Signing laws into action won’t protect these women. What will is arming them with the right knowledge and tools to turn from prey to formidable defender.
The evidence is ubiquitous. The gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi sets off an unusual burst of national outrage in India. In South Sudan, women are assaulted by both sides in the civil war. In Iraq, jihadists enslave women for sex. And American colleges face mounting scrutiny about campus rape.
Despite the many gains women have made in education, health and even political power in the course of a generation, violence against women and girls worldwide “persists at alarmingly high levels,” according to a United Nations analysis that the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to present to the General Assembly on Monday.
About 35 percent of women worldwide — more than one in three — said they had experienced violence in their lifetime, whether physical, sexual, or both, the report finds. One in 10 girls under the age of 18 was forced to have sex, it says.
The subject is under sharp focus as delegates from around the world gather here starting on Monday to assess how well governments have done since they promised to ensure women’s equality at a landmark conference in Beijing 20 years ago — and what to do next.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, who attended the Beijing conference in 1995, is scheduled to speak on Tuesday.
Since the Beijing conference, there has been measurable, though mixed, progress on many fronts, according to the United Nations analysis.
As many girls as boys are now enrolled in primary school, a sharp advance since 1995. Maternal mortality rates have fallen by half. And women are more likely to be in the labor force, though the pay gap is closing so slowly that it will take another 75 years before women and men are paid equally for equal work.
The share of women serving in legislatures has nearly doubled, too, though women still account for only one in five legislators. All but 32 countries have adopted laws that guarantee gender equality in their constitutions.
But violence against women — including rape, murder and sexual harassment — remains stubbornly high in countries rich and poor, at war and at peace. The United Nations’ main health agency, the World Health Organization, found that 38 percent of women who are murdered are killed by their partners.
Even as women’s groups continue to push for laws that criminalize violence — marital rape is still permitted in many countries — new types of attacks have emerged, some of them online, including rape threats on Twitter.
Where there are laws on the books, like ones that criminalize domestic violence, for instance, they are not reliably enforced.
The economic impact is huge. One recent study found that domestic violence against women and children alone costs the global economy $4 trillion.
“Over all, as you look at the world, there have been no large victories in eradicating violence against women,” said Valerie M. Hudson, a professor of politics at Texas A & M University who has developed world maps that chart the status of women. The vast majority of countries, by her metrics, do not have laws that protect women’s physical safety.
In some cases, the laws on the books are the problem, women’s rights advocates say. In some countries, like Nigeria, the law permits a man to beat his wife under certain circumstances. But even when laws are technically adequate, victims often do not feel comfortable going to law enforcement, or they are unable to pay the bribes required to file a police report.
Read more: NY Times