25 November is the day designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.” Violence against women is a year-round occurrence and continues at an alarming rate. Violence against women can take many different forms. There can be an attack upon their bodily integrity and their dignity. As citizens of the world, we need to place an emphasis on the universality of violence against women but also on the multiplicity of the forms of violence. We need to look at the broader system of domination based on subordination and inequality. The value of a special Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is that the day serves as a time of analysis of the issues and a time for a re-dedication to take both short-term measures – such as the creation of a larger number of homes for battered women – and longer range programs.
Both at the international UN level and at the national and local level, there have been programs devoted to the equality of women and to the promotion of women in all fields. Thus, it is important to stress that women are not only victims in need of special protection but also that women should participate fully and effectively in all aspects of society.
Nevertheless, women have largely remained invisible and inaudible by being allowed to have a key role in the “informal sector” - those sectors of the economy that are the least organized and are often left out of the statistics of the formal economy as if the informal sector did not count. Women have turned to the informal sector - or have been pushed into it – as a way of sustaining a livelihood for their families.
In the informal sector, women survive and often have a major responsibility for the economy of the whole family. Fathers are often absent by need or by choice. Some women do well in the informal sector and serve as a model – or a hope – as to what others can accomplish. Self-employed women are increasingly helped by micro-credit programs. Micro-credit loans are useful but rarely do such loans allow a person to move outside the informal economy.
Women's work in the informal sector accounts for a large proportion of total female employment in most developing countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Women work as food producers, traders, home-based workers, domestic workers, prostitutes and increasingly are engaged in drug trafficking – anything to earn an income to feed their children. The informal sector is their last hope for economic and social survival for themselves and their families.
Gender inequality and the walls built around the informal sector are the marks of the “silent violence” against women. Amartya Sen defined the major challenge of human development as “broadening the limited lives into which the majority of human beings are willy-nilly imprisoned by the forces of circumstances”. On 25 November, this day for the elimination of violence against women, we need to look closely at the many social, cultural and economic wall which imprison.
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens