We want to live in a world where women and girls are not at risk of sexual violence. Tell us about the world you want to live in with #TheWorldIWantToLiveIn on social media.
“I couldn’t believe they were doing it, that it was actually happening,” says Janine, seated in the center of a circle of handmaids at the Red Center during season one of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale as she recounts being gang-raped as a teenager.
“And whose fault was it girls?” Aunt Lydia prompts the group
“Her fault, her fault, her fault, her fault, her fault, her fault” the handmaids chant in unison.
Sexual violence is a global epidemic, as is the shame society places on survivors. It is recognized as a violation of the human rights of women and girls and it is estimated that one in three women worldwide will experience gender-based violence in their lifetime.
Gilead is founded upon denying women agency over their own bodies and disposing of the tools and resources that enable women to take steps to advocate for their own safety and security. Just as Janine is blamed for her own attack, in many countries sexual violence survivors must contend with tremendous barriers to justice, from social attitudes to the law itself.
In some countries, such as Ethiopia, a survivor’s sexual history may be used against her as proof that she was not raped and, indeed, even sought out the attack. In Bolivia, which has the highest sexual violence rates in Latin America, the law of estupro imposes lesser penalties for the rape of an adolescent girl than of a young girl or adult woman. One in three girls in Bolivia will experience sexual violence before she turns 18, and 70 percent of Bolivian women are survivors of sexual or physical violence. In Kazakhstan and other parts of Eurasia a perpetrator may be exempt from criminal liability if he shows repentance, such as providing his victim with monetary “compensation,” for his crime.
These and myriad other laws around the world reinforce the dangerous notion of women—and their bodies—as objects belonging to and for the use of men. The Handmaid’s Tale viewers recently saw Janine severely beaten by Aunt Lydia at the Putnam’s home in full view of the commanders and their wives. Janine’s body and person are treated by the state and those in power as a tool to serve their own wants, desires and ends.
Sexual violence is a pillar of Equality Now’s work around the globe. Working together with our partners in the region, Equality Now has played a central role in efforts to reform the Bolivian legal system’s response to sexual violence. We have done this by bringing survivor stories before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), advocating for protections for young and adolescent girls against forced pregnancy and forced motherhood and calling for the abolishment of estupro. In January 2018, Equality Now released a landmark report “Roadblocks to Justice: How The Law Is Failing Survivors of Sexual Violence In Eurasia” analyzing the gaps in the laws of 15 former Soviet countries around the issue of sexual violence. But there remains much work left to do, work that is not possible without comprehensive, effective laws in place to protect women and girls from sexual violence.
Equality Now is proud to partner with Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale as we work toward a world we all want to live in – a world where no girl or woman is at risk of sexual violence. Don’t you? Let Us Know with #TheWorldIWantToLiveIn and #WakeUp on social media.
Take action and Join Equality Now to help end sexual violence against women and girls.
Watch The Handmaid’s Tale Season Three now on Hulu in the United States and on Channel 4 in the U.K.