Former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet believes it’s time to stop the rampant rape and abuse of women and girls around the world.
“The world can no longer afford the costs of violence against women and girls,” the United Nations Undersecretary-General and UN Women Executive Director said at the UN this week. She cited the “social and economic costs” as well as “the costs in deep human pain and suffering.”
Around the world, at least one in three women will experience abuse in her lifetime. According to Amnesty International, “Gender-based violence kills and disables as many women between the ages of 15 and 44 as cancer, and its toll on women’s health surpasses that of traffic accidents and malaria combined.”
Rape is frequently used as a tool of war, and women are often more vulnerable to subjugation, slavery and sex trafficking than are men. The UN estimates that more than 140 million women and girls have been the victims of female genital mutilation.
Rape is frequently used as a tool of war, and women are often more vulnerable to subjugation, slavery and sex trafficking than are men.
If ever there were an argument for the need for International Women’s Day—the day falls on March 8—the facts certainly provide it. And organizations like UN Women are on the front lines of the battle for women’s safety and security.
The history of UN Women involves a lot of interrelated efforts and groups (this is the UN we’re talking about, after all.) Back in 2010, the UN chose to unify four separate groups devoted to helping women: Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW); International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW); Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI); and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
In so doing, the UN hoped to centralize and focus its effort to improve life for women and girls around the world.
UN Women’s main goals are to:
elimination of discrimination against women and girls; empowerment of women; achievement of equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of development, human rights, humanitarian action and peace and security.
While all human rights issues have relevance to women, UN Women focuses on several “priority areas,” including:
violence against women; peace and security; leadership and participation; economic empowerment; national planning and budgeting; and Millenium Development Goals, or MDGs.
The eight MDGs are: eradicating poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV and AIDS and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and providing financing for development.
Bachelet spends much of her time serving as the public face of UN Women. Earlier this week, in a speech to the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, she shared harrowing anecdotes of rape and abuse victims in Vietnam, Moldova and Northern Mali. She also cited one story from the United States:
A 20-year-old girl named Kristin from the United States was raped by a close male friend she thought she could trust, and she wrote this in her journal: “The pain. The stench. The look of hate in his eyes. Is he still out there? What is left of my soul?” Less than five months later, Kristin took her own life, unable to live with the pain any longer.
In mentioning an American victim of gender violence, Bachelet highlighted the fact that violence against women is not a problem restricted to the developing world.
Bachelet went on to place further emphasis on the importance of victims’ stories, saying, “In all our efforts, we need to engage survivors because they know from experience what is needed.”
The executive director concluded her speech with a call for positive action within the United Nations itself: “I encourage all of us to seize this historic opportunity to end the cycle of violence that diminishes us all. Just as people worldwide are rising, let us also rise to the occasion.”
What is one thing you can do to celebrate International Women’s Day? Share your thoughts in the COMMENTS.
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Sara Benincasa is a blogger, comedian, and author of Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom. She has created online content for MTV News, Comedy Central, Vice, Wonkette, Jezebel, CNN and the Huffington Post. She holds a master's degree in education from Teachers College at Columbia University. She lives in Los Angeles, where she is at work on two novels for young adults.