When Global Rights for Women works with partners around the world to achieve women’s human rights to equality and freedom from violence, we stand on the shoulders of our foremothers here in Minnesota. When we train legal professionals and advocates in Moldova, Lithuania or Serbia we bring Minnesota’s experience of more than 40 years developing and honing laws to protect women and best practices for their implementation.
By some measures, Moldova is a broken country. It is the poorest country in Europe and has had no government since October, when the prime minister was ousted as a result of a banking scandal. There is corruption from the highest levels of government to the police officers on the street.
Yet Global Rights for Women saw a different face of Moldova when our team traveled there in December to train police, prosecutors, judges, forensic doctors and social service providers in best practices in responding to sexual violence. We saw hope, commitment and real progress toward keeping Moldovan women safe from violence. As US Ambassador to Moldova, James Pettit, said in his end-of-year message, “despite its problems, Moldova has immense potential. Your resources, your human capital, your spirit of creativity and hard work – subtract the problems, and Moldova could be a prosperous, democratic, European country.” Continue reading
Originally published in the Star Tribune:
Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, who is being disciplined by the Army for attempting to stop the sexual abuse of children by an Afghan military officer, compared the U.S. military’s reaction to the rape of Afghan boys to the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. While the comparison is apt, it only begins to suggest the global nature of rape tolerance.
Although the Afghani and Penn State cases concerned boys, victims of sexual violence are most often women and girls. A 2013 global review established that 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. Put another way, the number of women affected by this crisis — 2.5 billion — roughly equals the combined populations of China and India.
This article was originally published on the Ms. Blog:
Editors’ note: We wanted to address the controversy surrounding the op-ed below, and note that we have changed the title and one asterisk-marked sentence in order to more accurately represent the position of the author. We are extremely concerned about the horrors of ISIS’ terrorist campaign of rape, grotesque violence and murder and want to be clear that neither the Ms. Blog nor Amy Lauricella, the author of the piece, intended to equate ISIS’ mass rapes as an instrument of war with rape on college campuses. The author, an attorney who is fighting on the frontlines of the movement to end violence against women, intended to issue a wake-up call about the high and unacceptable levels of institutionalized rape on college campuses. Ms. and the Ms. Blog have always provided a platform for feminist ideas, including controversial positions. While we certainly do not think that the rape campaign of ISIS terrorists can be equated with the high levels of college rape, we do think that sexual assault is becoming institutionalized on college campuses, and we must continue to push college administrators to take action to protect students. It is believed on the basis of sound research that at least one in five college women will experience a sexual assault on campus. And a recent report from the Association of American Universities put that number at least as high as one in four. This is unacceptable—and it’s an institutional, not individual, problem.
The horrors of the Islamic State are becoming increasingly well known. This month, The Washington Post released a series covering life in the Islamic State, with one piece centering on women and highlighting that they live in constant fear of sexual violence. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch reported on “a system of organized rape and sexual assault, sexual slavery and forced marriage by ISIS forces” of Yazidi women.
In a New York Times op-ed piece, David Brooks expressed his alarm about ISIS’ rape program. Writing, “[t]his wasn’t supposed to happen in the 21st century,” the reader gets the impression that ISIS’ treatment of women is an anomaly in modern-day society. As an attorney at Global Rights for Women, a nonprofit that works around the world to achieve effective reform on violence against women, I know that the institutionalization of rape occurs around the world, even in the U.S. According to a 2013 global review, 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence.
Prostitution and sex trafficking, which are often indistinguishable, perpetuate a severe form of violence against women and girls. While prostitution is sometimes characterized as a “choice,” few women would freely choose to sell their bodies if they have other options for economic survival. Therefore, it is inexplicable that Amnesty International, one of the leading human rights organizations in the world, will be submitting a draft policy supporting full decriminalization of the sex industry at its International Council Meeting from August 7 – 11.
In Global Rights for Women’s work to end violence against women and girls around the world, we get the question, “Aren’t you trying to impose ‘western values’ on people who have different cultures and traditions?” There are several answers to this question, but they all come down to the fact that women’s rights are human rights. The right to be free from violence is not limited to certain countries or cultures.
One answer is that we only work in places where we’re invited, usually by a local women’s rights NGO. Often these local organizations are seriously under-resourced and working against tremendous obstacles. When they see a conflict between culture and women’s rights their priority is to keep women safe in their communities.
Sharon Rice Vaughan, cofounder of Women’s Advocates, the first battered women’s shelter in the U.S., was a tireless activist for victims of domestic violence. Her groundbreaking work is a great inspiration to those who work to end violence against women. “Sharon changed our lives. She changed the world.”
Read more about Sharon Rice Vaughan’s legacy: National Bulletin on Domestic Violence Prevention
At best, here in America, we are still dealing with the vestiges of legally enforced patriarchy. At worst, many areas of the country have never sincerely addressed gender-based discrimination and violence. The winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, the South Carolina Post and Courier’s series, “Till Death Do Us Part,” reveals how violence against women in the United States exhibits the same patterns and causes as violence against women in countries around the world.
The South Carolina report acutely brings to light the fact that domestic violence in the United States generally follows global trends. As in other parts of the world, there are insufficient resources for victims and insufficient prosecution of perpetrators. Judicial enforcement of court orders is inadequate, and community attitudes and lack of understanding normalize and minimize intimate partner violence. In the United States, approximately 24.8 percent, or 38 million women will experience intimate partner violence. This rate of violence puts it among the ranks of Haiti, El Salvador, Germany and Jordan when it comes to domestic violence.
Last Wednesday morning, we gathered in a conference room at the Prezar hotel which is situated in the hills high above the Serbian town of Vranje. Legal professionals and advocates had come from around the region and we were about to begin the second day of our training on improving the legal system’s response to violence against women. Before we started, we learned that the 13th domestic violence homicide in Serbia for 2015 had happened the day before. One per week, since the beginning of the year.
When we announced this murder to our 35 training participants – police, NGO’s, Centers for Social Work, prosecutors and judges, I sensed something in the room. It was a feeling of urgency that I have noticed more and more in recent years from those who are the first responders to cases of violence against women. Continue reading
Protests erupted in Turkey in February after the discovery of twenty-year-old Ozgecan Aslan’s burnt body in a riverbed. Aslan was stabbed to death while resisting an attempted rape. The perpetrator attempted to cover-up the murder and prevent Aslan’s identification by burning her body and cutting off her hands. Aslan’s death has drawn attention to the tragic reality that passing legislation is not sufficient by itself to end violence against women—there must also be enforcement of the legislation along with cultural recognition of the rights of women.
Since 2000, Turkey has modernized its laws to provide greater protection to women. The Turkish Civil Code now grants women and men equal rights within the family. Following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Turkey had failed to protect a victim of domestic violence, Turkey enacted domestic violence legislation in 2012. Turkey’s Penal Code has also been updated to eliminate antiquated and paternalistic views of sexual assault and honor killings. Sex crimes are now defined as crimes committed against the individual victim rather than the family, and references to chastity, morality, shame, and public decency have been eliminated.