At a recent IWHC event, Charlotte Bunch, founder of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University, noted that violence is one issue that is common to all women. “All women have experienced the fear of violence,” she said. “Not all women have experienced violence…but all women know what it means to be afraid of violence.”
Every year, the 16 days between the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25) and Human Rights Day (December 10) is marked with 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an initiative created by CWGL and now joined by thousands of organizations around the world.
A central theme of the 16 Days of Activism this year focuses on the intersection of gender-based violence and militarism. We see countless examples of this in the news every day, from Boko Haram’s kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria, to ISIS selling captured Yazidi women and girls as sex slaves, to rape used as an act of war in the South Sudan conflict.
These acts of violence have devastating consequences for survivors and for entire communities. Women and girls who have been raped under these conditions often do not receive post-rape care, including access to emergency contraception and safe, legal abortion services. In many conflict zones, such as in Syria, refugee families marry off their young daughters with the mistaken belief that this will protect them from rape or violence. In fact, girls married in conflict zones are at greater risk of rape or violence at the hands of their husbands. “In seeking to protect their children, parents can end up exposing them to the very situations they were aiming to protect them from,” writes Juliette Myers, author of a 2013 World Vision report, “Untying the Knot: Exploring Early Marriage in Fragile States.”
The global community must get serious about safeguarding the health and rights of women and girls and preventing these acts of violence in the first place. But until we can eradicate these practices, we have a responsibility to provide survivors with the care and support they need to rebuild their lives. The United States is a major donor of humanitarian aid and has the power to improve conditions for women and girls.
During the 16 Days of Activism, IWHC and our partners will call on the Obama Administration to take executive action to ensure access to abortion services as part of U.S. foreign policy, and to implement a comprehensive strategy to end child, early, and forced marriage worldwide, as mandated in the Violence Against Women Act.
Women and girls around the world can’t wait any longer.
Photo: Mark Knobil/Flickr