recent article in the New York Times reported these statistics:
- 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical violence.
- In the United States, 83 percent of girls aged twelve to sixteen said they experienced some form of sexual harassment in school.
- In the European Union, only 14 percent of women reported their most serious episode of domestic violence to the police because these reports are not taken seriously.
Violence against women has reached epidemic proportions and is present in every single country around the world. Sisonke Msimang, in her article “The Backlash Against African Women
,” suggested that the surge in violence against women can be understood as a backlash against the progress that women have made in recent years. She contended that, especially in Africa, “it has taken some time for the conservative backlash to develop into a coherent and organized force” joined by churches, tribal leaders, and politicians.
Progress for Women and Girls
If we see the epidemic of violence as a backlash against women’s advances, what are these advances? Somini Sangupta of the New York Times
reported that positive changes have occurred in the global context over the past twenty years, as a result of pressure put on world governments by the participants at the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women:
- As many girls as boys are now enrolled in primary school.
- Maternal mortality has fallen by half.
- Women are more likely to be in the labor force, although a significant gender pay gap persists.
- The share of women serving in legislatures has nearly doubled, though women still account for only one in five legislators.
- More countries have passed laws protecting the rights of women, though the laws do not mean anything if police, judges, and medical personnel do not take violence against women seriously.
Clearly, progress has been made, but there is still more work to do.
What We Can Do to Stop Violence Against Women
To start with, we have to find our outrage about worldwide violence against women before we can find the energy and inspiration to take action locally. Msimang reported that the only effective deterrent to a wave of new laws proposed in South Africa to limit the rights of women has been a “loud and organized women’s movement
.” In India, large numbers of people, women and men, turned out to demonstrate against the lax laws and sexist attitudes that encourage rape and harassment of women, and, consequently, new legislation has been passed. In addition, a public debate has begun about the treatment of women in India. In the United States, media attention and demonstrations have put the spotlight on campus rape and have embarrassed some high-profile universities into changing the policies and practices that allowed them to turn a blind eye to rape on campus in the past.
Where’s your outrage? What can you do in your community to help ensure that girls and women are not harassed or assaulted? Do you know the statistics on sexual assault in your community and local schools? Do you know the statistics on domestic violence in your community? Do you know the status of local shelters for victims of domestic violence? What can you do to educate your neighbors and organize local support for schools and neighborhoods to prevent sexual violence? Thinking globally and being informed is essential, but we can all find a way to act locally to stop violence against women.]]>