Category Archives: Gender Equality

Ending Violence against Women is “a responsibility for all of us”

By Becky Owens Bullard

“This is not just a women’s issue, this is a responsibility for all of us. This violence is an outrage and it must be stopped. Time has run out for complacency or excuses. Let us show the will, the determination and let us mobilize greater resources to end what is a scourge of humanity, violence against women.” – Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Executive Director November 20, 2012.

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Photo from Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence Against Women

Every November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, yet I’m always surprised at how little coverage this day and the issue itself receives.  In some countries around the world, including my own, this time of the year is a time where most people are consumed with upcoming holidays and what presents to get our loved ones.  So most often, this day of awareness is lost on these countries and the millions who inhabit them, but the importance of raising awareness to eliminate violence against women and girls can not be understated.

With some of the progress that we’ve seen in issues like domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, harassment, human trafficking, femicide, forced marriage and rape as a method of war, it may feel easier to overlook violence against women and girls as an issue deserving of serious attention at this time of the year or really at any time of the year. However, violence against women and girls continues to be incredibly pervasive, much more so than you might think. In a multi-country study conducted by the World Health Organization finds that in most countries between 30 to 60 % of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, with the highest proportion of findings at 71% of women in Ethiopia.

Additionally, people will often ask why the focus on women? And aren’t men affected by violence too? While a number of men and boys are certainly affected by violence, the unfortunate reality remains that violence disproportionately affects women and girls. This is a result of discriminatory gender norms that view females as the weaker sex, as property, as subservient to men, and as objects to be gawked at and grabbed whenever men please.

The most common number taken from the WHO study above and additional studies on the subject is that on average around the world 1 in 3 women will be affected by some form of abuse or violence in her lifetime. So if women and girls make up half the world’s 7 billion human beings, over 1 billion of these individuals have been victims of some form of violence. over 1 billion people.  This constitutes a pandemic of very serious proportions. Nonetheless, it is an issue that is commonly placed behind other international, national and local priorities even though violence against girls and women between ages 15 to 44 cause more death and disability than war, cancer, malaria, and traffic accidents combined.

For example, in the U.S. during the most recent elections there wasn’t a single question in the presidential debates concerning this pandemic or the long overdue ratification of the Violence Against Women Act, even though 1 in 4 women in the U.S. are victims of domestic violence, 1 in 6 women are victims of rape and 1/3 of women murdered in the U.S. are murdered by their intimate partner.

Sadly, what we did hear were various comments about “legitimate rape” not causing pregnancy, rape being “something that God intended to happen” that girls don’t get pregnant from statutory rape or incest, pregnancy from rape being similar to “having a baby out of wedlock“, and that “some girls they rape so easy“. Disturbing comments like these show a troubling lack of understanding that half the world’s population is at very serious risk of becoming a victim of very real violence.

These persistent misogynist attitudes and the staggering statistics on violence perpetrated against women and girls clearly demonstrate why we cannot ignore this issue and the opportunity to raise awareness about ending this violence today or any other day of the year.

But why should you be bothered with this difficult and depressing issue, especially at this time of the year?  Because you know her.  You know a woman/girl who has been sexually harassed, you know a woman/girl who has been so terrified of her intimate partner that she’d do anything to calm him down, you know a woman/girl who has been a raped.  While you may be thinking, “I don’t know anyone who has had that type of horrible experience”, these statistics aren’t just numbers and the prevalence of violence against women and girls is very real. You know her I guarantee you, you’ve just never heard what she’s been through.

So during this time of the year when we are supposed to focus on love, togetherness and humanity, do your part to raise awareness about this issue.  Do your part to help the women/girls you know who have been affected by violence. And like with any issue, if we work together to educate ourselves, our children and our communities on the important role that every single one of us has, we can end the pandemic of violence against women and girls.

Ask your government to commit to end violence against women.

Take action against gender violence during the 16 days between today and December 10th (International Human Rights Day).

Learn how to help someone who may be suffering from abuse or from sexual assault.

And finally – share this post on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women with your family and friends to raise awareness!

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Familial Violence, Gender Equality, Human Trafficking, Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, Stalking, Stranger-Street Harassment, Violence Against Women

A Crime without Repercussion: How Street Harassment has gone Unacknowledged for Too Long

By Becky Owens Bullard

This year, International Anti-Street Harassment Week March 18-24 highlighted an important new movement to raise awareness about an issue that affects an extremely high proportion of women and girls every day.  This movement to bring attention to harassment by strangers in public spaces is an exciting new focus that anti-violence groups have historically been silent on. While there are a number of organizations, campaigns and events surrounding violence against women and girls, stranger-street harassment is often times left unacknowledged and untouched upon in discussions about crimes that perpetuate the cycle of gender-based violence.

