March 8, 2009

International Women's Day: Women and Men Uniting to End Violence against Women

Today, March 8, 2009, is International Women's Day. The first International Women's Day took place in 1911 by Clara Zetkin, according to the International Women's Day website provided by Aurora, "a company that connects business and professional women and actively supports the promotion of employer brands and career opportunities in progressive organizations."

"Success of the first International Women's Day in 1911 exceeded all expectation. Meetings were organized everywhere in small towns and even the villages halls were packed so full that male workers were asked to give up their places for women. Men stayed at home with their children for a change, and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings. During the largest street demonstration of 30,000 women, the police decided to remove the demonstrators' banners so the women workers made a stand. In the scuffle that followed, bloodshed was averted only with the help of the socialist deputies in Parliament."

The theme for 2009 is Women and Men: United to End Violence against Women. Many articles and reports were published during the past few weeks detailing the increased violence of women and girls worldwide. Rape and sexual slavery is commonplace in war-torn regions like Sudan and Congo, girls as young as nine-years-old are married to men who may be three times the age of their new wife in Afghanistan and Yemen, female genital mutilation is still a common practice in certain areas of Africa, and the problem with sex slavery and child prostitution in certain Asian countries is common knowledge, but child prostitution is alive and well in the United States.

I have addressed the problem of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in this blog, which I think is worth revisiting (see "Human Trafficking: 21st Century Slavery"). We need a more collaborative effort among governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector to combat violence against women. There is a great need to train the private sector on the facts of violence against women and how they can take an active role in eliminating this epidemic.

On March 5, 2009, the United Nations launched a database on violence against women, which provides a primary source of information received from a Member States questionnaire on violence against women in September 2008 and subsequent updates. Other sources of information include states parties' reports to human rights treaty bodies, information provided by Member States in follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995); for reports of the Secretary-General; and in statements made at the United Nations, and information available through relevant United Nations entities.

The United Nations International Women's Day website outlines the global situation affecting women:

  • Today, many women – in some countries as many as one in three – are beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetimes;
  • Worldwide, one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime;
  • Half of the women who die from homicides are killed by their current or former husbands or partners;
  • For women aged 15 to 44 years, violence is a major cause of death and disability;
  • More than 80 per cent of trafficking victims are women;
  • More than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation;
  • On the basis of data collected from 24,000 women in 10 countries, between 55 per cent and 95 per cent of women who have been physically abused by their partners have never contacted NGOs, shelters or the police for help.

There are five key outcomes of the UN's campaign of uniting to end violence against women that have been set as the benchmarks, which aims for all countries to achieve by 2015:

  1. National laws are in place and enforced to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls in line with international human rights standards;
  2. National plans of action are adopted that are multisectoral and adequately resourced, with implementation under way;
  3. Data collection and analysis systems are institutionalized and periodic surveys are undertaken on the prevalence of various forms of violence against women and girls;
  4. National and/or local campaigns are launched and social mobilization engages a diverse range of civil society actors in preventing violence and supporting abused women and girls; and
  5. Sexual violence in conflict situations is systematically addressed in all peace and security policy and funding frameworks and mechanisms for protection and prevention of systematic rape are implemented.
I conclude with a variety of interesting facts posted by Aurora's International Women's Day website:
  • Females in developing countries on average carry 20 litres of water per day over 6 km;
  • Globally women account for the majority of people aged over 60 and over 80;
  • Pregnant women in Africa are 180 times more likely to die than in Western Europe;
  • 530,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth each year;
  • Of 1.2 billion people living in poverty worldwide, 70% are women;
  • 80% of the world's 27 million refugees are women;
  • Women own around only 1% of the world's land;
  • AIDS sees women's life expectancy of 43 in Uganda and Zambia;
  • Women are 2/3 of the 1 billion+ illiterate adults who have no access to basic education;
  • Globally women comprise 42% Internet users (Italy 37% ... U.S. and Canada 51%);
  • In OECD countries women comprise only 30 per cent of degrees in science and technology;
  • Women's representation in computer and information sciences workforce is around 30% globally;
  • Female inventors still only account for around 10% of the U.S. inventor population;
  • Women control $14 trillion in assets and this should grow to $22 trillion over next 10 years;
  • Women comprise 21 of the 37 million people living below the poverty line in the United States;
  • Only in Japan and Peru are women more active in starting a business than men;
  • Women spend more time researching before they invest than men do;
  • Women do two-thirds of the world's work but receive only 10% of the world's income;
  • One year out of college, women earn 20% less than men. Ten years later, women will earn 31% less; and
  • The biggest EU gender pay gap is in Cyprus and Estonia at 25% then Slovakia at 24%.

Together, we can make a difference.

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