The International Day to End Violence Against Women was celebrated at the United Nations on Nov. 25. Each year, the 16 days following this event are designated as days of activism against gender violence. This year’s theme, “Orange Your Neighborhood,” was given vivid testimony as the Empire State Building was lit in orange in an effort to galvanize public awareness around this all-pervasive issue.
Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women , addressed those gathered, reminding us that “No country, no culture, no age group is untouched by this massive and pervasive human rights violation. Far too often, sexual and gender-based crimes go unpunished and the perpetrators walk free. Society turns a blind eye and a deaf ear.”
A global pandemic
Violence against women and girls is considered to be a global pandemic. The World Health Organization considers it a global health problem, with one in three women/girls subject to physical or sexual violence. The Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, reminded us that in this year alone we have witnessed the kidnapping of more than 200 girls in Nigeria; school girls in India were raped, killed and hung from a tree; and Iraqi women gave testimony of rape and sexual slavery during war. He went on to say that “It is simply the most extreme example of the political, financial, social and economic oppression of women and girls worldwide.” While more than 80 percent of the world’s governments have legislation against sexual violence and harassment, implementation is often another story. And currently, more than 603 million women and girls still live in countries where this kind of violence is not considered criminal. And right here in the United States, we are reminded of this brutal reality on a daily basis in our newspapers, and even on our college campuses.
Safe Cities Global Initiative
As part of the day’s event, UN Women and the City of New York signed an agreement to work together to enhance the safety and empowerment of women and girls. This is part of the UN Women’s Safe Cities Global Initiative , an effort to work along with municipalities to make public spaces safe spaces for women and girls. For its part, New York will develop and advocate policies and practices to safeguard women’s and girls’ safety, equality and empowerment. The Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Executive Director of UN Women and Chirlane McCray, First Lady of the City of New York.
Another kind of violence
Even as the international community struggles to grapple with violence against women and girls, here in our own country we have once again come face-to-face with another kind of violence, this time in Ferguson, Missouri—that perpetrated against young African-American males. According to the Sentencing Project, more than 60 percent of those incarcerated in the United States are racial and ethnic minorities. For black males in their 30s, one in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day. “A shameful truth is that too often, there is a different criminal justice system for whites and blacks, and for the wealthy and the poor. These circumstances are unconscionable, and can only be addressed through continuing and comprehensive change.”
Of course it goes without saying that what happens here at home becomes world news. But perhaps not too many of us would be aware that what happens here at home is also scrutinized by the UN Committee Against Torture . In its first review of the United States’ record on preventing torture since 2006, the committee urged the U.S. to fully investigate and prosecute police brutality and shootings of unarmed black youth. The report, issued last week, also addressed the recent spate of “botched executions,” the frequent rape of inmates, shackling of pregnant women in prisons, and the extensive use of solitary confinement. While not making explicit mention of the events in Ferguson, the panel did refer to the “frequent and recurring police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.”
In light of all that disturbs us these days, and threatens to extinguish the spark of hope that lies deep within us, these words from Eleanor Roosevelt may serve as a reminder as to what is most important:
“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”
Hopefully, we are each up to the task at hand.