While it is understandable how stranger-street harassment might get lost among crimes like domestic violence, rape, trafficking and femicide, the nature of this harassment is fundamental to our fight against all violence against women.  Stranger-street harassment reveals the underlying discriminatory and abusive attitudes still held by many men that a woman is an object and is to be treated like one wherever she goes, whoever she is, at any time of the day.

When I was growing up, the general message I got from adults was that although stranger-street harassment was unpleasant, it was also somewhat accepted as an unfortunate reality. If I was upset about someone looking at me inappropriately, hooting at me from a car while I was jogging, or just outright saying what they’d like “to do with me”, the general message was that it was just “boys being boys” and I should let it go. This reality had a negative impact on me – it meant that I didn’t feel safe in public, especially when I was alone. And sadly, what was not regularly reinforced from women or men was that this reality was unacceptable, that I have every right to be disturbed and upset, and that I should feel empowered to report this person who harassed me, grabbed me, made me feel unsafe.

As I grew up, I began to understand that claims of “boys being boys” was only minimizing harmful, harassing behavior that has deeper implications for sexual assault, exploitation, and abuse. Unfortunately, the attitude that stranger-street harassment is just an unpleasant part of life continues in our conversations with young girls and boys, as well as among adult men and women. For example, a friend called me recently upset and angry about being grabbed on the street by a stranger and she asked me if I thought she was overreacting to what had happened. Although she and I both knew she was not overreacting at all, I realized many people might not agree. If she had talked to any number of people about this male stranger touching her on the shoulder and saying something inappropriate, they very well may have told her that it was a yucky situation, but may not have understood why she was so upset.

Every female on the planet has stories of harassment, with a survey study on the topic showing 99% of women who have endured some form of stranger-street harassment from honking and whistling to being followed and assaulted.  By failing to acknowledge the harm of this harassment and responding apathetically with a “just shake it off” mentality, we send a dangerous message to women and girls that if you’re walking down a street or in any public space – you just may get stared at, hooted and hollered at, and even touched without any recourse. We also send a clear message to perpetrators that they can do any number of these things to make women feel threatened, unsafe and violated without any repercussion.

So, it is time to ask ourselves – how many times do we have to experience/witness/hear about stranger-street harassment to do something about it? When do we commit to educate our society about respect and equality in public places, so that women and girls can feel safe walking down the street?

For the stop violence against women movement, it is time to ask ourselves – why has it taken us so long to acknowledge the critical role of stranger-street harassment in ending gender discrimination and what can we do to combat it?

Fighting stranger-street harassment as a prevalent form of gender-based discrimination and violence is absolutely essential to the stop violence against women movement. With the momentum from the newly initiated International Anti-Street Harassment Week, now is the time to incorporate this issue into our  programs to end gender-based violence and discrimination and make a commitment to stop public harassment and make public spaces safe for women and girls.

For more information about the movement to end stranger-street harassment, go to:

Stop Street Harassment: http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/

Meet us On the Street: http://www.meetusonthestreet.org/

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Filed under Gender Equality, Sexual Violence, Stranger-Street Harassment, Violence Against Women, Words Hurt Series

International Women’s Day: A Call to Action

By Becky Owens BullardInternational Women's Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a holiday established 101 years ago as a day when people throughout the globe unite around issues that affect women. International Women’s Day is also a time for reflection and recognition, when we celebrate the achievements of women throughout history to move towards greater equality while recognizing there is still much work to be done for women’s rights.

The scope of women’s issues in need of protection and progressive change are vast, including issues of health, education, political access, violence, economic access and many more. At their core, each of these issues represents the continued lack of equality and persistent discrimination against women that exists on every continent and in every community. While the Voices Against Violence Project focuses specifically on issues of abuse and gender-based violence, the central theme of international women’s day is absolutely key to ending violence against women and girls – living in a world where women are equal. Without gender equality, discrimination on the basis of harmful gender-stereotyping will continue to perpetuate the cycle of violence against women that results in abuse, rape, servitude, exploitation, femicide, and numerous other crimes of violence. As long as people believe that women should be the subservient, weaker, meeker sex – violence against women and girls will continue.

Although some may choose to believe that women’s issues are a thing of the past and that things like gender-based discrimination have been resolved, women (and men who advocate alongside them) continue to fight the often grueling battle for equality every single day. Maybe to some it is easy to ignore or choose not to notice, but concerned women and men recognize that gender inequality is still very present…

Every time there is yet another news story involving degrading and harmful language towards women;

Every time a sexist remark finds its’ way into our everyday lives;

Every time that victim blaming perpetuates myths and leads to injustice;

Every time a young girl is denied education based on her sex;

Every time that a woman is denied equal access to economic empowerment or equal pay; and

Every time that a woman’s safety is threatened or she is harmed because she is a woman.

While it is important to recognize that we are making great strides in issues that affect women, these unfortunate realities of the present must keep us moving forward for equality. These are the things that I hope will call you to action to support the women and girls in your life and to help end gender-based violence and discrimination.

Today on International Women’s Day, I would be remiss not to honor the survivors, advocates, family members and friends, law enforcement, attorneys and community members that work tirelessly on issues of women’s rights. I am so fortunate to have been mentored by so many amazing advocates who work long hours for little pay or recognition because they are inspired to make a difference to combat the unacceptably high rate of gender-based violence. I am also incredibly blessed to have learned from and been inspired by so many women who have survived some of life’s most heinous experiences and had unimaginable strength to face their perpetrator in trial, educate their children or others on violence, or work to make our world safer by sharing their story. Thank you to all of you – you are my inspiration.

Happy International Women’s Day!

To learn more about International Women’s Day or Women’s Issues, check out some of the following websites, news stories and press releases:

International Women’s Day Official Website

UN Women

Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures

Why International Women’s Day Matters

Evaluating Challenges Women Face

Remarks by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet on International Women’s Day

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Filed under Gender Equality, Violence Against Women

Happy International Human Rights Day & Welcome to the Voices Against Violence Project

UNiTE Poster

Image Source: UN.org

By Becky Owens Bullard

Today, December 10th, is International Human Rights Day and the end of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence between this anniversary and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th.  These 16 days mark an important opportunity for international, national and local actors, organizations and governments to come together to speak out against gender-based violence perpetrated against women and girls.  

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was established as an official UN day of awareness in 1999, commemorating an unofficial day of awareness on violence against women in Latin American countries inspired by the anniversary of the assassination of the Mirabal Sisters by the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic in 1960.  The story of the Mirabal Sisters is an inspirational example of women standing against violence and refusing to let their voices be silenced by tyranny in a time where female voices were commonly ignored or silenced.  Their story and the 16 Days of Activism bring into focus the current voices of the movement to end all types of violence against women – perpetrated by the state, by rebel forces, by intimate partners, by family members, by anyone, anytime, anywhere.  

Within the past few years, there has been a steady increase and diversification in the voices against violence and discrimination perpetrated on the basis of gender.  These voices include a new focus on campaigns to include men and boys as important partners and voices to stop violence against women and girls, as well as a new agency, UN Women, to unite the voices working on gender equality and empowerment within the UN.  Additionally, increasing awareness around issues facing women and girls related to discrimination and violence are steadily being incorporated into development work, peace and reconciliation efforts, and global health and education initiatives.  

While voices in the movement to end gender-based violence are obviously growing, their resonance throughout society is still fairly stagnant.  While working on issues of gender-based violence I have struggled with this frustrating reality when explaining why the prosecution of domestic violence crimes are important to family members of victims bent on “keeping it in the family”; when presenting information on the violent nature of sexual exploitation to individuals who still think pimps are cool and prostitutes are criminals; and even when taking a master’s course on global issues where asked to select the most important issues facing the world today – my class of graduate students put forth the important issues of non-proliferation, climate change and development; yet, not a single person proposed the issue of gender-based violence and I had to defend the issue on its merits as one necessitating global attention.  

Luckily, I won.  But this got me wondering why in this day and age (not in the ’90s when the stop violence against women movement was just getting its footing) are we still complacent about discrimination against half the world’s population?  Why aren’t people more outraged about this issue, which low estimates suggest affects 1 in 3 women globally with regard to gender violence (approximately more than 1 billion individuals – high estimates are up to 70% of women) and every single woman with regard to gender discrimination?  

And why aren’t the voices of survivors and those who advocate on their behalf heard more frequently in the media, through non-profits and in governments and inter-governmental agencies?  This is not to say that survivor and advocate voices are not present in the movement, but from my own experience working on these issues, the most empowering advocates and survivors I’ve met don’t necessarily have a way to express their opinions, tell their stories or call others to action to end violence against women and girls.  

This blog is meant to do just that – give a voice to the everyday advocates working in the trenches to end violence and to survivors of gender-based violence and discrimination.  This blog is also meant to provide a place to actively participate in the fight against gender-based violence through education and awareness-raising.  So, welcome to the Voices Against Violence Project and Happy International Human Rights Day!  As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously said at the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, “women’s rights are human rights” and we can do more to make that message and the message to stop violence heard by bringing our voices together against violence.  


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Filed under Gender Equality, Violence Against Women