The lives and freedom of women and girls across the globe have suffered attacks both subtle and horrific, political and personal, in peace and in war. There are victimizations that we in this nation could not imagine, others we know all too well, as in the recent Stanford University rape case.
World Health Organization global statistics show that 1 in 3 women, or some 35 percent, have experienced intimate partner or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetimes. Nearly 40 percent of women murdered each year are killed by an intimate partner. Some 150 million-plus women and girls the world over live with the consequences of female genital mutilation, a cruelty performed in the name of tradition or religion. The Islamic State's savage campaign in the Middle East has turned thousands of kidnapped young women into sex slaves. And though not on the level of such extreme violence, hard-won rights to birth control and abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, are under constant threat in the United States.
The toll of such emotional and physical stress is monumental, and the health fallout is as predictable as it should be preventable. So the world will be watching as the 2016 International Council on Women's Health Issues (ICOWHI) Congress convenes in Baltimore from November 6 to 9, 2016. This is a chance for researchers to hear, to share, and to nurture ideas furthering the ICOWHI mission to "enhance empowerment, decrease inequity, and promote the health and well-being of women worldwide by facilitating and supporting communication and networking among researchers, clinicians, educators, and community advocates."
ICOWHI is a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting health and well-being of women throughout the world through participation, empowerment, advocacy, education, and research. Its 2016 Congress, "Scale and Sustainability: Moving Women's Health Forward," is incredibly important because of those two key words: scale and sustainability.
When there is an attack against a specific population, health care teams can act to heal and protect victims from further immediate harm. But then we learn of the next targeted group, scramble, and might miss a chance to fully empower those we've just helped. What ICOWHI intends--along with those of us who believe so strongly in its mission--is to gather ideas that work for individual cases, scale them up so they can serve many other at-risk communities, and finally support and nurture ideas so they become economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable.
Nurses' key role here is undeniable. We are the suppliers of empathetic care where there is hurt and fear. It is we who, through shared knowledge and unflinching support, can empower women and girls to protect themselves and each other. But when nurses speak of "scale" and "sustainability," it is with the knowledge that there are too few of us to go around a world that is so filled with violence and chronic need. Any opportunity to discuss potential fixes for that is one we should not miss.
In poverty, in civil war, and in seasons of political discontent, gender equality and even basic human rights for women are often first to be sacrificed. That is why the 2016 ICOWHI Congress is so essential, and why any and all of us should move mountains to be there. It is an opportunity to foster global resilience. It is a time to grieve together what's been lost in a period of unimaginable global suffering. It is a chance to pool our deep resources of resilience, empathy, and brainpower to stem the tide.