If you want to know why investing in women and girls is important, look no further than Time Magazine's Aug. 1st cover.
The much discussed cover featured a photo of Aisha, the 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced to having her nose and ears cut off by a Taliban commander for fleeing her abusive in-laws.
While some criticized the cover for being too graphic, I disagree. Instead of objecting to the photo, we should instead be protesting - and changing - the circumstances that have allowed this type of injustice to exist.
According to the World Bank, women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria. While violence against women is not confined to a specific culture, region, or country, it is rooted in historically unequal power relations between men and women and persistent discrimination against women.
In little over one month from now, world leaders and heads of state will come to the United Nations to discuss the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - the set of eight international targets for combating extreme poverty and disease that world leaders agreed upon in 2000. The 2010 UN Summit provides a critical moment for world leaders to assess their progress in achieving these goals by 2015, a mere five years from now.
One of the best ways for governments to close in on the goals they made 10 years ago is to redouble their commitment, and investment, in women and girls. Investments in education and health for women and girls have been linked to increases in productivity and national income - all of which contribute to the achievement of the MDGs.
Likewise, world leaders' ability to cut maternal mortality by three-quarters by 2015 and guarantee universal access to reproductive health undergirds the success - or failure - of a number of the other global development goals, including reducing child mortality, combating HIV/AIDS and eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Several reports estimate that the package of services essential to make significant improvements in maternal health would cost less than $1.50USD per person in the 75 countries where 95 percent of maternal deaths occur.
If we want to prevent more stories like Aisha's, we have to change the dynamic that locks far too many women and girls into the vicious cycle of poverty, social marginalization, and abuse. It's up to us - all of us - not to look away from the atrocities that we see, but instead to push forward in making a difference.