Shining the spotlight on violence

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There are stories on the violence that women and girls around the world endure, and they are horrifying. These are realities so extreme and so unthinkable to us, but are commonplace for them. Denial of education, genital mutilation, marriage to men twice or thrice their age and deaths in the name of “honor” are just some examples. They are abominable to us but are widely practiced in some societies—these are overwhelming challenges that may take decades to eradicate, or at least lessen significantly.

There are, on the other hand, stories that are not quite as extreme but are still happening even in our supposedly modern, enlightened societies. Even in what are known to be progressive nations, women are still seen as inferior to men, deserving of less pay, fewer opportunities, and remain passed on like property from fathers to husbands.

There are women who endure traumatic experiences of domestic violence or sexual harassment, hesitant to come out and name their abusers, because it might cause them their jobs, or reputations, or both.

In recent weeks, and spurred by accusations of sexual harassment and violence against a powerful Hollywood producer, more women came forward to say they too have experienced some form of abuse, from their superiors or colleagues, family members, intimate partners and even strangers. Surprise, surprise—they are not generally monsters or criminals, but seemingly ordinary persons living among us.

Aided by social media, the message they wanted to send was that they no longer had to suffer in silence or fear blame or judgment. These are women who are supposedly intelligent, strong and successful. The near-universality of the experience of violence tells us how insidious and widespread the menace is.

On Saturday, Nov. 25, the United Nations led the world in marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The UN says that around the world, more than one in three women have experienced physical violence, sexual violence, or both in their lifetime.

For the next few days until December 10, International Human Rights Day, the campaign to end violence against women will be ramped up “to raise public awareness and mobilize people everywhere to bring about change.”

But change is not likely to come in the form of a sudden stop to any shocking practices. Realistically, it will be through individuals’ acknowledgment that we should never allow acts, or words, of violence to be swept under the rug.

Women should not be cowed into silence, refusing to name their abusers for fear of retaliation or stigma. Men should snap out of their locker-room mentality and call out one of their own who does it.

Violence is never to be endured or tolerated. It is never okay.

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