Over the past decade, Latin America’s economy has improved due to the rising quantity of exports. At the same time, rapid growth of urban centers has created socioeconomic problems like an increase in prostitution and sex trafficking. One of the consequences of the urbanization of Latin America is a rapid increase in population, which in turn results in a larger number of unemployment and homelessness. The high population outnumbers the amount of jobs available for people, especially women. The consequence is that more women living in these urban slums resorting to commercial sex work. These women then become vulnerable to diseases and to violent environments.​

In Brazil, over 40,000 women have murdered for simply being women in the past 10 years. And Honduras is labeled one of the most dangerous places to live for a woman. There, the violent killings of women there have tripled. Unfortunately, only 5 percent of these crimes have been investigated and the murderers prosecuted.

Columbia is facing significant gender-based violence because of military conflict within the country. Women are often attacked who take part in activism to encourage political and social reforms for more representation and rights.

The third most violent place in the world for women is Guatemala. The county ordered a new law to prevent violence against women in 2008, making it the first Latin American country to do so. Yet since the law was implemented, not much has been done to support the new reforms. Women continue to have problems finding prosecution for the culprits.

Not only does violence cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of women in Latin America, but it decreases the region’s social and economic development. The killings are preventing these women from contributing to the economic growth of the country. Seven Latin America countries rank in the top 10 countries in the world for most domestic violence against women.

One answer to this matter is the program U.N. Women, which helps to strengthen the representation of women in government and politics. New policies are developed for women’s economic development; particularly, women in isolated and rural regions in Latin America. These policies aim to create equal and fair workplaces for all women who are seeking or already have employment and to create job opportunities.

UN Women is helping to end gender based violence against women in Latin America by creating services for victims and survivors. This will help by implementing laws to protect women and provide justice for those in need.

— Rachel Cannon

Sources: CSIS, UN Women 1, UN Women 2
Photo: UN Women

Protecting Women's Rights
“Enough is enough” is the sentiment of many regarding violence against women worldwide. Due to the multitude of instances in just the past few weeks, people are finally concluding that better legislation must be made for protecting women’s rights, preventing violence and serving appropriate punishments.

The World Health Organization has acknowledged the violence as an epidemic and has said that one in three women will be the victim of physical or sexual violence, most frequently from her male partner.

From the United States, to India, to Ecuador and many places in between, people are beginning to express their concerns with the way women are being treated. Protests are being held, movements are being led and events are being created to bring awareness to the problem’s severity.

“People are beginning to make the connection between the violence and how women are treated on a day-to-day basis,” Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, said.

In December of 2013, a gang rape in India led to the death of a 23-year-old female student. The woman’s community and other Indian citizens have used this incident as a springboard for bringing about change in the way women are treated and how perpetrators are punished. Since the event, the Indian government has doubled prison terms for rape and criminalized voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women.

In the United States, campaigns against sexual violence in colleges and universities are aiming to increase awareness. For the first time ever, the Department of Education released a list of schools nationwide that are under investigation for their instances of sexual violence and their tactics for handling the situation.

“The violence has been happening forever – it’s not anything new,” Serra Sippel, President of the Washington-based Center for Health and Gender Equity said. “What’s new is that people in the United States and globally are coming around to say ‘enough is enough,’ and starting to hold governments and institutional leaders accountable.”

A notable upcoming event to raise awareness of the problems related to violence against women is The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. This event will be in London June 10 – 13. It will be hosted by Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie, special envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The summit aims to draw attention to four main goals that will drastically change the way women are treated. The first is to improve documentation of sexual violence in conflict. The second involves providing better support and assistance to survivors of sexual violence. The third goal is to ensure that gender-based violence and equality issues are addressed in peace and security negotiations. Lastly, the summit hopes to increase international cooperation to allow for peaceful discussions about issues regarding protecting women’s rights.

