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This is the story of a girl, and a boy. It’s a global story. And a story that happens in our region. 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              It’s a story that occurs many times a day, every day of the year. And in every kind of household, and every city and country across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. 

This is the bigger story behind violence against women. This story doesn’t have a happy ending. Because this is the story of how gender inequality contributes to the murder of countless women every year. Sounds like a tall tale, right?

Let’s take things back to the start. Here’s the story of a regular woman. As a girl, she gets told how pretty she is, never how clever she is. That if she wears a short dress she’s asking for it. That proper girls don’t play football, and there’s no girl’s football team at school anyway. She grows up, and gets used to being harassed by men on the street. That’s just the way it is. Here’s the story of a regular man. As a boy, he learns that women aren’t equal to men from a very early age. Even though both his parents work, on the weekends his mom does the housework while dad watches sport. When he cries about being bullied at school, his dad tells him to ‘stop being such a girl’ and just ‘punch ‘em right back.’ Technically speaking, we’d say that these social norms, practices and structures have shaped both the boy and the girl, creating a society where women are valued less and men are expected to be dominant and in control. In such a world, disrespect and hostility is excused, and violence against women is far more likely.

But back to our story. The girl grows up into a woman, the boy grows into a man, and they begin to date and get married. He jokes that he hopes she “doesn’t get fat now that we’re married.” She’s not sure whether she should laugh. They have the same education and do similar work, yet he earns more money. He is quickly promoted, like other men in the company, while she gets overlooked. At home, she does all the household chores, and he takes control of their joint finances, seeing as he’s the main breadwinner and all. When they’re with friends, he puts  her down in front of everyone. His friends stay quiet. In the morning he wakes up and blames the alcohol. And stress. He always has an excuse. [Text in animation: Alcohol Use, Drug Use, Money Troubles, Stress]

When she gets pregnant, her boss says she can’t come back part-time. After the baby is born, the lack of flexible job opportunities and childcare keeps her out of the workforce. She is socially isolated and financially dependent on him. He controls decision-making, and her. They are not equals. She is dependent on him for everything. So she never tells anyone that he has started to hit her. She doesn’t say anything to her family or friends. She grows more isolated. She has nothing else but him, so she lives with the violence, until their story ends, one way or another.  

This story isn’t a one-off. It’s a story shared by 1 in 4 women in our region who have experienced  physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner. It’s a story of one in 15 women who experienced sexual violence including rape from a non-partner. And it’s a story of how more than half of all women killed in our region are murdered by an intimate partner or family member and many others live in constant fear. This story affects children, too. Many women who experience physical, sexual or psychological violence have children who also suffer from the violence at home. 

For survivors and perpetrators, violence against women is the conclusion often reached after a life lived in a society where women and men aren’t treated equally. But we – you and I – can change the narrative.

Better policies and services, better-quality education and engagement of men and boys, and better funding can prevent this all-too-common story.

A new chapter is already being written. By the many men in our region for whom it is normal to value women and have caring, respectful and equal relationships. To be involved in raising children. And to treat women as equals in the workplace and public life. And it is being written by the many women in our region who are empowered to value themselves and realize their rights.

When women and men have equal power, value and opportunities in relationships and in society, violence against women is less likely. We can create a society of equality and respect where violence against women is unthinkable. Let’s change the story. Because ending violence against women starts with gender equality. It starts with all of us.