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Futures Without Violence

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A UN Commission on the Status of Women Event Highlights Groups Acting to End Violence Against Women Around the World.

At long last, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was reauthorized last week and signed into law by President Barack Obama. In its newest incarnation the act calls for greater inclusion for lesbian victims in same-sex relationships, for undocumented immigrants, and for Native American women living on reservations. Programs funded by VAWA allow for the continuation of vital training programs, such as those that educate and transform police forces, judges, and courtrooms, as well as educational measures that change cultural norms among boys at an early age, and help to stop the cycle of victims becoming abusers.

The work accomplished by VAWA over the past two decades has contributed to a 64 percent decrease in violence against women and girls since 2010, a striking decline that was announced by the U.S. Justice Department this week. That alone would seem to be reason enough for advocates to sit back and bask in their victory. But while women in the United States have successfully saved and expanded funding and services through VAWA, many others around the world are forging their own solutions.

On the edge of the East River in New York City’s United Nations headquarters, VAWA was just one of hundreds of important measures being celebrated in the ongoing fight against violence and girls last Friday, when more than 5,000 advocates for women and girls met for annual meetings held by the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women.

“I presented at the Academy Awards recently,” said actress and Avon Foundation Ambassador Salma Hayek Pinault, “and I wasn’t half as nervous there…as I am today.”

Pinault, who said that she’d been an anti-domestic violence activist since the age of 17, was presenting at quite another kind of awards ceremony on that rainy Friday afternoon. The Second Annual Avon Communications Awards, co-sponsored by Futures Without Violence (where this writer has done editing work), Liberian Ambassador Marjon V. Kamara, and the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, was there to honor the five top communications innovators chosen from a pool of 426 campaigns in 46 countries, all of whom had managed to find brave, new ways to educate and empower their communities.

In Tanzania, for example, the “Champion Project” is a five-year video campaign that calls on men to educate other men in their work places, at home, and in health facilities – showing them how to go from “bystanders to champions” in the fight against violence and HIV infection.

In Pakistan, a 22-year-old software engineer calling herself a “dreamer and a doer” created “Take Back the Tech!” which helps to strengthen women’s use of technology, online tools, and social media, and offers technical assistance to other organizations working to combat violence against women. 

Samajhdari, a radio program in Nepal launched with the support of a three-year grant from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence, has reached more than a million listeners every week since its launch in 2006. Some 74 percent of reported cases of women with HIV in Nepal are housewives, many of whom are exposed through marital rape.  The show has sparked public dialogue and helped women to negotiate sexual rights in their own homes.

Communications X-Change, a new digital library, catalogues these and other campaigns to help global advocates “find, share and learn” strategies from around the world.

It’s a good thing VAWA was passed in time for the commission’s meetings. It might have been a little embarrassing for the United States to play host to such a celebration of such global innovation, had it not been reauthorized. Because after all, in this great, big, interconnected world, does it really matter if the battered woman who needs help lives in the Ukraine…or on an Indian Reservation?

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