On February 14, 2013 I walked 10 kilometres through the streets of Dhaka, hand in hand with acid attack survivors, men and women from ordinary communities, human rights campaigners and students to call for an end to violence against women. As I look at photos, comments and updates uploaded online over the past 24 hours on the Guardian it is exciting to see that this year's Valentine's Day was a true celebration of love all over the world as people danced, embraced and shouted in the name of women's empowerment.
It is important to mobilise society and break the silence surrounding violence against women. Yesterday I saw that people from all backgrounds have zero tolerance for it. In Bangladesh there is currently a big movement against war criminals and we are linking these huge demonstrations to One Billion Rising, because these men severely violated women and encouraged other men to commit rape during the war. It has been encouraging to meet so many ordinary people during these demonstrations who now want to support us, in addition to members of NGOs or political parties. We are mobilising people to create an environment in which women and men have equal participation across all spheres of our lives, within the family, in work, politics, health and education.
The Acid Survivors' Foundation (ASF) and other women's organisations have already achieved success in many areas in our fight for social justice and equality in the past 10 years. ASF and other charities have campaigned for the government to introduce new laws and raised public awareness of these issues, which has led to an 80% reduction in acid attacks since 1999. We also empower individuals to stand up for their rights, with support from partners like VSO, by enabling our survivors to earn a living, become role models and active citizens.
However, we must not forget that women are still subjected to violence and unable to make decisions about issues which affect their lives. Last month, a girl studying in a college in Dhaka was attacked with acid and stabbed. She is still fighting for her life in hospital.
We therefore hope these peaceful protests will show the government that we need to implement the policies we have, develop new laws to tackle abuse and reform discriminatory legislature such as inheritance laws. I also want politicians from all parties to stand up in public and say that they are against violence against women.
This global movement is gathering momentum at a time when we can influence history. David Cameron and other international leaders are currently deciding what follows the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. There has been progress across various levels of the MDGs in different countries but not enough has been done to empower or support women. I support international development charity VSO's campaign for a standalone goal on gender equality and women's empowerment. This should include specific targets to address issues like violence against women and indicators to measure the influence of women in decision-making bodies. We must capitalise on yesterday's buzz across the globe to demand a specific goal to help each country push for gender equality.
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