Saturday is International Women’s Day, a 105-year-old annual call to action for women’s equality. But for many women and girls around the world, its most basic promise of freedom remains unfulfilled.
More than one-third of the women and girls on this planet will experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives, according to a 2013 World Health Organization report.
Since last year, horrific assaults on women and girls have drawn international media attention. A girls school was bombed in Pakistan, and a school bus before that.
In Afghanistan, where so much progress had been made for women since the fall of the Taliban, things are getting worse.
Last year, violence against Afghan women increased 28 percent, with prosecutions ticking up just 2 percent. This is despite a 2009 Afghan law meant to secure rights for women and girls. In the last few months, Afghan lawmakers sought to weaken prohibitions against child marriage, bring back public stonings for adultery and bar women from testifying against relatives who abuse them.
Kabul is a long way from the streets of Tucson where I grew up, but having traveled there and many other places as an advocate for women and girls for more than two decades, I’ve seen firsthand the devastating effects of gender-based violence. But in the courageous accounts of the women I’ve met, I find hope.
In Pakistan, Humaira Shahid, a former legislator, fights for women’s equality despite being threatened with acid attacks. In Honduras, the COMUCAP women’s collective — which first came together to reduce domestic violence in their communities — now forges paths to economic opportunity by growing and selling coffee. And in Afghanistan, women like Dr. Sakeena Yacoobi and Suraya Pakzad remain outspoken advocates in the face of resurgent anti-woman extremists.
What can we do as Americans sitting so far away? A lot.
In November, the International Violence Against Women Act was reintroduced into the U.S. House of Representatives. Senate introduction of the bill is expected any day.
This legislation — at no additional cost to Arizona’s taxpayers — would make violence against women and girls a top U.S. foreign policy priority. By doing so, it would provide vital support and essential moral reassurance to millions of women struggling to break free of violence and inequality.
More important, it would help make good on a promise that has been denied for far too long to far too many women and girls: the promise of a life free of violence.