A global spotlight on violence against women

The millions of tweets about the abducted Nigerian girls and now a killing rampage against women in California show the progress in global efforts to confront the issue of violence against women. Exposure of the problem is halfway to ending it.

AP Photo
Students walk into the sunset after participating in the Isla Vista Shooting Memorial Paddle Out on May 28 in Santa Barbara, Calif. The event was in response to the weekend rampage against women by a lone gunman.

Take a guess: Name two Twitter topics that have been very popular in recent weeks.

Try this: #BringBackOurGirls and #YesAllWomen.

The first hashtag is a global online campaign to rescue the more than 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The second is a lively public conversation about gender relations after a killing rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., a town near Santa Barbara, by a gunman who had also posted a video of his grievances toward women.

The strong reaction on social media to these two violent acts should not go unnoticed. It reflects the progress so far of two decades of effort by the global community to deal with violence against women and girls – whether it be domestic abuse, rape, genital mutilation, child marriage, or the abortion of females.

Much of the effort has been to simply shine a spotlight on these problems in order to improve ways of preventing them. A good example was the nationwide protest in India after a fatal gang rape of a student two years ago. The protests led to tighter anti-rape laws and better enforcement.

Or take a protest in Pakistan Thursday to demand government action after the “honor killing” of a woman by her family at a courthouse after she married the man she loved. Or the ongoing protests in Nigeria to push the government to do more in rescuing the kidnapped girls, protecting other girls, and defeating Boko Haram.

Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai, already an advocate for educating Muslim girls, now also campaigns about violence against girls after being shot by the Taliban.

In the United States, a harsh spotlight has been put on the high number of sexual assaults in the military and on college campuses, forcing changes in policies. In March, a survey of 42,000 women in the European Union revealed that 1 in 10 women has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 15, and 1 in 20 has been raped.

Half the battle in dealing with sexual assaults has been in the collection of data. Too many women are still too reluctant to report such crimes. And nearly 50 percent of all sexual assaults are against girls 15 and younger.

Since 1993, the United Nations has led a campaign to curb violence against women. Close to $100 million has been spent to help nations improve their laws and enforcement. The UN dedicates each Nov. 25 as a day to highlight the issue. Since 2000, the Security Council has taken steps to reduce wartime rape, especially in eastern Congo. In 2002, the International Criminal Court recognized that sexual violence may constitute a war crime.

According to a 2011 UN report, “Although there is further to go, laws on violence against women are beginning to establish the kind of clear mandates and procedures that are needed to drive implementation and improve women’s access to justice.”

In his latest book, “A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power,” former President Jimmy Carter refers to gender-based violence and religious persecution of women as “the most serious challenge facing us now.” He and his wife have traveled the globe spotlighting the issue. He calls on leaders in male-dominated religions to change their practices and beliefs about the status of women.

Much more needs to be done, of course, than shed light on this problem. Attitudes about gender equality, the protection of children, and the dignity of each individual must change. Or as Mr. Carter writes, “The fact is that all of us can act within our own spheres of influences to meet the challenges.”

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