Violence Against Women



University of California, students hold a candlelight vigil,           Twitter campaigns highlighting violence against women.
in memory of the victims.


It was a lunch conversation a couple weeks ago that got me thinking.

Three friends acknowledged that it has been a terrible few months of high profile incidents of violence against women. From different corners of the world we have heard about the kidnapping of over 200 girls in Nigeria, to horrific rape and murders of teens in northern India, and finally to the horrendous misogynistic attacks on women in the Isla Vista shootings in California.

In spite of this grim news, I am hopeful.

I became involved with the issue of sexual assault over 40 years ago in the beginning of the second women’s movement. While the movement was many things to a great many people, the central issue was the right of all women to be equal citizens and full participants in our society. 

Violence against women and girls reinforces women’s position as second class citizens. When we started to name the violence for what it is, we challenged the status quo and the role of women in society.

In the late 1970’s there were no conversations about violence against women and girls, there were no sexual assault programs and no domestic violence organizations. There were very few women as elected officials, and the only role women had in the military was administrative support or nursing.

We have a ways to grow in many areas still: Women now earn .78 cents on the dollar to what men earn, up only .75 cents from forty years ago. The number of women in national elected leadership remains around 20% throughout senate and congress - which is disproportionately small. Women currently hold 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 5.0% of Fortune 1000 CEO positions. These examples demonstrate that progress is very slow moving.

Yet, I see progress in our work against violence and the acceptance of violence. President Obama established a White House Taskforce on Sexual Assault on College Campuses this spring. It requires colleges to take action against a problem that has plagued campuses for years. Colleges are asked to learn about what’s happening on their campuses through systematic surveys. These surveys can gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, test students’ attitudes and awareness about the issue, and provide schools with an invaluable tool for crafting solutions. Additionally, colleges are encouraged to promote “bystander intervention;” in others words, getting witnesses to step in when misconduct arises.

Recently the #YesAllWomen twitter campaign launched in a response to the Isla Vista/University of California murders. This campaign gave millions of women a voice. The hashtag #YesAllWomen was created as an outlet for women to share their experiences surrounding sexism and misogyny. It spread like wildfire through the social media world, reaching 1.5 million tweets and 1.2 billion impressions, and peaking at 61,500 tweets per hour one day later on May 25.

Internationally, the United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign proclaims the 25th of every month as Orange Day. On this day worldwide activities implemented by UN country offices and civil society organizations highlight issues relevant to preventing and ending violence against women and girls – including wearing orange. Worldwide both women and men are finally speaking out about violence against women.

It is a long road from talk, to change in behavior. But naming what’s happening as systematic violence against women and girls and expressing our outrage is a first step.

So I’m hopeful.


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