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AS IT IS - International Women's Day

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Welcome to AS IT IS! … your daily magazine show from VOA Learning English.

I'm June Simms.

Today, we continue our observance of International Women's Day with a look at one of the most important issues facing women worldwide, gender based violence.

And we talk about gender based violence with the director of the Global Gender Program at George Washington University in Washington DC.

International Women's Day is celebrated each year on March eighth. People around the world use the day to recognize the progress of women. They also use it to call attention to the social, political and economic issues facing women and girls. The

United Nations marked the event this year by calling attention to the problem of gender based violence. Steve Ember reports.

The UN says gender based violence is one of the most common forms of abuse. More than 600 million women live in countries where domestic or family violence is not considered a crime.

Seven in ten women report having experienced physical or sexual violence. And the United Nations says that 50 percent of all sexual attacks are against girls under the age of 16.

Penny Williams is Australia's Global Ambassador for Women and Girls. She says gender based violence is a worldwide problem.

"Global news in the past year has been rife with shocking stories of gang rapes, the failing of female students and campaigners for women's rights and the terrible vulnerability of women and girls in situations of conflict around the world. Violence against women and girls in its various guises remains an appalling unabated blight on all our nations, including Australia."

In his Women's Day message, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called attention to two recent attacks in India. A group of men raped one young woman, who later died of her injuries. Another took her own life after reportedly being pressured to drop rape charges.

The U.N. Secretary General called on the international community to turn its anger about such incidents into action.

Thousands of people are meeting at the United Nations Headquarters in New York for the yearly Commission on the Status of Women. Ending violence against women is at the center of their discussions. I'm Steve Ember.

And I'm June Simms. This is As It Is on the Voice of America.

Ending violence against women was also at the center of another recent Women's Day event. Barbara Miller is the director of the Global Gender Program at George Washington University. Her group held a discussion on the issue. Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist Jody Williams led the discussion. Now, Barbara one of the questions your group tried to answer was whether indeed ending violence against women is a problem that can be solved.

"I guess realistically we know that ending it all is maybe a dream. But we have to keep dreaming it because it is so pervasive. Every country, rich people, poor people, people in developed countries, people in remote areas suffer from gender based violence. We are making progress and the more activists and community organizations, women's organizations work together with governments, the U.N., with private sector organizations and businesses the more impact we will have. So it takes communication, connections and courage all together."

Now you mentioned that violence against women is such a pervasive problem. Are there areas of the world where the problem is more pervasive than others, and if so why do you think that is?

"There are societies that I call extremely patriarchal, which means that male dominance is so. Places like Afghanistan, the dangers there for girls even to go to school, and then to make a choice about marriage, or not even wanting to have girl children, like in much of north India. That is what I call extreme patriarchy."

And are you guys hopeful about progress towards ending violence against women?

"I have to be hopeful. That event was just full of hope and 20 years ago we would not have had those speakers with those stories telling us about progress they have made working with men. I've seen so much progress in academia, in the NGO world and in government and people with so much awareness now that gender inequality is not good for men or women."

I thank you so much for your time. I always like to ask as a final question, what is the one take away that you want people to get from this discussion?

"Well I guess it would be echoing Jody Williams message and her big message is you don't have to be a saint. You don't have to be Mahatma Gandhi to make change in this world. Just do something and make change. Whatever you do, if you're good at writing poetry, write poems about gender equality. If you can write plays, do that. Street plays can help. Of if you can collect data, or write books or be a professor. This is a good thing to work so work on it."

Professor Miller. Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today.

"Thank you. It was really great talking to you. Happy International Women's Day."

And a Happy International Women's Day to the members of our listening audience.

Barbara Miller talked about using your skills and talents to help in the fight to end violence against women. That is exactly what our next group has done. These singers and musicians from around the world have recorded a special song in honor women. The performers include Angelique Kidjo of Benin, India's Anoushka Shankar and Yuna of Malaysia. We leave you with the song, "One Woman," released for International Women's Day.

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