“Courage is contagious.” That was the mantra of the morning panel on March 7, 2013 hosted by Soroptimist International.  Held at the International Social Justice Commission building of the Salvation Army, the gathering was one in a series of parallel events organized in tandem with the 57th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York City.

Here are a few highlights:

Emna Fitouri of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts opened with a passionate description of the results of a recent nationwide survey of violence against women in her home country of Tunisia.  The survey, which was distributed to women and girls in Tunisia, revealed that 55% of respondents believed that violence against women was normal and that violence was a sign of masculinity.

Angela Lauman of the World Young Women’s Christian Association provided global statistics on violence against women and concluded with a few remarks on how to combat recent trends, including three programs that the World YWCA promotes – Her Future (global), Young Women’s Leadership (Asia/Pacific Region), and Safe and Respectful Sex (locally in Australia).

Talat Pasha, medical doctor from Karachi, Pakistan, gave a harrowing montage of a woman who suffered violence throughout her life from infancy to adulthood.  Based on real life accounts of babies, children, girls and young women, the story illustrated both the pervasive threat of violence at every stage of a woman’s life and her steadfast resilience.

Violeta Bunescu of UN Women detailed violence against women in her home country of Moldova and provided nationwide statistics on women’s behavior around, attitudes towards, and beliefs about domestic violence.  According to data collected throughout the country, 90% of calls made to the national domestic violence hotline came from women accusing men of abuse.  Still, more incidents of violence against women and girls go unreported for several reasons – many in society believe that women are the cause of violence, even more believe that violence is normal, and survivors are ashamed.  The problem, Bunescu said, is that violence against women is considered a private issue.  “How, then,” she asked, “can we begin to change the situation [and empower women] if violence against women is taboo?”

Kate Brady Kean of the Manukau Institute of Technology concluded with a presentation on psychosocial counseling for survivors of trauma.  Stressing the importance of cultural sensitivity, Kean suggested that the best way to empower women and girls is to provide them with options.  “The worst thing you can do is take away her power to make her own decisions.”  Kean also provided examples of primary, secondary and tertiary interventions for the prevention of violence against women and girls from preschool through adulthood.

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