Published on November 25, 2023

Poetry of resistance: standing up to violence against women

Worldwide, millions of women and girls experience the impacts of gender based violence. The facts are stark: 

1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence – mostly by an intimate partner.

Approximately 15 million adolescent girls (aged 15-19) have experienced forced sex at some point in their life.

More than five women or girls are killed every hour by someone in their own family.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, with yet more women experiencing sexual harassment, coercive control, trafficking, female genital mutilation and other forms of violence.

Goal 5 calls for gender equality as a fundamental human right – the bottom line is, women and girls deserve to thrive just as much as men and boys. And that’s not all. Gender equality is a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. We cannot progress as a planet if half of the population is left behind.

But as the facts all too sorely show, Goal 5 targets are way off track and women and girls continue to face violence and harm, with devastating physical, sexual, and mental consequences. Shockingly, 15% of countries still have no legislation whatsoever addressing domestic violence, and where it does exist, huge challenges often remain in enforcing these laws.  

If we are to truly make progress on eliminating violence against women, there are a whole host of actions we must take – from ensuring that perpetrators are held to account, to guaranteeing sustainable funding for women’s organisations and services for survivors. Crucially, we must also challenge the deep-rooted ideals that normalise and perpetuate gendered violence.

One way women around the world are doing this is by raising their voices through poetry for healing and resistance. In many cultures domestic abuse continues to be seen as something that happens behind closed doors and by addressing it in their work, poets are breaking this silence. Their words can be used as a vessel to articulate personal experiences; create a sense of solidarity, showing survivors of violence that they are not alone; and promote the message of zero tolerance for violence against women and girls.

This International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we’re sharing some must-read poets who are using their platforms to do just that: 

Koleka Putuma

Koleka Putuma’s award-winning work tackles themes such as homophobia, womanhood, race and the dynamics of relationships, religion and politics. In her poem mourning, every 3 hours, she shares the shocking reality that a woman is killed every three hours in South Africa.

Nikita Gil

Poet and campaigner Nikita Gil sheds light on the realities of domestic abuse through her work, challenging myths around violence against women and speaking up for survivors

Safiya Sinclair

In her memoir, How To Say Babylon, Safiya Sinclair shares an insight into how growing up in Jamaica, ruled by her father’s strict patriarchal and repressive control, she was able to find her own voice and live life on her own terms.

Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur’s poetry collections – milk and honey, the sun and her flowers, and home body, all explore themes crossing domestic abuse, sexual assault, migration and trauma. 

Warsan Shire

Warsan Shire’s extensive work explores different forms of violence against women and girls – from familial abuse and intimate partner violence to the practice of female genital mutilation.