A story of violence, told in 16 objects
22 November 2017
Violence against women is a global epidemic. It reaches every culture, community and country on earth.
From 25 November to 10 December, the world observes the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. To mark the event, UNFPA has collected photos of 16 artefacts from real incidents of abuse. Together, these objects offer a peek into the unspoken but pervasive reality of violence.
© UNFPA Yemen
“That’s what’s left of my teeth after my husband beat me.”
Ameera* was only 13 years old when she was married to an abusive man in Yemen. (Names have been changed where indicated with an asterisk.) One day, because she was late waking him from a midday nap, he beat her with a broomstick, fracturing her nose and smashing her teeth. She now lives in a UNFPA-supported shelter, and keeps these tooth fragments as evidence for the courts.
© UNFPA Yemen
“I was slapped and dragged by my husband,” said Sonisay*, in Cambodia.
This is Sonisay’s footprint in the garden where she would flee to escape her husband’s violence. Globally, one in every three women experiences abuse of some kind – most often perpetrated by someone she knows.
© UNFPA Cambodia/Sophanara Penn
In Somalia, a circumciser shows the blades she uses to perform female genital mutilation (FGM).
Traditional practices like FGM and child marriage also inflict harm. This woman knows FGM is dangerous. “My daughter got sick soon after being cut,” she acknowledged. But she does not think things can change. More than 200 million women and girls alive have undergone FGM, which can cause bleeding, infection and even death.
© UNFPA/Georgina Goodwin
“He took me to his house, undressed me and forced me to sleep with him.”
In Zambia, 14-year-old Mirriam visited this counselling centre after being married off to a 78-year-old man. “It was so painful,” she said. “He told me that I had to do it because I was now his wife.” In the developing world, approximately one in four girls will be married as a child. Child marriages continue to take place in developed countries as well.
Photo by Young Women Christian Association of Zambia and UNFPA
Violence casts a long shadow over individuals and families.
Tatiana’s family in Ukraine was torn apart by her husband’s abuses. He is gone now, but she and her six children are still trying to rebuild in this small home. “The children – I live for them,” Tatiana said. “I don’t have a husband. Maybe someday I’ll have another one. But these children are here; they are permanent.”
© UNFPA Ukraine/Maks Levin
Gender-based violence can lead to chronic pain, trauma, disability or death.
Martha was treated with these first-aid supplies after her husband viciously beat her in Lusaka, Zambia. “Her face was badly swollen,” said a counsellor at the shelter she visited. “She had several cuts on her back. She said if she had not run away, he would have probably killed her.” Two thirds of domestic violence homicide victims are women and girls.
Photo by Young Women Christian Association of Zambia and UNFPA
“He pushed her onto the bed and began strangling her.”
Sexual violence can derail a woman’s life with terror, stigma, disease or pregnancy. In Jordan, a young woman sought medical care at this clinic after she was raped. She was relieved to learn she was not pregnant, “but she was still sad and in shock,” said Dr. Rania Elayyan, who treated her. Like many survivors, this woman chose to keep the attack a secret.
© UNFPA Jordan/Elspeth Dehnert
And violence takes many forms, including psychological torment.
In Bolivia, Carmen’s* boyfriend ridiculed her relentlessly, mocking her clothes and appearance. Eventually, she started hiding from him in the bathrooms at their university, including this one. “Those little things add up,” she said. “They affect your self-esteem and they change you.”
© UNFPA Bolivia/Focus
Economic deprivation is also a form of violence, one that pushes women and girls into desperation.
This judge in Nicaragua has issued a ruling against Sofia’s* father, who beat his wife and withheld financial support for Sofia. He cut Sofia off when she became pregnant at 14, well below the age of consent. "When I needed him most and I got pregnant when I was 14, he turned his back on me," Sofia said. "Now it's super difficult for me to keep up. It's hard for me to study." The judge ruled that her father must support her until she turns 21.
© UNFPA Nicaragua/Joaquín Zuñiga
“Our brothers imprisoned us in this dark room for 20 years – since we were children.”
In some horrific cases, women and girls are deprived of their freedom. From the time Balqees* was 9 years old, she and her sister were locked up in this room in Yemen. The brothers felt the girls would shame the family if they were seen in public. Eventually, the brothers abandoned them entirely, and neighbours had to break them out.
© UNFPA Yemen
And violence begets violence, carrying over into the next generation.
Six-year-old Omar*, in Morocco, broke this toy piano trying to protect his mother from his father’s abuse. His mother is afraid for her children’s welfare. “I want a better future for my kids; I don’t want to see them broken,” she said.
© UNFPA Morocco
“We risk our lives in the forest every day to collect wood for cooking.”
In humanitarian crises, women become targets. Zeinabu, 22, was attacked by Boko Haram fighters while collecting firewood outside her displacement camp in north-east Nigeria. Many women have been raped, kidnapped or killed while gathering wood. This is a bundle Zeinabu has collected.
© UNFPA Nigeria
In crisis settings, women are not only forced to seek food and shelter, they also struggle over where they can go and how they can dress to minimize threats.
Sexual violence has been rampant among Rohingya refugees fleeing the crisis in Myanmar. This mountain of donated clothes has accumulated outside a refugee camp in Bangladesh; women have rejected the items as not modest enough to deter unwanted attention.
© UNFPA Bangladesh/Veronica Pedrosa
Rawa’s* father used this rope to tie her to this bed before he raped her.
War can make women less safe even in their own homes. In Yemen – one of the biggest humanitarian catastrophes in the world – reports of gender-based violence have grown by over 60 per cent. Some of the increase is likely due to extreme stress, and some due to the breakdown of protection systems amid the chaos. And some stories, like this one, are simply incomprehensible.
© UNFPA Yemen
The problem will not be solved by women, activists, leaders or even laws. Men and boys must play a role.
Ry, in Cambodia, says he used to be violent towards his wife in this house. But then he joined the Good Men Campaign, an initiative to end gender-based violence. Today, he is determined to do better. “If I could go back to the past, I would have not argued with my wife. Instead, I would have loved and respected her more,” he said.
© UNFPA Cambodia/Sophanara Pen
And these stories must be brought from the shadows, to show the true scope of the problem and to light the way out.
In Belarus, a survivor of domestic violence draws this flower in an art therapy master class. The goal is for survivors to express and overcome their fears, and to grow from them. The theme of the class is “open to live.”
© UNFPA Belarus/Dina Ermolenko