The Bridge Between: Take a stand for equal rights for women, girls

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It’s no longer a question that women and girls are capable of leading, not only households but capable of leading and healing countries and communities across the globe – using the common pain of our experience with gender-based violence to guide us to new waves of truths.

Statistics show that six women are killed every hour by men. I have lost too many friends to remain silent.

Women and girls, everywhere, deserve to have equal rights and opportunities. They should be able to live free of violence and discrimination. To achieve gender equality by 2030, this matter requires urgent action to eliminate the many root causes of discrimination that still curtail women’s rights in the private and public sectors.

Globally, one in three women has experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Roughly 20 percent of women have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18 – while only 7 percent of women and girls older than the age of 15 have experienced non-partner sexual violence. This data is alarming and it does not even include the statistics of gender-based violence of women living in third-world nations, especially those who are in refugee camps. I am sure it’s even more alarming.

This violence has an immediate and long-lasting impact on the health and welfare of women and children, with ripple effects in the broader community.

Gender-based violence is a significant barrier to economic, social, and educational achievement for half of the world’s population. United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 recognizes that gender equality is the foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world and that this includes a world free of gender-based violence. Goal 5 explicitly calls for the elimination of all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private sectors.

As we look for ways to end gender-based violence against women and girls, I think it’s really important that we continue to amplify the voices of women in every aspect so that the recovery is truly inclusive and truly sustainable. 

I have encountered so many survivors who were brave enough to share their stories publicly, even in a culture that blames the victim and opposes many messages of shame and hate. We need to overcome this and continue to listen and be advocates for change. When a woman shares her story of violence, she takes the first step to breaking the cycle of abuse.

It’s incumbent upon all of us to give her the safe space she needs to speak up and be heard.

The perpetrator is the sole reason for assault and must bear the responsibility alone – even if he is a family member – so that we are leading by example and holding individuals accountable. 

It’s equally important to talk to our younger generation about consent, bodily autonomy, and accountability. Provide them with the necessary tools and spaces to have healthy ongoing conversations. I believe by empowering young advocates with information and educating them about women’s rights, we can build a better future for all.

To effectively combat gender-based violence, we need to understand the issue. We need to know that violence can take many forms, including sexual harassment in the workplace and in public spaces.

Take a stand by calling it out when you see it: catcalling, inappropriate sexual comments and sexist jokes are never OK.

Create a safer environment for everyone by challenging our peers to reflect on their own behavior and speaking up when someone crosses the line, or by enlisting the help of others if we don’t feel safe.

The message should be clear that we will continue to stand up for equality.

While others continue to send us a strong message of fear, we will remain the fearless leaders that we were meant to be and hope that our partners and loved ones hear us and support our choices in life. 

And we will continue to rise.

Ekhlas Ahmed is a human rights activist and educator who lives in Windham. She is the executive director of the nonprofit Chance to Advance, which raises awareness about Darfur and implements initiatives to make education more feasible for all. Follow her on Facebook and contact her at ekhlas.ahmed@yahoo.com.