All over the world, we hear the cries of violence against our daughters.
In Steubenville, Ohio, an intoxicated, unconscious high-school girl is stripped and raped repeatedly at a football-team party, her picture proudly posted on social media in celebration and mockery.
On the other side of the planet, a 23-year-old para-medical student on her way home from a movie dies after being gang-raped and mutilated by as many as six men on a bus in New Delhi, India.
The stories of violence against girls and women continue: Government and humanitarian agencies, including the United Nations and the World Health Organization, tell stories of girls in Ecuador afraid to go to school because of the prevalence of teacher-student rape. In Rwanda, as many as 250,000 women and girls are raped during three months of genocide in 1994. In the United States, one in five women has experienced rape or attempted rape, while one in four has been beaten by an intimate partner.
Statistics on human trafficking, meanwhile, know no geographic boundaries: Of the 21 million adults and children bought and sold across jurisdictions into commercial sexual servitude and forced and bonded labor, 99 percent are women and girls, says the International Labour Organization.
All told, the United Nations estimates between 15 percent and 76 percent of women worldwide, depending on the country, have experienced or will experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetimes.
“Among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined,” says the U.N. “Perhaps the most pervasive human-rights violation that we know today, violence against women devastates lives, fractures communities, and stalls development.”
However we choose to define the collective, the individual stories of violence against women and girls are real.
If you’re a woman, you have either been violated, or you know somebody who has. I have three friends who were raped: one at gunpoint by two strangers on a city street; another when she was 12 by the man who hired her to baby-sit his children; and another when she was 16 by a high-school coach. I know a woman who was gang-molested under a stairwell at her middle school. I know women who were sexually abused as children and others who believe it is their wifely duty to have sex with husbands even when they are abusive.
None of us in our right minds wants this happening to any of our children, boys or girls, perpetrator or victim.
Which is why the U.N. launched the campaign UNITE to End Violence Against Women, and Hillary Clinton identified women’s rights as one of her top priorities as secretary of state. Which is why the grass-roots One Billion Rising for Justice erupted last year like a shot heard around the world, with women protesting in the streets and activists demanding protective policies in the legislative halls. Which is why universities across the country have launched “bystander intervention” programs, teaching students how to intervene when they encounter a situation that looks like date rape. Which is why, in countries like South Africa and India, where authorities and citizens have traditionally blamed and ostracized the victim, even people there have begun protesting, too.
Which is why we mothers talk to our sons and daughters about mutual respect and responsibility. And then we try our best to act the part. Which is why we point out gender inequities in society to our children. And then we engage them in conversation.
Which is why we dance.
This Valentine’s Day, I and a handful of friends will join one of the many flash mobs and dance rallies around the world as we support and celebrate One Billion Rising for Justice’s mission to end all violence against women.
The events, including protests, speeches and marches, will be reproduced in almost every country in the world with an estimated one billion participants, including many brave women and girls who are risking their lives to participate.
Check here to find events near you: www.onebillionrising.org/events/#!/0/0/1/”http://www.onebillionrising.org/events/