International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women


Dear Colleagues,

As the second instalment in ABLE’s periodic reflections on dates from our Diversity and Inclusion Calendar, we offer colleagues’ thoughts on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women , a UN-sponsored observance on Friday, 25 November. We thank our colleagues for their reflections on what this day means to or for them and their work.

Andrew van der Vlies, Deputy Dean, People and Culture
Anne Hewitt, Associate Dean, Gender, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Kate Rush 
Project Director, Transforming Culture, Office of the Chief Operating Officer

"Personal safety and wellbeing is fundamental to life. Our interdependencies necessitate individual welfare a collective responsibility. Ensuring equitable safe inclusion for everyone requires a focussed effort on creating change where society is failing, like the physical and psychological violence still experienced disproportionately by women and girls.

Today represents the importance of women’s safety internationally, but the success of change also starts locally. The University of Adelaide is committed to creating a safe and inclusive culture, making a stand against all forms of misconduct in the workplace, and valuing diversity in amplifying the talents of our people. Initiatives such as Transforming Culture are an invitation for all staff to demonstrate our Values and collectively create a healthy and thriving environment for all.

Dr Claire Walker 
Senior Lecturer, Department of Historical and Classical Studies

"This semester I taught the second year History course on heresy and witchcraft in medieval and early modern Europe. It explores the ways negative stereotypes and labels were used to marginalize minorities in society and how such beliefs and narratives about the “other” often resulted in violence. At times this violence was sanctioned by church and state and enacted by the authorities against heretics, Jews, beggars and other marginal groups. As religious, regional and local identities were defined against these “outsiders”, ordinary men and women might also take matters into their own hands to ensure communal purity and security.

Women were targeted as members of these minorities and murdered during crusades or burned for heresy, but the best-known incidence of violence against women occurred between 1450 and 1750. The witch hunts are conservatively estimated to have resulted in 90,000 prosecutions and 45,000 executions. While not all “witches” were female, women accounted for 75% of those accused in most parts of Europe. The stereotype “witch as woman” is often attributed to misogynistic passages in demonological texts, but initial accusations of witchcraft were brought against witches by their neighbours and grounded in factors beyond the scope of these texts. Women accused of witchcraft by their neighbours were elderly, poor and dependent upon communal charity or they cared for vulnerable people as healers and midwives. Often a woman had been suspected as a witch for decades before her neighbours denounced her, suggesting the complex economic, social and political variables underpinning the witch hunts.

When asked to think about what the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women means to me, I thought immediately about the witch hunts. Women were accused of damaging property, killing animals and maiming or making family members ill. Often they were the most marginal members of the community. Community prejudices against them gained traction because few in power spoke out against the violence. Indeed the authorities on the whole acquiesced, prosecuting, torturing and executing suspected witches. Eventually jurists and religious leaders began to question the witch stereotype and judicial changes in evidence and the conduct of trials led to the end of official prosecutions. Yet decriminalisation did not end belief in witchcraft and lynching of suspected witches continued. However, it was less acceptable to perpetrate this form of violence against women and those who did were often prosecuted. So the witch hunts highlight the importance of galvanising public opinion and official action against violence against women. Although in the twenty-first century we don’t accuse neighbours of witchcraft, do we perpetuate attitudes which make it possible for violence and harassment to continue?"

Dr Alison Dundon 
Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences

"The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) came into force in 1981. It was the first global framework for measuring feminist progress and takes a holistic approach to challenging forms and levels of discrimination. It acknowledges that gender inequality can be felt in both direct and indirect ways and seeks to protect and fulfil women’s rights.

For me, the ongoing global commitment to combat the many forms of discrimination that women experience in their lives indicates that, while genuine gender equality is still some way off, we are making strides in the right direction to eliminate discrimination."

Tagged in People and Culture