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Why care about violence against women?

A friend recently asked me:
I do not know if the intent of the blog is to lead to some concrete action.
If so, then I will start at the root of the problem. “violence against
women” is an anonymous and vague topic.

Do you mean “women against women?”
“men against women?”
“children against women?”
“societal laws limiting women, men, and children?”

If you had to assign different weight to each of these scenarios what will
the criteria be and what will be the corresponding weight?
Good questions to address, so here goes.

First – this issue is definitely a personal one. I hesitated to write because so much came up for me as I thought about my own life experiences, but I decided to share some of the things that happened to me.

I was 8 years old, in second grade. It was late in the summer or early fall because it was still very warm, and I know I was back at school – in the suburbs of Baltimore. A good friend lived across the street and her parents were having an afternoon party. She and I had been at her house, but then decided to go back to mine, across the street. I remember one of the older men sitting on the front porch steps. She went over to kiss him goodbye because they were such good family friends, so I thought I should as well. He grabbed me, held my arms down, not letting me move or get away, and French kissed me for about 15 minutes – on and off. I was 8 years old. He must have been around 60. It was awful and I had no idea what he was doing. It was in broad daylight, in front of my friend and her brother who was in first grade. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t say anything – it was not that I was muffled physically, I was in shock and just took it. I didn’t scream or fight back. I was scared and just didn’t know what to do. I was 8 years old.

According to the UN, 1/5 of all women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. Look around you and see how many women are near you. You might be the one, or have a close friend or family member might be one. It might be your coworker or your next door neighbor. It might be the woman sitting next to you in your church pew. I was one of the lucky ones. It happened only once, it was not rape, but it was sexual abuse from someone who would be considered a “normal” person in the community. I wonder how many other girls he molested. How did he treat his wife and daughters (if he had any)? Fortunately for me, it was the only interaction with the criminal, so I was lucky that our paths never crossed again.

That was not the path for another woman I know well who was molested for several years as a child by her parents’ best friend, until she had the courage and capacity to fight back. It took her many years to address it and to tell her parents about it. The victim carries the scars.

I just checked the US Dept of Justice, using their NVAT Reporting tool: from 2008 -2011, ages 12 to 17, of the reported victims of child molestation, 88% were girls.

88% of victims of child molestation are girls.

Getting back to the questions:

Violence against women is all of the above – it refers to the fact that women are abused because of their sex and are restricted by gender-based societal laws or norms.
“Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.
“Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. (from WHO)

It is personal because I have experienced it. It is personal because I have seen it and continue to see it.

If we take each one separately:

Women against women – Mothers (and fathers) hold back their daughters from sports, from education paths or career paths. Women in India support killing daughters-in-law for poor dowries or other “offences.” Mothers sell their daughters to brothels. Women run brothels that use young girls. Women cut other women in cultures with female genital mutilation.

Men against women – not sure what to say about this. There is so much information about it. Most perpetrators of violence against women are men. It is in the papers daily – intimate partner violence is most often men against women – as in the Oscar Pestorius case. This seems to be one of those questions that one could say volumes or simply be silent because what else is there to say? Just read the news. Look at the Steubenville High School case where a football team gang raped a girl from another town across the state line.

This case encompasses all types of violence against women – from juveniles raping another juvenile, adults staying silent (men and women), a society complicit in its views towards football and girls, others at the parties who stood by and watched and took pictures: the societal norms that open women to such horrific treatment. “The Steubenville rape case has drawn international attention and has been compared by some to a rape case in India because both have raised questions about how their respective societies view women.” From LA Times.

As to how I would weigh the various scenarios, I do not think I can. They are all such strong issues. I am not an economist who can dispassionately assign weights to issues. (see Bjorn Lomborg TED talk – looking at the big problems of the world and how to identify which ones should be addressed first).

Notice in the list of The 10 Challenges
1. Climate change
2. Communicable diseases
3. Conflicts
4. Education
5. Financial instability
6. Governance and corruption
7. Malnutrition and hunger
8. Population: migration
9. Sanitation and water
10. Subsidies and trade barriers

that women are not listed here. However, if looked at through a gender lens, perhaps his calculations would have a different outcome.

Hmmm – I just looked at an article on Davos 2012

From the article, Cherie Blair:

How to ensure women’s economic inclusion, because economies will not thrive unless we do.
… The World Food Programme has found that when girls and women earn income, they reinvest 90% of the money in their families. For men, that figure is more like 30% – 40%.
… I’m a great believer in the gender parity group at Davos: it is not about the exclusion of men, but men and women working together as equal partners to bring about change.

