25 November 2004 Edition
A day for the silent victims
Around the world, at least one woman in every three has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
This is the shocking statistic that women's organisations, the UN and Amnesty International are trying to get into the public consciousness today, 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Even now, in 2004, when most governments will tell you that women are equals in society, gender-based violence is still prevalent throughout the world.
From birth to death, women face discrimination and violence at the hands of the state, the community and the family. Every year, millions of women are raped by partners, relatives, friends, strangers, employers, security officials and soldiers.
Domestic violence is still an unspoken horror. Behind closed doors, men who would be jailed if they directed their vicious attacks at strangers, beat their wives black and blue, sometimes ending their lives.
During armed conflicts, violence against women is often used as a weapon of war, either to de-humanise the women themselves, or to persecute the communities to which they belong.
Violence against women is not confined to any particular political or economic system. It cuts across boundaries of wealth, race and culture.
The power structures within society that perpetuate violence against women are deep-rooted and intransigent.
But women throughout the world have organised to expose and counter this violence. They have achieved dramatic changes in laws, policies and practices. They have established that violence against women demands a response from governments, communities and individuals. Above all, they have challenged the view of women as passive victims.
However, they still face resistance from a world that refuses to change its attitude to women as the lesser sex; the section of society it's ok to hit, rape, abuse and humiliate; that can be demoted, fired, or placed under a glass ceiling so only men can move up the career ladder.
It is only when women are recognised as equal members of society that violence against women will no longer be an invisible norm but, instead, a shocking aberration.
On this day, everyone lucky enough to have escaped violence in their lives should remember that every third woman they look at carries a nightmare that they can only imagine.