Marking the Tenth International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

nov25_stamp_96x96As I wrote about a year ago today, November 25th has been designated by the United Nations as “International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women” since 1999.  The date was selected to “commemorate the lives of the Mirabal sisters,” who were assassinated on November 25, 1960 during the Trujillo dictatorship (as explained more fully in the General Assembly resolution to which I just linked).

Today Vice President Biden issued a statement marking the occasion:

Violence against women is found in every culture around the world. It is one of our most pervasive global problems, yet it is preventable.  When gang rape is a weapon of war, when women are beaten behind closed doors, or when young girls are trafficked in brothels and fields – we all suffer. This violence robs women and girls of their full potential, causes untold human suffering, and has great social and economic costs….

Indeed, it is hard to overestimate the impact of pervasive violence against women in the lives of women, men, and children all over the earth.  According to a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report,

The UN Development Fund for Women estimates that one in three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused.

It describes domestic violence against women as perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation known today.

Women are more at risk of death or disability from violence than from cancer, road accidents, war, or malaria.

This year, the UN’s campaign includes a new emphasis on men’s contributions to the efforts to eliminate violence against women, including the establishment of a new Network of Men Leaders, whose members include a wide range of prominent politicians, activists, and other leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Spain’s President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, and author Paulo Coehlo.

The Network of Men Leaders in some ways hearkens back to the White Ribbon Day campaigns that preceded the establishment of the IDEVW in the UN. (You can read a history of White Ribbon Day here at Womankind’s website.)  The Radio Free Europe article explains that today, the international White Ribbon Day campaign “urges men to wear a white ribbon on their lapel to show that they oppose violence against women and children. Started in Canada, the campaign has spread to 50 countries, including Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

3097511Campaign organizers are particularly eager to recruit the support of leading athletes from such “macho” sports as rugby, on the grounds that they can set a positive example for young men to follow.”  For instance, today eighteen teams of New Zealand men ran a race, tied together with white ribbon, to mark this day of protest against violence against women.

Along similar lines, in his remarks today UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that “men must teach each other that real men do not violate or oppress women – and that a woman’s place is not just in the home or in the fields but in schools, offices and boardrooms.”

Broadening the appeal of the campaign to men seems wise to me, and not only because violence against women cannot be reduced without men joining in the effort.  Also because, of course, as one commenter wrote in to Australia’s White Ribbon Day campaign blog, “children, women and men are all entitled to their inalienable human rights and . . . all violence against all people is wrong.”

The exchange in that blog post and the comments that follow, on the question of whether emphasizing the elimination of violence against women does harm to men and boys, is an interesting one, and there are valid points on both sides of that debate. But, in the end, the focus on violence against women, for a part of the year, seems logical, given that there is disproportionately so much more impunity for the perpetrators of violence against women, than for the perpetrators of many other forms of violence. Acts that would be recognized as horrific, anti-social violence when perpetrated against strangers, or for reasons recognized as political, are not viewed as so terrible if perpetrated in the contexts we call “private” or “personal”–within families, intimate relationships, workplaces, even rape.  Focusing world attention on why that’s so can only be for the good.

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