In all this discussion, it would be good to know just what is being done. I hope to learn more at the UN but will continue with my personal education and write as I learn more.


Lots of Dancing Today – Happy V Day – Feb 14, 2013

After spending the past couple of weeks immersing myself in articles and statistics of violence against women, an amazing breath of splendor happened today.   I was listening to Democracy Now! this morning and heard about the dancing today for One Billion Rising.

“The concept of the campaign is simple. If you take into account the statistic that 1 out of 3 women will experience violence in her lifetime, you are left with the staggering statistic that over 1 billion women on this planet will be impacted by violence. On V-Day’s 15th Anniversary, 2.14.13, we are inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders.”

According to Time online, people were dancing in 205 countries to bring awareness of violence against women.

This fabulous web site – One Billion Rising – shows videos of dancing around the world and includes a very nice chat from UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson  that succinctly states the issues we will be facing and discussing at the UN Commission on Status of Women.

I am so inspired by all this.  Eve Ensler and her staff amaze me.   I want to be like them – dedicated to making life on this planet good for all and doing something about it!


What’s the matter with China?

Global stories of violence against women abound.  Just today, I was listening to NPR about Kim Lee, an American woman married to a famous Chinese celebrity type of person teaching the English on Chinese television – they called it “crazy English.”   Turns out, he physically beat her, and quite badly.  Here’s her statement:

“That day the violence was so horrific. I went to the police station, and I went to the hospital, and my husband went on TV and did a TV show. I thought maybe he just didn’t even realize how seriously he hurt me, even though he was sitting on my back, slamming my head in the floor,” Lee recalls.    Here is the full article.

He admitted he beat her, and said “I hit her sometimes, but I never thought she would make it public since it’s not Chinese tradition to expose family conflicts to outsiders.”

Kim said she went to the police but was often dismissed.  She struggled for justice, and won.  On Feb 3, a Beijing court ruled in her favor – granting her a divorce, custody of their children, and monetary compensation – AND a restraining order against her ex-husband, the first ever in Beijing.  

According to the report, nearly ¼ of married Chinese women suffer domestic abuse.  There are no laws in China against domestic violence.    

Let’s bring this back to the UN Commission on Status of Women, the theme being elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls.   Why is this so important?   (Do we even have to ask this question?) 

If we can’t simply appeal to one’s sense of humanity, fairness, dignity, life, and justice, then let’s fall back onto raw economics.   You know, as I write this, it just makes me so upset to think that we even have to discuss the costs of violence against women.   But let’s move on.

According to the UN – “The costs of violence against women are extremely high. They include the direct costs of services to treat and support abused women and their children and to bring perpetrators to justice.

The cost of intimate partner violence in the United States alone exceeds $5.8 billion per year. “     

Let me repeat:  The cost of intimate partner violence in the United States alone exceeds $5.8 billion per year.  $4.1b for medical and health care services, with productivity losses of almost $1.8b.  

I was going to write further on this subject, but it is late and I am still struggling with the best approach to address it.   It seems now that I am so focused on learning what I can before going to NY, my senses are heightened to the stories I hear in the news and the articles I am reading.   The fact is that women in all countries face discrimination and worse simply because they are women.   While we in the US have come a long way in my lifetime (thank you Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem and the many other pioneers of the women’s movement), gender equality is still a goal.  We are not there yet.

Why don’t we have a woman president?   Why don’t we have 50% women in elected offices?   Why are so few CEOs women?   Why are so few VC funded entrepreneurs women?  

I was at Stanford last week at a panel discussion for entrepreneurs moving into other geographic markets, Europe specifically.   The four panelists were all women.   During the Q&A, one older white haired man commented on the number of women in a Yelp UK photo and the fact that all the panelists were women.  Why should that be a fact for comment?  

I was talking to a Google engineering manager a couple years ago.  He mentioned that the one woman on his team (out of about 15) was the smartest of his team.  So I said, why does a woman need to be the smartest to get hired?   Where are the equally qualified women who are average compared to the others?     

That’s it for today.   More tomorrow.

violence against women

I was going to touch on all 12 of the UN Commission on Status of Women issues, but because time is short, I want to focus on the topic for this CSW – Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.     What a huge and painful topic.   Since beginning my own education, I find the facts are highly disturbing.  It is a tough subject, but one that must be addressed in the open or else we cannot fix it.

However – it is such a difficult subject, that I am having an extremely difficult time writing about it.     We have all seen the news about the horrific rape and murder of a 23 year old student in India.   Searching the web, I have discovered other equally disturbing articles of others – an 11 year old girl gang raped and undergoing 14 reconstructive surgeries.

