From the horrific rape of a young Indian woman in Delhi, India to the rapes of US military women in the United States, the world’s citizenry erupts in indignant opposition to the ugly specter of gender based violence that haunts women in every corner of the world
On this International Women’s Day 2013, what distinguishes it from it’s past observations, is the growing demand from diverse sectors of societies, including governments, international institutions, non-profits, advocates and survivors, to once and for all, stop gender based violence against women and girls throughout the world.
The brutal rape murder in New Delhi, India this year triggered outrage within India and beyond with unprecedented intensity. Indian citizens and people around the globe were rightfully outraged.
This outrage and passion feels like a crescendoing chorus to me. And it is simply unprecedented. To witness this growing opposition to gender based violence is not only inspiring, it actually feels as if, women and men are beginning to work together in an effort to push back against a crime that has for centuries, been considered a private affair, that the government had no role in addressing.
Indeed, one only needs to look as far back as 1782 , the year that “James Gillray published his satirical cartoon Judge Thumb. The cartoon lambastes Sir Francis Buller, a British judge, for allegedly ruling that a man may legally beat his wife, provided that he used a stick no thicker than his thumb,” although it has never been verified that Judge Buller ruled this to be law. Nonetheless,”the rule of thumb” expression and domestic violence were long ago symbiotically merged with the belief that a man’s house was his castle, from where he could rule his roost, including the beating of his wife, and police rarely, if ever intervened. Depending on the country and legal jurisdiction, beating one’s wife has been allowed to continue in many countries and cultures, with impunity.
Nonetheless, the shift toward change has momentum and everyone is getting into the act. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has posed for a photograph with his arms crossed as part of the UN’s “Stop Rape Now” campaign, with a tagline of “Get Cross,” by taking a stand against the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war (you can join this campaign and submit your own photo as well.
Even in America, the Republicans suddenly woke up and decided passing the Violence Against Women’s Act was in their best interests, and finally, after a tortuous process, did so last week. Just yesterday, President Obama signed the legislation into law to great fanfare.
While House Republicans dithered on VAWA, some of them did join in the fight to stopping rape in the U.S. military ranks. Indeed, Republican Congressman Mike Turner has been a big supporter in an on-going bipartisan effort to fix a broken military justice system that allows rapists to continue to engage in sexual assault and penalize survivors, who have the timerity to report their rapist to authorities. Of course, if the rapist is your supervisor, it can be a hellish existence. Turner has joined with Democrats Niki Tsongas and Jackie Speier in this effort to reform the Pentagon by supporting the STOP measure. Service Women’s Action Network, founded by former members of the U.S. military have made military sexual assault, its number one issue as advocates on Capitol Hill. Indeed, when former Secretary of Defense Leon Panatta announced the repeal of the Army and Marine Corp’s combat exclusion rule last month, Panatta signaled that allowing women to compete for combat positions, will once and for all remove a second-class stigma to women who serve in uniform and have likely been seen as an easy target by would-be attackers because they have been pushed aside from the most prestigious positions, based solely on their gender, not due to their abilities.
And the U.S. government finishes its day at the State Department with Secretary John Kerry,who is the first male Secretary of State to present nine women with the annual “International Woman of Courage” awards, marking International Women’s Day.
My message today is: We cannot move backwards, we must keep moving forward. It is what we owe to millions of women fighting for their rights around the world.
We find ourselves at a tipping point in history.
Never before have we witnessed such global momentum and mobilization by men and women, girls and boys, demanding an end to violence against women and girls.
Never before have we witnessed such open, widespread public outrage and calls for change and action.
Never before have we had the instant and global outreach that new technologies afford—to record in mere seconds, and communicate in real time, the atrocities and horrors of violence committed against women and girls.
Violence against women is pervasive and knows no borders. It does not discriminate according to nationality, ethnicity, social class, culture or religion.
This is why women, men and young people have raised their voices in every region to say one thing: enough is enough.
People demand an immediate end to impunity. They insist on the protection of the rights of women and girls to live in dignity, free of violence and discrimination.
And let me say this: There can be no peace, no progress, no equality without women’s full and equal rights and participation. And there can be no gender equality without women’s realization. Women’s realization of their full reproductive rights, their right to sexual and reproductive health, are essential to the empowerment of women and to gender equality.
As social transformations in attitudes, beliefs, and values are happening, we must keep pace with the aspirations of people everywhere in the world. Their hope, our hope is to see gender equality become reality in this, our 21st century.
If we act with courage, conviction and commitment, we can change violence against women from being the most pervasive violation of human rights to being a rare occurrence that is considered unacceptable and no longer tolerated.
Each one of us has responsibility and duty to act. But there is a special duty incumbent on the international community and the Member States of the United Nations to show that we not only listen but support what people now demand.
The UN Commission on the Status of Women is now engaged in its 57th Session, addressing these pressing issues. Let us hope all those who are participating are seized with the commitment that Bachelet made in ending her remarks: ”Today on International Women’s Day and every day, let us individually and collectively pledge to do all we can to promote and protect women’s rights so that every girl and women can live free of violence and discrimination.” Let it be so.
Tanya L. Domi is the Deputy Editor of the New Civil Rights Movement. She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and teaches human rights in East Central Europe and former Yugoslavia. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi was a nationally recognized LGBT civil rights activist who worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force during the campaign to lift the military ban in the early 1990s. Domi has also worked internationally in a dozen countries on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights and gender issues. She is chair of the board of directors for GetEQUAL. Domi is currently writing a book about the emerging LGBT human rights movement in the Western Balkans.
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