Violence Against Women Needs Attention – Again
March 7, 2007
In 2002, the American public was made acutely aware of the global injustices women face through the courage of Mukhtar Mai”a young woman sentenced by tribal leaders in southern Pakistan to be gang raped for an indiscretion allegedly committed by her brother. After being brutally raped by four men and then forced to walk naked through her village to further shame her, Mukhtar Mai, with the encouragement of the Iman from the village mosque, publicly denounced her abusers and drew massive attention to the injustice of customary practices condoning violence against women. Glamour named her “Woman Of The Year” Time Asia heralded her a symbol of strength.
So it’s saddening, particularly on International Women’s Day”a day meant to recognize the accomplishments of women all over the world”to consider for a moment that in the United States and elsewhere, the single most dangerous place for a woman is in her own home. Unfortunately, women who are victims of gender-based violence are too often forgotten, their abuse hidden.
Statistics paint a frightening portrait. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, an estimated 960,000 to three million women are physically abused by a husband or boyfriend each year. And throughout the world, women cite violence as one of the most serious problems they face. In fact, an average of one in every three women on our planet has experienced violence at least once in her life.
Violence against women is a crime”and an urgent global human rights issue. Violence contributes to and reinforces the marginalization of women in economic, political, and social life and is a health risk.
And yet, even in the 21st century, many countries lack the legislation that makes beating a woman a punishable crime. Some nations in Asia, for example, such as Mongolia, Cambodia, and Laos, have enacted groundbreaking legislation to protect women”such achievements deserve our support and recognition. But tragically, across the globe, women continue to be routinely battered, even murdered, often with impunity. The challenge remains to improve and enforce laws against violence and provide adequate services to assist battered women.
Fortunately, there are solutions. But these are by no means easy or simple. First, abused women need protection and safety. Emotionally shattered, they need good shelters and counseling, and access to professionals who can provide a path to healing and in some cases, independence from the abuser. Yet women are often reluctant to report their abuse to seek assistance. For example, a World Health Organization multi-country study conducted in 2001 found that only 6% of physically abused women in Bangladesh sought help from local leaders or the police; in Thailand, only 15% sought formal services.
Second, in nations where women’s rights groups are fighting for the passage of a domestic violence law, lawyers, judges, and police officers need training and information to help them understand that such violence is a crime. Abused women need their local authorities to treat and represent them as legitimate victims”and to uphold new laws, if they can be passed.
Finally, and this list is by no means exhaustive, governments and human rights professionals”people and organizations that have contact with public officials and the media”must make the prevention of violence a priority. To do this, detailed and candid workshops that mobilize communities”both men and women”to combat discrimination and violence against women should be conducted.
As we celebrate the gains women have made in health, education, employment and participation in political life, the continuing lack of personal security for women must be addressed.
Five years ago, in a small village in Pakistan, Mukhtar Mai courageously spoke out against her abuse and brought world attention to this heinous problem. She’s now using her influence to protect girls and women from violence. The rest of us should take her lead.
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