Thursday, March 08, 2007

International Women's Day

Today, 8 March, is International Women’s Day. The theme for this year is ending impunity for violence against women. Not surprisingly this is an issue about which I am fairly passionate. Here in Afghanistan the levels of violence perpetrated against women and girls is heartbreaking. Worse, the victims are almost entirely without any recourse to justice, protection or even an escape.
But as striking as the problem is here in Afghanistan, the women here are not alone. Women all over the world, including in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, are living with violence.

Some statistics about violence against women and girls:

  • Violence against women is the most common but least punished crime in the world.
  • Globally, women between the age of fifteen and forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die as a result of male violence than through cancer, malaria, traffic accidents or war combined.
  • At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Usually, the abuser is a member of her own family or someone known to her.
  • Domestic violence is the largest form of abuse of women worldwide, irrespective of region, culture, ethnicity, education, class and religion.
  • It is estimated that between 113 million and 200 million women are demographically "missing." They have been the victims of infanticide (boys are preferred to girls) or have not received the same amount of food and medical attention as their brothers and fathers.
  • The number of women forced or sold into prostitution is estimated worldwide at anywhere between 700,000 and 4,000,000 per year. Profits from sex slavery are estimated at seven to twelve billion US dollars per year.
  • It is estimated that more than two million girls are genitally mutilated per year, a rate of one girl every fifteen seconds.
  • Systematic rape is used as a weapon of terror in many of the world's conflicts. It is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 women in Rwanda were raped during the 1994 genocide.
  • Studies show the increasing links between violence against women and HIV and demonstrate that HIV-infected women are more likely to have experienced violence, and that victims of violence are at higher risk of HIV infection.

I find the thought of it overwhelming, this violence going on all around us all over the world. Violence against women is a crime, whether it is perpetrated by family or strangers, in the public sphere or behind closed doors, in times of peace or conflict. States have an obligation to protect women and girls from violence, to hold accountable perpetrators and provide justice and remedies to the victims. I spend a lot of my working time to assist states to better fulfill this obligation, and holding them accountable when they do not. But ending violence is not just the Government’s responsibility – everyone in society, men and women, has a responsibility to act when confronted with such violence. Today on International Women’s Day I urge you all to take action to prevent this violence going unnoticed, unpunished and unhindered. Find a small step that you feel comfortable taking:

  • volunteer to train to be the contact point for women and girls in your office or school who have been bullied or harassed;
  • report the domestic violence going on in your apartment building to the police;
  • approach a domestic violence victim support organization in your community and ask for their suggestions;
  • make a donation to an organization working to help women who are recovering from violence in war-affected countries;
  • paint, draw, photograph or write about violence, or about ways to end or recover from violence.

I’m sure you’ll think of a hundred more ways to take action to end violence against women. Share your ideas and inspire others.


Regina Clare Jane said...

Thank you, Frida... a very moving post. I remember the first time I heard about young girls undegoing genital mutilations- I was appalled. Here I am, so cozy and comfortable in my own little world, and look at what is happening to my dear sisters around the world. I am ashamed that I do not know more, but also moved to do something about it now...
Frida- you are such an inpsiration- to be in a place where this kind of horror happens all the time... you are so brave and a hero to many of those women that you have helped. And my hero, too...

Darrell said...

My Aikido teacher used to say, "If you have a dirty bucket of water you can turn the water clean by adding one clean drop at a time." We were his drops of water. Today I will pray for peace peacefully. I will show kindness to one woman for all the women being violated. This is my drop.

Laini Taylor said...

A heartbreaking post, Frida. Some problems seem so unsurmountable, and sometimes I can't remember anything GOOD about human beings at all. But then there are people like you making a difference, and there's something good to remember. Thank you!

turquoise cro said...

Phew! Yes, such horror outside our doors, it is hard to imagine!! I will continue to pray and pray!

woman wandering said...

Just a small btw, did you see 'In My Father's Den' ... a NZ movie.

I was stunned by what it portrayed of the NZ female experience - small town NZ granted. Curious to know what you thought - if you saw it :)

My Marrakech said...

Dear Frida,
Yes it is harrowing. It is hard not to get overwhelmed in the face of such truths. But we must also try to see the beauty -- sometimes lost -- in all the ugliness. Or else, we will quite literally make ourselves sick. Or become lost ourselves.

Sophie said...

Heartbreaking post Frida -
and i have to remind myself that
one step - the first step -
with many more to follow is the
way - it can seem so defeating.
But it isn't.
Thankyou for your love and
committment and energy and this

Annitya said...

really sad numbers, and still it may be even more than that in the reports. I watched one documentary about rapes in Congo in CNN, and the numbers were in hundreds of thousands, and the culprits were never punished, instead the government was trying to cover it.