THIS Friday is the International Day to End Violence Against Women.
Violence, especially that which takes place behind closed doors, is not an easy subject to talk about.
Most men are uncomfortable when confronted with the issue and a lot of women don't want to be labelled victims. Unfortunately, there are many victims.
A 2002 World Health Organization (WHO) report states that domestic violence constitutes the majority of violent acts, yet is the least reported.
I remember my first speech about domestic violence at the Marine Parade library, 19 years ago, as part of a national campaign to raise awareness of the problem.
We went around to community centres and libraries to speak about domestic violence. Nobody wanted to hear about it.
When I went to make that first speech, nobody turned up. The librarian was so embarrassed that she rounded up a few people still in the library!
The WHO report stresses how violence affects not only the victim, but also entire communities and nations, socially and economically.
For example, in some countries, health care expenditures caused by violence account for up to 5 per cent of the gross domestic product.
There are other forms of violence against women:
• Systematic rape, used as a weapon of war, has left millions of women and adolescent girls traumatised, forcibly impregnated or infected with HIV.
A study by the United Nations Development Fund for Women revealed that 20,000 women were believed to have been raped during the fighting in Kosovo. Perhaps as many as 500,000 women were raped during the genocide in Rwanda.
• In Singapore, approximately one rape takes place every three days.
• In Asia, at least 60 million girls are "missing" due to pre-natal sex selection, infanticide or neglect.
• Female genital mutilation/cutting affects an estimated 130 million women and girls. Each year, 2 million more undergo the practice.
Violence against women also takes the form of other harmful practices — such as child marriage, honour killings, acid burning, dowry-related violence, and widow inheritance and cleansing.
• Forced prostitution, trafficking for sex and sex tourism appear to be growing problems (as it is between Singapore and Batam).
Each year, an estimated 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders — 80 per cent of them women and girls.
Most of them end up trapped in the commercial sex trade.
This figure does not include the substantial number of women and girls bought and sold within their own countries.
Nelson Mandela once commented on "the pain of children who are abused by people who should protect them, women injured or humiliated by violent partners, elderly persons maltreated by their caregivers".
"We must," he said, "be tireless in our efforts not only to attain peace, justice and prosperity for the country, but for communities and members of the same family."
The very idea of child abuse, trafficking, incest or elderly abuse is abominable and in some ways, as controversial as domestic violence was and continues to be in some cultures.
But we must raise questions and talk about such issues.
The writer is a former president of Aware — which also marks its 20th anniversary on Friday — and the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations.
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