The BBC has an article  reporting that a rape is reported in India every 21 minutes.   And those are the ones that are reported.  A huge problem is the response (lack of, really) of police.   In some cases, the girls are raped by the police in police headquarters.

Another article, “How India treats its women” describes “missing women” as “women who would have been around had they received similar healthcare, medicine and nutrition as men.   New research estimates that in India, more than 2m women are missing in a given year.”  Parents kill girl babies because it is harder than it used to be to abort them in India (from a discussion I had today with a friend); those who can afford it will abort female fetuses; wives are killed because their families did not offer enough dowry; and women are lost for other reasons that indicate violence against them.    They report that trafficking in 2011 increased 122% over the previous year.

The treatment of women in India needs to be addressed, and many women are in the streets demanding change.  Good.   Let us collectively demand change, support the women and men of India who want to see gender equality, respect for all women and girls.

Let’s not forget, though, that violence against women does not end at the Indian border.

If we look at what is going on here at home (the US), we see that things are not so different.    According to this article, a rape is reported every 6.2 minutes in the US.  Compare this to the article on Indian stats.  Hmmm – 300m people report a rate every 6.2 minutes, and 1b people report a rape every 21 minutes.   Seems out of proportion, so perhaps not all rapes are reported in India.   And, another web site indicates that only 16% of the rapes in the US are ever reported to police.   

Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.   (Hillary Clinton, Beijing, 1995)

Fellow blogger for the Conference

Check out this blog as well.   More women going to the UN for the Presbyterians!

This is from Kathryn.


Fourth World Conference on Women – Beijing 1995

(I realize this might sound a little like a school term paper, but it is good background content.  More personal entries with opinions – of which I do not lack – later)

The Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW) was in Beijing in 1995.   First Lady Hillary Clinton gave a monumental, world changing speech saying “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.”   

Here’s a blurb about the link between FWCW and CSW (from the UN web site): “Following the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, the General Assembly mandated the Commission to integrate into its programme a follow-up process to the Conference, regularly reviewing the critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action and to develop its catalytic role in mainstreaming a gender perspective in United Nations activities.”    In other words, CSW is to keep track of progress since 1995 and to work towards fulfillment of the resolutions made in Beijing.

Here are the core issues:

A. Women and poverty

B. Education and training of women

C.  Women and health

D. Violence against women (main focus of 57th CSW this year)

E. Women and armed conflict

F. Women and the economy

G. Women in power and decision-making

H. Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women

I. Human rights of women

J. Women and the media

K. Women and the environment

L. The girl child

Let’s start with (A) Women and Poverty and see where this take us.     Of those in poverty in the world, including the US, more are women and children than men.   Even in the US, the 2012 Census shows that women were 29% more likely to be poor than men, with a poverty rate of 14.5% for women compared to 11.2% for men.  (From Legal Momentum web site).  Single mothers are the hardest hit – 40.7% of single mothers were in poverty.  Actually, in all categories identifying poor and comparing women to men, women have the higher percentage.   Poverty affects women more than men.

Let’s look at the global scale –  I can’t say it any better than The Hunger Project web site, so here goes:

World Population

  • 6.8 billion1

World Hunger

  • 870 million people do not have enough to eat — more than the populations of USA and the European Union combined.2
  • 98% of the world’s undernourished people live in developing countries.2
  • Two-thirds of the world’s hungry live in just 7 countries: Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Pakistan.2

Women and Children

  • 60 percent of the world’s hungry are women.4
  • 50 percent of pregnant women in developing countries lack proper maternal care, resulting in over 300,000 maternal deaths annually from childbirth.4
  • 1 out of 6 infants are born with a low birth weight in developing countries.5
  • Malnutrition is the key factor contributing to more than one-third of all global child deaths resulting in 2.6 million deaths per year.14
  • A third of all childhood death in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by hunger.6
  • •       Every five seconds, a child dies from hunger-related diseases.6

So – just saying – poverty is a problem that affects women and children more than men in the world.

I am going to bring up a hot topic because it is one that is so pervasive in the US and one that we saw played out during the recent presidential campaign.   Many conservative politicians proclaim their opposition to abortion.   It is loud and clear.  The churches are clearly against abortion.  OK – where are the same voices over the children that are lost daily from hunger related diseases?   Every 5 seconds a child dies from hunger related diseases:  that is 17,280 children per day.     Over 6.3 million children per year.

