International Women's Day may be celebrated every year, but in this year of 2015 we women need to wake up and start thinking about what - worldwide - we can do about violence against women.
What do women endure?
The UN calls it a 'pandemic of violence', including:
- Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children (below 18 years of age). More than one in three - or some 250 million - were married before 15. Around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than one in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.
- More than 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East. Beyond extreme physical and psychological trauma, girls who undergo FGM are at risk of prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and death.
- Trafficking ensnares millions of women and girls in modern-day slavery, and they represent 98 per cent of the estimated 4.5 million forced into sexual exploitation.
- One in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during their lifetime. With the world population at seven billion, this adds up to more than one billion women and girls.
On top of this there is a new level of terror, torture and killing sweeping across the Middle East, leaving a trail of devastated lives, most particularly, the lives of women and children.
Islamic State has taken control of a huge area of territory in Iraq and north-eastern Syria and is attracting thousands of young men and some young women from Muslim communities all over the world who want to belong to a new caliphate. Its followers hold to the interpretation of the Fundamentalist Sunni Branch of Islam known as Salafism or Wahhabism that prevails in Saudi Arabia as well as parts of Africa (Boko Haram), Pakistan and Afghanistan (Taliban)
and Somalia (Al-Shabaab). All are deeply repressive of women, curtailing their freedom and their education and believing that their role in life should be confined to child-rearing and domestic activities.
Islamic State has instituted a brutal regime that is murdering helpless people like the Kurdish Yazidis as well as any Shia Muslims, Kurds and Christians, offering them the choice between converting to its brand of Islam or being decapitated, crucified or executed by firing squad. The captive Yazidi women have become slaves: raped, used, abused and sold as these men see fit. How can these men rape and enslave the helpless women and children who have fallen into their power without any feeling of empathy, guilt or shame?
For four years, we have watched a similar psychosis in Syria destroying ever more lives and the unbearable suffering of women, children and the aged trying to stay alive in the freezing cold of winter or the searing heat of summer in the refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, and the Kurds, Christians and other citizens of Syria fleeing for their lives.
Where is the voice of women in these black holes of misery? The ruined cities, the terrible suffering of millions of innocent civilians and the destroyed lives of so many maimed and traumatized children cries out for reconciliation, forgiveness and an end to fratricidal strife between Muslims. Otherwise the pattern will be repeated when a new generation finds a target for its hatred and its grief.
There is nobility in the midst of the carnage in Syria. There is now a volunteer Civil Defence force known as the 'White Helmets' that has 2,221 rescue workers operating in 82 teams. They have a single aim: to save life. Since their formation in late 2013 they have rescued 12,521 people from under the rubble. But in Syria's most conservative communities, male volunteers have not been allowed to rescue injured women and girls. So now five teams of women White Helmets have been formed.
They have earned the trust of their people, proving with every rescue that they have the skills, the extraordinary courage, and above all the nobility of spirit required to do this work.
The action of women
We know of many instances where courageous women have spoken out, and acted, in support of their passionate conviction that a peaceful and just society is possible. There are thousands more where women have suffered extreme penalties for their courage, often death by stoning.
It must surely be the case that we women in safe countries, women who can speak out without fear of murder, women who have education, a career and enough to eat - women who are reading the Huffington Post - can put our heads and hearts together and speak out to find an effective way to bring to an end these different forms of violence against women. We could assemble an e-booklet with hundreds of examples of what women have done to prevent, transform, reduce or heal violence and provide inspiration and encouragement to women worldwide. We who live in safe countries could support and stand behind women opposing violence in life-threatening situations.
Throughout the patriarchal era, the voice of woman has been silenced. It is barely audible now. It is surely time for women of every nation, religion and ethnic group to say: "Enough is enough! There must be an end to this ongoing slaughter, rape and suffering. Together, we can and must end it."
This post was co-written with Anne Baring. Anne is a Jungian Analyst and the author and co-author of seven books, including The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for the Soul (Archive Publishing 2013)