Last month in the United States of America a woman successfully sued a man for sexual assault and received a single dollar bill in damages.
A dollar won’t buy you much these days but the symbolism was priceless. Here was a global celebrity and multimillionaire, suing not to increase her riches but to take a stand against sexual violence against women.
Taking a stand for girls and women is becoming increasingly important in today’s society, where 1 in 3 girls have experienced violence in their lifetime and an estimated 120 million girls globally – around 1 in 10 – have been victims of sexual violence.
Statistics are hard to shake off
Whilst on the surface many of us may still believe we live in an enlightened society, you don’t have to dig too deep to find an alternative truth – sorry to borrow the phrase – that suggests that girls’ rights and our advancement towards gender equality is about to nosedive. Forget about 1989, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were living in 1889 when it comes to some of the changes we’re seeing.
We must shout to the rooftops so everyone knows what’s happening around the world.
Take Russia for example, where the President recently approved a new law decriminalising domestic violence in cases where the victim does not sustain serious injuries. I can’t help thinking of the woman put in hospital by her partner totting up the bruises and injuries in some macabre points system, and thinking “Damn, only very badly bruised. If he’d broken my leg at least he’d be charged for it.” It’s estimated a woman is killed every 40 minutes as a result of domestic violence in Russia.
And in Bangladesh a recent law on child marriage passed by parliament allows girls under the age of 18 to marry under ‘special circumstances’. Special circumstances include when a girl is pregnant. The previous law set the legal age to marry as 18 for women and 21 for men with no exceptions. The eagle eyed readers will note I haven’t mentioned a minimum age for those allowed to wed under ‘special circumstances’ – there isn’t one.
Bangladesh already has the highest rate of child marriage in Asia: 52% of girls are married before they’re 18 and 18% are married before age 15. You have to wait until you’re 18 to get a driving licence in Bangladesh, but don’t worry girls, if you get pregnant you can get married at 14 years old and your husband can drive you wherever he pleases.
Girls' rights are human rights
There’s the broader roll back on human rights that we’re seeing in countries like the Philippines, where the President’s self-proclaimed war on drugs has killed more than 7,000 people. Here we’ve seen open calls for the summary execution of not just drug users and dealers but human rights activists who oppose these methods.
As our world leaders put pen to paper on these policies that roll back on the hard-fought-for advances on human rights (or decide to look the other way), we must challenge, challenge, and challenge again. We must take a stand now, or risk further loss of rights. And when I say loss of rights this often equates to loss of life. Be it a life of rich opportunity not lived through becoming a mother at 13, or actual loss when the man beating his wife feels no compunction (be it his own or through the laws that govern his state) to stop until she lies limp, bloody, and lifeless on the floor.
We must fight to safeguard existing legislation that protects girls and young women. We must unite behind the common goal of halting this rollback on girls and women’s rights. We must shout to the rooftops so everyone knows what’s happening around the world, or risk these tiny nips and slashes at our civil liberties adding up to death by a thousand cuts. But above all, we all need to take a leaf out of Ms Swift’s book and act now to take a stand for girls and women’s rights.
Stand up for girls' rights
We must halt the roll back on girls' and women's rights by taking a stand against those who wish to curtail them.