The United Nations hosted a global, inter-agency videoconference entitled “A World Free of Violence Against Women,” on International Women’s Day, March 8.
The conference linked U.N. officials, journalists, experts on violence against women, and others from 5 different sites in New York, New Delhi, Mexico City, Nairobi, and the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Speakers included U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan; U.N. Special Rapporteur of Violence Against Women, Rhadika Coomaraswamy; Rwanda War Crimes Tribunal member, Judge Navanethem Pillay; Executive Director of the U.N. Development Fund for Women, Noeleen Heyzer; and others. Journalists Judy Woodruff of CNN, Dalji Dhaliwal of ITN, and Lynn Sherr of ABC moderated the event.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated, “Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. Noeleen Heyzer of the U.N. Development Fund for Women also stresses the pervasive nature of violence against women and girls, and beseeched men join in the struggle against “the most unpunished crime of all.”
Numerous women from around the globe shared their first-hand testimony of how rape and domestic violence have touched their lives. Irma Rojas of Mexico told how she had been burned, beaten, and raped by her husband, and how her testimony helped to change the law regarding marital rape. Athanasie Mukaruego Kankazi of Rwanda shared the story of how she was gang raped by Huta militia members for months on end during the 1994 genocide on the Tutsis. “I suffered great pain. My greatest pain was to here the cries of my 12-year-old daughter begging forgiveness, vowing that we should no longer be Tutsis,” said Kankazi. Alpana Chandola of India said that she had been abused, beaten, starved, and then thrown out of her new husband’s home because her family could not afford the dowry requirements of her husband’s family. “My advice to young girls is: before getting married, become financially independent,” said Chandola.
In addition to this testimony, program speakers also relayed the results of research on violence against women in many countries. Over 2 million girls in over 28 countries suffer female genital mutilation each year, despite bans on the practice in many of these countries. About 700,000 women are raped each year in the United States. The selling of girls and young women into prostitution has claimed the lives of millions, earning human traffickers $7 billion annually in Asia. Over 50% percent of the people murdered in India in 1995 were wives killed by their husbands. More than 5,000 women are killed by their husband or their husband’s families each year in India.