The conference will incorporate many other factors, including the launch of the new International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. This procedure will ensure that all instances of sexual violence are being documented correctly.

Attendees of the event will include any government that has signed the U.N. Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict as well as various representatives from organizations, NGOs and civil societies. The summit will be the largest gathering thus far to discuss this subject.

– Hannah Cleveland


Sources: AOL, Gov. UK
Photo: Flickr

In 2013, 26 women were killed in the West Bank and Gaza by their relatives. This number is double the number of Palestinian women killed in 2012. These so-called ‘honor killings’ are perpetrated by male family members who kill a female family member who is suspected of shaming the family. Human rights activists are calling for a change in the law saying that killing for family honor is just a socially acceptable form of violence against women.

The rise in the killings is attributed to tough economic times and a historical leniency when facing punishment for these crimes. Poverty in Palestine has also been on the rise in the last few years. Pressure has been put on Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to repeal sections of laws on the books that allow for short sentences for the perpetrators of honor killings. Many times, perpetrators only face a couple of years at maximum.

Reasons for honor killings vary. One woman was killed by her father for allegedly using a cell phone to talk to a man. Another woman was killed by her brother while praying who later claimed that he acted to preserve the honor of his family. People who claim that they killed to preserve honor are almost always treated less harshly than they would be otherwise.

Former legislator Hanan Ashrawi has repeated called on Abbas to repeal sections of laws that discriminate against women but hasn’t gained much ground. She placed blame on male politicians who put women’s issues on the back burner in favor of other issues they deem more pressing, such as establishing the state of Palestine and ending the Israeli occupation. “We are fighting for freedom and human dignity,” she said. “How can you deprive women of all these things?”

– Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: The Washington Post, Haaretz
Photo: Forqudsday

Citizens of have recently risen up to address the endemic issue of violence against women in Morocco. Women’s rights activists, particularly the Strength of Women activist group, have heavily criticized the government for excluding them from the bill drafting process.

Strength of Women, backed by the European Union, submitted a list of demands to the Moroccan government to address parts in the bill they believe are lacking. The preliminary version of the bill is promising for activists hoping to improve women’s rights in the country.

The bill would take steps to criminalize sexual harassment and impose a 25-year sentence for those found guilty of perpetrating violence against women. It also hopes to impose a possible three year sentence for sexual harassment.

Some are arguing that the bill is largely focused on married women instead of all women. Violence against women is prevalent in Morocco, particularly in marriages where violence against women occurs at a rate of approximately 50%.

According to the state planning commission, approximately 2.4 million women over 18 have been subjected to sexual violence and 3.4 million have suffered physical violence at least once.

Currently, marital rape is not a recognized crime in Morocco.

Those who are critical of the current draft of the bill feel like they have been shut out and their input is not being taken into account. Sara Soujar, a women’s rights activist, spoke at an event pointing out that the bill fails to address single women issues: “the category is totally absent…reading the text, you get the impression that violence basically only affects married or divorced women, even though others may be more exposed.”

While the issue is still unfolding, more research is being conducted about violence against women in Morocco. Women’s rights activists have continued to draw international attention to this bill and hopefully their voices will be heard in the upcoming drafts.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Al Jazeera, Middle East
Photo: TDH

One Billion Rising
This Valentine’s Day, on February 14, women and men from around the world got together to dance for social justice as part of the One Billion Rising movement. On Valentine’s Day in 2013, one billion people in 207 different countries danced together to raise awareness and stop violence against women. The movement aims to reverse the trend, highlighted by the United Nations, of one in three women worldwide (about one billion women) experiencing rape, abuse or beatings in their lifetime.

Each specific protest will focus on issues pertinent to their community but all issues will focus on the plight of women and girl throughout the world. For instance, the One Billion Rising for Justice rally in Atlanta will focus on sex trafficking, while the 2014 Hong Kong demonstration focused on migrant workers and their rights within the city’s legal system. However, all the demonstrations are untied by the One Billion Rising banner, their commitment to social justice for all, and their use of dance to draw attention to the pressing issue of violence against women.

