November 25th is designated by the United Nations to be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The day, based on the anniversary of the 1960 assassination of the three Mirabal sisters in the Dominican Republic by dictator Rafael Trujillo, is intended to raise awareness about the prevalence of rape, domestic violence, and other forms of violence committed against women globally.
Unfortunately, violence against women in not something we just read in the international section of the newspaper. Nearly 1 in 5 women report experiencing rape in their lifetimes in America. Last week, Rolling Stone revealed chronic gang assaults on students at the University of Virginia and complacent administrators who were more concerned with the school's reputation than survivor justice. This fall, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz has resorted to publicly protesting the inaction of the university by carrying her mattress around the Morningside Heights campus until her attacker is expelled. In September, the White House launched the "It's On Us" campaign against sexual assault on college campuses as a way to corral the media, universities, grassroots organizations, and the sports world toward solutions.
Several high-profile cases have also highlighted a culture of domestic violence that is tolerated and even concealed in professional sports. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is only the latest in a string of NFL players to be caught physically abusing his partner.
The United Nations has concluded that violence against women is a "consequence of discrimination against women, in law and also in practice, and of persisting inequalities between men and women." In the U.S., despite the fame of women leaders such as Hillary Clinton or Sheryl Sandberg, structural and societal biases continue to hamper the advancement of women. Women are vastly under-represented on Capitol Hill, in police departments nationwide, in the executive suites of businesses, as strong leads in Hollywood films, and the top echelons of the military. This loss of status and agency for women throughout society creates an environment where gender-based violence is permitted, and at worst, accepted.
In 1974, President Nixon appointed Patricia Hutar to lead a bipartisan delegation to draft the text of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) at the United Nations. Hutar, a skilled negotiator, was instrumental in convincing several communist countries to approve the text. The General Assembly adopted the convention, making it the most comprehensive international agreement addressing women's rights within political, civil, cultural, economic, and social life. However, the U.S. Senate never ratified the treaty. The U.S. is the only Western and industrialized democracy not to have ratified CEDAW, joining the likes of Iran, South Sudan, and Somalia as holdouts regarding the global norms for women's equality.
As the U.S. continues to be the indispensable nation around the world, it is vital that we lead from a position of legitimacy at home. Swift ratification of CEDAW would send a strong signal of American commitment, especially prior to the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration to be celebrated in New York City next year. America can best provide global leadership when our own women are empowered and free from discrimination and violence.
I can envision this world and know it is achievable. It just takes awareness and action by all. Violence against women in not a 'women's issue.' Men and boys have an essential role in equality and preventing violence. We all must recognize the problem and work together for societal solutions.
Today should merely be the start of a year-round conversation and commitment to action. The determination and ingenuity of the American spirit has brought us through two world wars and has facilitated the most cutting-edge technological and social advancements in the world. In order to eliminate many of the world's ills, the cooperation and leadership of the United States is necessary. For this, the time is ripe for Americans to make a pledge to eliminate violence against women domestically, so that we can then lead the world in eliminating violence against women globally. Too much is at stake if we don't take action.
To take action, learn more about the United Nations' 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence.