Although violence against women is very much in the global spotlight, there is reason to hope for change, as women step up to the front line of defense against attacks. The World Health Organization acknowledges the problem is an epidemic. One in three women worldwide may expect to experience violence, often from a husband or male partner.
However, if one can say there is a positive outcome of the violence, it is the unifying force that has been created by women taking a stand together. Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity in Washington, says that people worldwide are beginning to hold governments accountable for the violence.
Violence against women is not new or unique to any culture. It has existed through the eras as women have been used as scapegoats. Since the beginning of time, girls and women have been in a serving role and when their behavior is not met with approval, often without warning, they suffer vicious reproach and physical aggression.
When women interact among themselves, in many cultures they form inclusive, community-focused groups. The basis is nurturance and management of home life, passed on from generation to generation. From time to time, the skills of nurturing and management are developed on a large scale to fight back against oppression.
An example of this historically is Leymah Roberta Gbowee, a Liberian activist who led a women’s peace movement that brought an end to the 2003 Liberian Civil War. Her story has been documented in the film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, directed by Abigail Disney. This is part of a 2011 PBS series entitled Women, War & Peace.
Another example of women stepping up to the front line globally is Dr. Reverend Gloria E. White-Hammond. Pastor Gloria is a Boston minister and pediatrician who dedicated over ten years to supporting families in Darfur. She served in the battle to end the genocide in South Sudan. Her story has been chronicled by journalist/minister/filmmaker Liz Walker in a documentary, A Glory from the God. (See video below of a review of the documentary.)
Pastor Gloria and Liz Walker have joined together to form My Sister’s Keeper, an organization dedicated to assist women who face dire socioeconomic conditions. The organization built a school for girls in South Sudan.
And, in their documentary, Girl Rising, the Ten Times Ten team effectively demonstrates with real life stories and statistics how the education of girls can not only break the cycle of poverty (within just one generation), but also that of violence against females on a global scale. (See video below.)
In the U.S. there is heated debate about where violent incidents, even massive ones that women experience in this country – fit in the global scheme of attacks against women. While any violence is on a continuum and by all rights, there should be zero tolerance for any such harm, the key difference is the systemic acceptance of violence.
While sexism – just as racism and other forms of institutional oppression – is historically and currently present in the U.S., as elsewhere, the United States is fortunate to have checks and balances. For the most part, the inequities that exist in this country relate to personal relationships and workplace disempowerment, and are insidious. This is in contrast to societal devaluation of females that leads to the death of over 30 percent of women worldwide.
Liesl Gerntholtz of Human Rights Watch serves as executive director of their Women’s Rights Division. She speaks about the importance of people recognizing the connection between the way women are treated and the violence to which they are subjected.
Ms. Gerntholtz acknowledges the importance of women and their male allies joining together in solidarity to express their anger at the mistreatment, and she said that it is essential to engage additional men, and boys, in the effort to break down prejudice and to take a stand against violence against women.
Upcoming global events that can bring hope for women’s situations include public outrage, government legislation to increase prison terms for those who violate women (India), campaigns against sexual violence at the university level (United States), legislation for international violence against women (U.S. diplomacy efforts), and an upcoming Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict (England, June 10-13).
While global fear of violence against women and its causes have not been reduced, there is reason to believe that change is ahead as women step up to the front line. By taking risks and using the skills that have been passed down to women through the generations, hope is inspired as well as the belief that, in time, an end to senseless violence is in sight.
A Glory From the God, review
Girl Rising (Official Trailer)
Opinion by Fern Remedi-Brown