Addressing violence against women and achieving the Millennium Development Goals
MDG 7 Ensure environmental sustainability
Superficially, the Goal of environmental sustainability has little to do with violence against women. Yet Targets 9, 10 and 11 all have direct links to the issue.
Competition for resources is at the heart of much of violent conflict and displacement of populations. As mentioned in the discussion of MDG 1, conflict situations are generally associated with high rates of physical and sexual assault of women. Thus, efforts to reduce environmental degradation can contribute to reducing conflict which will in turn also reduce women’s risk from war, civil unrest and involuntary migration. Advocacy for sustainable development should emphasize its importance in preventing violent conflict, thereby protecting non-combatant women and children.
In many societies, both rural and urban, gathering fuel and fetching water are among the most important domestic tasks that women and girls are expected to carry out. Fulfilling these tasks often requires women to walk long distances, often by themselves, through isolated areas (15,35,36). This can put them at risk of physical and sexual assault. Environmental degradation, such as deforestation and pollution, is making wood for fuel and safe drinking-water increasingly scarce in large areas of Africa and Asia, with the result that women have to walk ever-greater distances and incur increasing risk. Efforts to provide sustainable access to drinking-water and fuel should take into account the safety needs of women, both by reducing the distances they have to travel and increasing their security as they make the journey.
The benefits of increasing security for women not only include reducing violence-based injury and death, but also give women the independence to pursue economic and social activities. Improving policing, including providing training on how to deal appropriately with violence against women (as well as tough sanctions against police who abuse women), can contribute to increasing safety for women in urban areas. Improvements to the environment such as good lighting, and designing streets and buildings to eliminate areas in which assaults can occur without being seen or heard, are also relevant. Efforts to improve the lives of slum dwellers should include interventions to reduce the risk of violence against women through designs and services that enhance security in public places.