Violence against women a world crisis
A Congolese woman awaits treatment at a clinic for rape survivors in Goma. (Getty)
The stigma of rape and mutilation by soldiers. The sting of a single, angry slap to the face. The suppression of the right to vote or attend school.
In every corner and to varying degrees, injustices against women cast a shadow over efforts to protect human rights.
It is a far too prevalent scourge in many parts of the world. In fact, in all parts of the world in terms of domestic violence, said Frederick Jones, spokesman for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who plans to reintroduce the International Violence Against Women Act in Congress this year.
One in three females will be beaten, forced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime, according to the United Nations Development Fund for Women. And in some countries, nearly 70 percent of women report brutality that includes dowry violence and genital mutilation.
amNewYork examined some regions of the world and the gender-based injustices that plague them.
Congo: Rape as a weapon
Hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped during 12 years of civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Melanne Verveer, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador for global womens issues, recently told a Senate subcommittee.
An average of 36 are sexually attacked each day, some also mutilated and left with a lifelong badge of shame, she said.Since January, the mass-rape epidemic has escalated in areas occupied by armed Congolese soldiers, whose responsibility is to protect their citizens, according to Human Rights Watch.
The goal is to break apart communities. The women are seen as consorting with the enemies and their families their fathers, brothers and husbands are made to watch, said Amnesty International spokeswoman Suzanne Trimel. Its a breakdown of humanity.
The United States: Tangle of violence
In and around American Indian and Alaskan Indian reservations, sexual assault is commonplace. Those of native descent are 21/2 times more likely than other American women to be raped or sexually attacked, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Nothing was being done, said Sarah Deer, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma and a tribal law expert, who knows many, many friends subjected to violence. In fact, few American Indian women report not knowing a rape victim.
In about 86 percent of reported crimes, the attackers are non-native, the Justice Department found. Deer called the statistic an anomaly in criminology, adding that tribes cannot prosecute offenders who arent American Indian. The jurisdictional tangles are compounded by underfunded and poorly equipped tribal police and health care centers.
Afghanistan: Wresting back rights
The oppressive effects of Taliban rule have waned since foreign forces intervened in 2001, but the guerrilla resurgence threatens what few rights Afghan women have reclaimed.
Under the Taliban, females were required to be accompanied by a male relative in public and wear a head-to-toe covering. They also were barred from pursuing an education, but the recent return to schools for Afghan girls has been perilous.
Hundreds of schools probably approaching a thousand girls schools have been attacked, bombed, arsoned. Acid has been sprayed on them as they walk to school, said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
Last month, two poisonous gas attacks on schools in northeast Afghanistan sent more than 140 girls to the hospital. Many students returned to classes eagerly despite disfigurement.
It shows you the determination of the human spirit, Smeal said.
In a similar show of resilience weeks earlier in Kabul, Afghan women marched in protest of a new law permitting marital rape, among other abuses.
India: Death by fire
Dowry deaths, honor killings and rare but brutal cases of sati the burning of a widow on her husbands funeral pyre point to the enduring patriarchal society in parts of India.
Deaths by burning, beyond sati, are prevalent. A medical journal in March reported that women accounted for 65 percent of Indias 163,000 fire-related deaths in 2001. Most deaths were females between 15 and 34, the Lancet found.
People call it cooking accidents or kitchen accidents, but because most people use kerosene to cook, it becomes a very easy method for intentionally killing people, said Nisha Varia, of Human Rights Watch.
About 5,000 Indian brides are killed each year in disputes over dowries, according to UNICEF estimates.
Honor killings, however, reach far beyond India into Jordan, Italy, the United States and other countries, human rights advocates said. Fathers, mothers and husbands justify the murders as protecting the family name from divorce attempts, immodest wardrobes and, in one case, a dream that the wife had cheated.
Economic freedom as a lifesaver
Women worldwide are marching in protest, reporting abuse and speaking out against violence, even as their lives are threatened.
But beyond thwarting injustices, advancing womens economic situations is paramount, advocates contend.
Females able to own land, earn money and receive an education are more independent and empowered, experts said. Their contributions can boost an impoverished countrys economy as well as liberate them from violent situations.
Its ethical and economical, said Trimel, of Amnesty International. If you dont address this problem, youre going to see the same cycle of poverty and abuse.
Steps taken this year by the United States:
* Creation of White House Council on Women and Girls.
* Appointment of Melanne Verveer to a new ambassador-at-large for global womens issues post at the State Department.
* Formation of a global womens rights subcommittee in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
* Planned reintroduction of the International Violence Against Women Act by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) to coordinate various agency funding across the world.
Prevalent scourge': Gender discrimination and violence elsewhere
Eastern Europe: The region, which includes Albania and Bulgaria, is the largest recent source of sex trafficking, with about 200,000 people moved annually to other parts of the world, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
China: A one-child government policy and a preference for sons has resulted in abortions of female fetuses and left the country with 32 million more young males than females, according to BMJ (the British Medical Journal).
Saudi Arabia: Women are not permitted to vote or drive, oppressive measures highlighted after a judges controversial statement last month that husbands can slap their wives.
Africa: About 28 countries practice female genital mutilation, though it is increasingly condemned. The World Health Organization estimates as many as 140 million females worldwide are living with the excruciating effects of mutilation.