Even Ensler, founder of the One Billion Rising Movement, began thinking of dance as a means for inspiration after working for solidarity in the Congo. Ensler noted that,  “Women in the Congo dance in a way that calls up every spirit and energy force in the world! They have a way of transforming pain to power when they dance.” Ensler seeks to harness this power in all the women and men that participate in her movement to draw mass attention to the cause.

The movement has gained international attention and is accomplishing its goal of raising awareness for and reversing the shocking reality of violence and abuse that afflicts one in three women throughout the world. This year the President of Croatia, Ivo Losipovic, attended local dance demonstrations and commended One Billion Rising for their efforts to raise awareness. Additionally, Ensler received the 2014 Coretta Scott King A.N.G.E.L. Award (‘Advancing Nonviolence through Generations of Exceptional Leadership’) on behalf of One Billion Rising in Atlanta.

The movement has brought attention to the issue in a novel way that differs from ordinary protests and demonstrations. The rhythmic and assertive style of the dance demands attention from onlookers and is yet still easy enough for anyone to participate.

One Billion Rising’s success is part of a trend for Ensler who has also raised advocacy for women’s issues through her popular play named “The Vagina Monologues.” The play raised important issues relating to the feminine experience since first appearing in 1996 and has appeared in over 140 countries worldwide. Ensler is an advocate for improved social justice everywhere and specifically hopes to end rape and violence towards women while bringing them improved economic equality.

– Martin Levy

Sources: One Billion Rising, One Billion Rising- 2, Seattle Times, Huffington Post, Dalje, Image, Guardian
Photo: Global Fund for Women

Eradicating Violence Against Women in Schools
It’s simple: violence against women exists in various personal and professional settings.  One in three women throughout the world will experience some sort of sexual violence in their lifetime.  It is an epidemic.  Such violence not only creates physical and emotional scars, but it impedes all forms of progress.  It keeps women from being equal participants in the workforce, and as a result, nations that do little to curtail violence against women are losing about $5 billion per year in healthcare costs and lost productivity.

This gendered violence is seen even greater in school settings, where gender discrimination leads young women to perform poorly or even drop out of school.  This leaves many young girls illiterate and impoverished.  Known to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative as “School-related gender-based violence” (SRBGV,) this form of violence against women affects millions of female students worldwide.  Such violence goes far beyond just physical violence, but includes all forms of gender bullying, and verbal harassment as well.

The U.N. recognizes the importance of eradicating violence against women in schools.  Partnering with Education International and the Global Education First Initiative, the U.N. Girls’ Education Initiative announced a Joint Statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25.  The Statement sees SRGBV as a “serious obstacle” to the U.N.’s Education for All and Millennium Development Goals.

“Too often, SRGBV remains undetected, unreported, and even overlooked in school, the very social institution where children are expected to be safe, protected, and empowered,” reads the U.N.’s joint statement. “Yet teachers, schools, and education systems are also fundamental in transforming practices, attitudes, and values.  Quality education for all can only be realized in safe and supportive learning environments.”

Addressing violence against women in school settings must be a priority for any global education initiative.  The U.N.’s joint statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is hopefully an effective step in stopping this epidemic.

Taylor Diamond

Sources: United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, Think Progress, Thomas Reuters Initiative
Photo: Vintage 3D

The United States Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) recently honored political leaders Vice President Joe Biden alongside Representatives Kay Granger (R-TX) and Nita Lowey (D-NY) for their efforts in supporting global diplomacy and U.S. development programs.

With over 1,000 in attendance, chairs Lockheed Martin Corporation and Sesame Workshop hosted the event.

The resounding message was the importance of aid and development programs for developing countries.

“Without [development in developing countries], extremism grows, terrorism becomes a viable option, and pandemic disease increases the prospect of it flourishing,” stated the Vice President.

