An Open Letter to Yana Auguste - A Victim of Gender-Based Violence
Dearest Yana, This is my first open letter and some of the most personal feelings I have ever expressed in writing. Your death caused me deep despair and grief, as have so many brutal assaults on other young women in the past. Though I have never met you, many people have expressed their love and admiration for you. I want you to know that many of us will keep fighting for the rights that your murderers so viciously violated. While it is a tragedy that we were unable to help you, there is hope for other girls and women who continue to face similar dangers of violence. Violence against females of all ages is an epidemic; and any cultural beliefs which continue to promote and encourage this violence must be challenged and effective measures taken to prevent further assaults and deaths from occurring.
Many of us were shocked by the video which circulated throughout social media and particularly disturbed by local media’s overt sexualization of your “semi-nude body”. Tragic photos and video of your lifeless body were exposed for the entire world to see. The act of violence against your person was sadistic in both nature and form. It projected a message of warning to other women and girls as to just how fragile our bodies can be when assaulted by violence. The fact that these photos and video went viral with such pejorative commentary is an alarming reflection of the incredibly low value and respect given to women’s bodies.
The media reported the alleged incident as an “accident”, yet media reporting of accidents does not typically include such detailed accounts of the physical appearance of the victim, male or female. I was thus not terribly surprised when comments regarding your sexual preferences and sexual activity became the focal point of most discussions on various internet and public forums. It is regrettable that your death served as the stimulus for debates about acceptable sexual practices (for women specifically) instead of the need and methods for preventing violence against women in all its forms. I am truly sorry that the nature of your death did not signal a loud wake-up call to the responsible human rights agencies to take action or to the public to reflect more deeply on the rights of women and children to live free from violence.
Unfortunately, it is neither well-known nor acknowledged that violence is the number one cause of death for women in the world. The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery stated in 1991 that “violence was the second most common cause of injury overall and the most common cause of injury of women aged 15-44 years old, – above cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. The World Bank reports that up to 70 per cent of women experience violence in their lifetime and that, “Every year millions of women and girls worldwide suffer violence, be it domestic violence, rape, female genital mutilation/ cutting, dowry-related killing, trafficking, sexual violence in conflict-related situations or other manifestations of abuse.”
Violence against women takes many forms – physical, sexual, psychological and economic. These forms of violence are interrelated and affect females from before birth to old age. Women and girls who experience violence can suffer from diminished ability to participate in public life. Thus, violence against women not only harms individual women, it harms families and communities across generations and reinforces other violence prevalent in society. Violence against women not only impoverishes women, it impoverishes their families, their communities and their nations.
Many of us have advocated for the rights of women and girls to be upheld but we continue to be dismissed as promoting feminist views rather than humanistic ones. The time has come to address the root of violence against women, which is persistent institutionalized discrimination against women and girls, as separate from human beings.
Every time a female victim dies from violence, we read about it, comment on it, and participate in public demonstrations. But in our private reflections, we all share a common fear – that it might have been us or those whom we love. May you rest in perfect peace dear Yana, and all of our beloved sisters, daughters, friends, nieces, aunts and mothers whom you have now joined in death as a victim of violence.