great opportunity for CSR so I urge corporations and multinational companies in Pakistan and across the region to take part.

How can you help?

You too can help to end violence against women and girls. Of course, if you want to attend the conference, there's still time to register: go here to find out how. The conference is where you'll be able to come together with other people in the field, exchange knowledge and experience, strengthen existing allies, and promote new ones in the fight against VAWG.

You can also donate to the conference, by supporting a scholarship for a delegate who can't afford to go there on his or her own.

Spreading the word about the conference on social media and amongst your networks is also extremely helpful: share this blog post and/or the 3 World Conference official Web site, and be sure to use the official hashtag #3wcws or the official @3WorldShelter in every tweet to build awareness and create connections before and during the conference.

Adopt a delegate

By "adopting" a participant, you or your organisation can help aid workers in the field to be present in The Hague. The more aid workers from around the world can be present in The Hague, the more victims of violence against women and domestic violence can be helped worldwide. If we can reach hundreds of women in need with a single aid worker from Pakistan, we can reach tens of thousands of Pakistani women in need with a hundred aid workers. With the adoption of one or more participants, your organisation will guarantee the collection of (part of) the amount that a participant needs to attend the conference.

The total cost per participant is around € 1200, excluding airfare. If you are interested in becoming a sponsor, please contact claudy.teboome@worldshelterconference.org.

Hina Jilani once said: "Nobody brings about change single-handedly. There are many people who are legendary, who have influenced events in the world, but behind them there is always a collective effort." Through the aegis of this conference, and the alliances made during and after, you have the unique opportunity to be part of that change, to spread good in the world, and to help consign violence against women to "the dustbin of history."

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