Biden continued that with over one percent of the U.S. budget going towards foreign diplomacy and development, there are no shortcomings for the U.S. taxpayers.

This is particularly important given the global links the U.S. and recipients have.

Fellow speaker John McCain (R-AZ) highlighted the importance of diplomacy and global development, particularly when the U.S. military cannot tackle all the problems worldwide.

And when 95 percent of the market is abroad and 50 percent are recipients of U.S. exports, there is no denying the connectivity between the U.S. and the global market.

The USGLC is comprised of NGOs and over 400 businesses with individuals coming from academic, religious and political backgrounds who aim to merge the importance of diplomacy and development alongside defense.

For her part, Representative Lowey has been part of State and Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee for ten years. Of those ten, she served as chairwoman for four.

As part of that subcommittee, Lowey recently proposed International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) to as a means to prioritize the issue of ending violence against women and girls in U.S. foreign policy.

Writing for Politico, Lowey noted her efforts in foreign development include fighting against corruption in Afghanistan.

Regarding the federal budget, Granger emphasized the importance of foreign aid as a means for military readiness in key posts in the world and also affect the livelihood of U.S. citizens who make U.S. products.

The Vice President’s own experience include serving as the ranking Democrat, if not the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee since 1997 and is currently on a diplomatic visit to East Asia.

As vanguards for foreign policy, the VP and representatives were honored for their service in the fight to prioritize foreign aid, indiscriminate of political leanings.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: CNN, Dallas News, Website of Nita Lowey, Politico, U.S. Global Leadership Coalition

In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki moon, “Violence against women continues to persist as one of the most heinous, systematic and prevalent human rights abuses in the world. It is a threat to all women, and an obstacle to all our efforts for development, peace, and gender equality in all societies.”

In fact, violence kills more women between the ages of 15 and 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.

The recent 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, kicked off November 25 on the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, served to confront this global pandemic. Here are ten of countless statistics that illustrate the importance of such, and continued, efforts.

1. In the 24 developing countries studied in a recent survey, a combined total of only 7% of survivors of gender-based violence, including physical and sexual acts, formally reported their attacks to police, medical or social services.

2. In India, less than 1% of survivors reported gender-based violence to formal sources. The highest rate of reporting uncovered in the survey was in Colombia where 26% of women formally reported the violence they faced. This still means that three out of four Colombian women never report the violence they’ve faced.

3. In the same 24 developing countries, the surveyors explored whether women told their friends, family members or neighbors about their attacks and found that the rates of this “informal reporting” ranged from 15% in Honduras to 60% in Ukraine. Thus, in most of the countries, the majority of women told no one of their attacks.

4. In Papua New Guinea, 59.1% of men admit to forcing an unwilling intimate partner into having sex. Forty percent of men admit to having raped a stranger.

5. According to the UN, there were 15,654 cases of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2012. However, the country is noted to chronically underreport gender-based violence figures. A study published by the American Journal of Public Health found that more than 1,100 women were raped every day in 2006 and that more than 400,000 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 were raped within a 12-month time frame.

6. A third of all survivors of sexual violence in the DRC are between the ages of 12 and 17. Reports from the UN indicate that 82% of all survivors had not finished primary school.

7. A study by Johns Hopkins that surveyed women across 25 African countries found that a high proportion of women believed that wife-beating was justified in at least one of five different hypothetical scenarios. The percentage of women who adhered to this view ranged from 18 in Swaziland to 87 in Guinea.

8. A South African women is killed by an intimate partner every 6 hours.

9. An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women throughout the world have experienced female genital mutilation. More than three million African girls face the risk of the practice every year.

