LatinaLista — Violence against women is a worldwide phenomenon that pits abused women against society and their respective judicial systems. It’s only through men and women working together to create solutions can long-lasting change occur and put a halt to the acts of abuse meant to control, intimidate and shame women.
Jennifer Barreto-Leyva’s emails are usually so upbeat that reading them are as energizing as scarfing down a Red Bull. That’s why when I received an email from her last month that sounded drained, sad and scared, I knew there was something terribly wrong — and there was.
Jennifer is a young lawyer in Caracas, Venezuela who, when she isn’t defending the rights of her clients or speaking out against Hugo Chavez’ policies, is an active advocate for plus-size women.
So it’s not unusual for this strong Latina to face opposition. She’s used to that. What she’s not used to is being kicked and threatened with rape.
Jennifer and her family found themselves statistical victims of Venezuela’s growing crime rate when robbers held them at gunpoint while ransacking their home and cleaning out the family’s life savings. (Her account of what happened is posted at Latina Lista’s Linking Latinas section.)
Yet, the scariest part of the ordeal says Jennifer was the physical abuse she and her mother experienced at the hands of these men.
“I will never be able to erase from my memory that scene …my dad saying, ‘Thank you for not raping my wife or my daughters. Thank you, thank you,’” wrote Jennifer in an email.
What happened to Jennifer is, unfortunately, not unique. Jennifer was lucky in that she was only threatened with rape. However, it underscores the fact that no matter a woman’s educational level, income or social status, women and girls are continuous targets of some of the worst kinds of violence inflicted on another human.
For that reason, this year’s International Women’s Day theme, celebrated on March 8, was “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls.”
Though the theme doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, it’s necessary to spell out that unless men join in the promotion that violence against women and girls is unacceptable, it will continue.
For too long, rape and violence against women have been accepted in cultures that see women as second-class citizens, and in one-on-one relationships where men feel they must exert power and control over their partners.
In the Latino culture, this kind of violence is bragged about by those who still believe in the merits of a machismo culture. In the Muslim world, it’s hidden behind “family honor” and in those countries experiencing ethnic warfare, violence directed at women is mainly for genocidal objectives.
Violence against women happens everywhere. The United Nations estimates that, worldwide, one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. In the United States, a woman is assaulted every nine seconds.
One sad consequence of gender violence is that while some progress has been made in getting justice for these women, it’s not been enough nor is it universal. To help in this department, the Avon Foundation for Women announced that they are funding the fall launch of the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School.
The center will focus on working with judges, legal professionals and private and federal organizations throughout the world to improve women’s access to justice.
The United Nations is also stepping up its efforts to combat gender violence by launching the Violence Against Women Database. Finally, we’ll get a clearer picture of the state of abused women around the world in those countries that agreed to fill out the questionnaire.
The database will be available online at the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women’s website and include up-to-date information on all forms of violence against women, tracking trends in addressing the violence, services and resources for afflicted women and an index of which government policy responses are effective in preventing the violence.
Both the UN and Avon’s efforts are noble starts to a grotesque problem that will never subside until men and boys get the message that the lives of women and girls are equally valuable as their own and deserve the same respect.