Where are the politicians when it comes to aid for the hungry?     Here is a quote about Paul Ryan:

Bruce Lesley, the president of First Focus Campaign for Children, agrees, saying, “Chairman Ryan’s actions — spearheading a budget that cuts the Child Tax Credit, dramatically increases the number of uninsured children, cuts investments in child abuse and neglect prevention and response, cuts child nutrition, and increases out-of-pocket child care costs for working parents — speak a lot louder than his words, when it comes to addressing child poverty.”

What about birth control so that women can avoid unwanted pregnancies in the first place?   We have heard the outcry that Obamacare is anti-religion for having insurance coverage of birth control.   Just can’t seem to win, but I digress.

As for global aid, 1% of the 2013 US budget is for aid, (roughly $51b) not including projects in Afghanistan and Iraq (these are under defense).   According to the US State Dept., this sum “provides the most cost-effective way to ensure diplomats and development experts have the resources necessary to address complex threats to our national security and promote our economic renewal. “      Interesting that the reason for aid is to address our needs.    I would bet that most Americans think that aid to other countries is out of the goodness of our hearts – that we are a country that cares.   Do we?

What’s the cost to end hunger in the world?  Estimates vary.  One article stated in 2010 the cost would be $143b annually that would be shared among countries.   The UN Millennium Development Goals suggests that if all rich countries provide 0.7% of GNI (gross national income) annually, we could end hunger.   That would be $91b for the US – still under 2% of budget.

Can we save women and children?

Will we?

Amanda Craine and I (Susan Brooksbank) are honored to be accepted as observers for the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) at the upcoming UN Commission on the Status of Women, March 4 – 15, themed “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”

Amanda and I are both members of Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church and are blessed to be part of such an active, vibrant church community.   Many at SVPC are active peace and justice seekers and doers, who have been inspirational to me.

I hope through this blog to provide some background information on CSW, its history and current activities, and also general issues surrounding gender that permeate all cultures and regions – including our own.

Why does the UN have such a commission?   Why is gender an issue?   Why bother?

The reasons are many, and as I go through my own reading and writing over the next month, we can explore the issues, both here and abroad.   (If anyone wants to comment, please feel free to share links to articles, reports, statistics, or any other general information that both shows the issues and celebrates the successes.)  We have seen the brave Malala Yousafzai, who defied the Taliban to speak out for girls education and was shot in the head for her words.   We have seen a brutal, fatal rape on a bus that took the life of a young woman in Delhi.    Yes, these are brutal, and yes, they are “out there.”    What about here?    We will explore issues both here and abroad, but let’s start with the history of the CSW to get us calibrated.   (most of the following is reprinted from the UN document on history of CSW)

1946:  CSW established because out of the 160 signatories of the UN charter signed in 1945, 4 were women who managed to include women’s rights into the founding document of the UN.  One was Virginia Gildersleeve, from the US, dean of Barnard College.  Quite remarkable for a woman born in New York City in 1877.

It’s early focus was “to raise the status of women, irrespective of nationality, race, language or religion, to equality with men in all fields of human enterprise, and to eliminate all discrimination against women in the provisions of statutory law, in legal maxims or rules, or in interpretation of customary law.”

1946 – 1962:  CSW focused its attention on promoting women’s rights and equality by setting standards and formulating international conventions aiming at changing discriminatory legislation and fostering global awareness of women’s issues.

Key topics:  Providing women universal access to political rights; Removing discrimination in marriage.  Improved access to education.  Women’s economic rights that led to the 1951 Convention on Equal Renumeration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value.  (yes, that’s in 1951)

1963 – 1975:  Promoting Participation of Women in Developing Countries.  Studies showed that women were disproportionately affected by poverty, so they centered much of their work on women’s needs in community and rural development, agricultural work, family planning, and the impact of scientific and technological advances.

1975: The International Women’s Year

1976 – 1985:  UN Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace.  The Decade contributed to bringing legitimacy to the international women’s movement, and moved women’s issues forward on the global agenda.

1979:  The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was formed, and defined discrimination as, “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

1995 Beijing:  The Fourth World Conference was held in Beijing, and significantly advanced the global agenda for women’s human rights and gender equality.   (The CSW and its Secretariat led the preparatory process.)

The Beijing Declaration and the Platform for action, adopted unanimously by 189 countries, build on political agreements reached at the three previous global conferences on women and consolidated five decades of legal advances aimed at securing the equality of women with men in law and in practice.

Much of the work of the CSW since then has been focused on the results of the Beijing conference.   More on that in the next post.

To end this post, let’s leave it that the UN CSW has been active for the past 67 years promoting gender equality around the world.   I have seen wonderful achievements by women in my lifetime, but we sure do have a long way to go.