10. Eighty percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually are women and girls. Seventy-nine percent of them are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Kelley Calkins

Sources: End Violence Against Women, UNFP, Al Jazeera, UN News Center, NCBI, Say No to Violence, Women Under Seige
Photo: Gabriela USA

World map
The traumatized collective consciousness of the Serbian people is understandable given the war and strife the country has experienced in recent decades. These events coupled with pervasive poverty and patriarchal cultural norms have created a disturbing trend of domestic violence. A recent article by the Associated Press highlights that 54% of Serbian women have faced domestic violence in their lifetime. This statistic is extremely shocking compared to the 30-40% of women worldwide who have faced abuse and 25% in the United States.

The AP provides two harrowing accounts of violence. One account focuses on Mica, a woman who set her husband on fire after enduring years of abuse. The husband died of his injuries several days later in the hospital. The other describes a Serbian veteran who killed 13 relatives and wounded his wife in a mass shooting spree. The husband’s violent tendencies, typified by his habitual beatings of his wife, were never reported to authorities.

One of the major reasons that violence has perpetuated within Serbian society is the presence of deeply rooted patriarchal social norms. The image of the strong Serbian man and the submissive woman is a generally held view as opposed to an egalitarian relationship found in more liberal societies. This deeply held belief coupled with severe economic misery only compounds the problem. When frustration is pervasive, violence tends to follow.

There is also a severe lapse of authority with regards to Serbian officials preventing instances of abuse and prosecuting those responsible. Although the Serbian government has recognized the problem by enacting targeted legislation, the recent economic crisis has drained budget resources to the point that adequately funding these legal mechanisms is troublesome.

Furthermore, local authorities have shown a complete lack of interest in seriously prosecuting offenders to the fullest extent of the law. Most cases are resolved with warnings to the perpetrators. Shockingly, UNDP has discovered that the vast majority of cases involving domestic abuse resulted in the prosecutor failing to even interview the victim and the perpetrator 79.5% of the time. And 66.7% of the time criminal charges were dismissed, citing lack of evidence. It seems as though tolerance for this type of violence is rooted not only within individuals but within the public institutions charged with punishing perpetrators.

UNDP has created a project to help solve the crisis of domestic violence. The Integrated Response to Violence against Women in Serbia is attempting to change these deeply held beliefs within the country by creating preventative programs such as youth education on gender equality and gender based violence, programs aimed at reaching out to perpetrators, and campaigns focused on raising public awareness and altering stereotypes.

The Associated Press points out that perhaps awareness for this problem is gaining traction among authorities in Serbia. For instance, in the case of Mica, the judge issued her a minimum sentence of five years in jail for the murder of her husband. The judge even seemed to show sympathy for all the years of abuse she endured.

Zack Lindberg

Sources: UNDP

Star Wars
Human rights group Breakthrough launched a surprising new campaign tackling violence against women.   Advertisements featuring an animated scenario have been playing on TV sets across the U.S.  The short scene depicts men stopping other men from acting inappropriately towards women.   In one bit, a man stops another man from slapping a female vendor’s bottom as she walks by them.  The tag “#BeThatGuy.  Stop violence against women in its tracks” flashes across the screen. The ads were first tested at Miami Speedway last month, where they were extremely well received.

The videos are based off the idea that men are a part of the problem, but also a part of the solution.  The core idea is that men can use their male privilege to speak up for women where women may be unable to have a voice.

Breakthrough plans on running more ads both online and on TV that discourage gender-based violence.  Breakthrough organizer Ishita Srivastava says she believes in “meeting people where they are,” including at sporting events with high institutionalized gender bias.

The campaign is called “Ring the Bell,” and calls on men to hold each other accountable.  Breakthrough calls violence and discrimination against women and girls “unacceptable.”  The organization has centers in India and the U.S.  that specialize in using media, pop culture, art and community mobilization to encourage people to “live up to their full potential.”

Breakthrough has also launched campaigns against early marriage and sex-selective termination, and in favor of immigration rights, racial justice and HIV/AIDS prevention.

Stephanie Lamm

Sources: Breakthrough, WITNESS Blog, Aljazeera