The photo on the cover of this week’s issue of TIME magazine merited a warning from managing editor Richard Stengel, in which he expressed concern that the magazine’s editorial staff was concerned about the trauma that the image might produce, especially among children viewers who will undoubtedly ask why the woman is missing her nose (answer: her in-laws sliced it, and her ears, off as punishment for being “disobedient”).
It’s a compelling and disturbing image. And though the feature story focuses on Afghanistan and the violence that women have experienced there in wartime – and will, as the cover headline implies, continue to experience if the United States doesn’t stay involved – the violence and inequity that women in Afghanistan experience is endemic to war zones throughout the world.
Aisha, the woman picture on the TIME cover, is a survivor of both intimate partner violence and early and forced marriage. The combination of these two human rights violations of women and girls is all too common in the developing world – not just in conflict zones like Afghanistan. Both of these violations lead to increased rates of HIV infection and increased likelihood of maternal mortality.
There are many pieces to the solution puzzle, but one of the important pieces is about policy – this includes U.S. foreign assistance policies, international agreements to uphold human rights, and national programs that can help to create a just and healthy life for all women and girls.
For more information on prevention of violence and support for survivors, read Seven Things The World Can Do To End Violence Against Women, a collaboration between the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), the World AIDS Campaign, International Aids Women Caucus (IAWC), and Women Won’t Wait.
In the U.S., IWHC has been working in close collaboration with colleagues in Washington to advocate for the passage of the Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act (S.987/H.R. 2103). During a Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing in mid-July on the causes and consequences of child marriage, experts called for swift passage of this legislation.
It’s also important to look at actions governments and UN agencies are taking to prevent violence against women. The presence of nations and agencies that promote peace and democracy in a conflict zone doesn’t guarantee the lessening of violence and the sexual abuse that women too often experience in these circumstances. Since the 1990s, sexual abuses perpetrated by UN peacekeepers have been well-documented in the Balkans, Cambodia, West Africa, and other locations. For more information, download a PDF of the 23-page Watson Institute for International Studies report on Conduct and Discipline in UN Peacekeeping Operations here.