Violence against women and girls is a global health issue. In some countries it is estimated that as many as seven out of 10 women are beaten, raped, abused or mutilated. This is not cultural. This is criminal. As conscious beings, we understand that when lives are fragmented by the acts of physical violence, our whole community suffers. So what can women, girls and the men and boys that love them do about it? We need to make a true commitment towards cultural transformation.
Through the work of the United Nations Women for Peace, we are called upon to actively challenge the deeply rooted underpinnings of violence against women. And in doing so, we must no longer support the status quo. Our silence on these issues can be deadly.
Recently, I came across a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC's Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study is the one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. The study concluded that a child's exposure to violence, including witnessing his or her mother being beaten, is a major risk factor for the leading causes of today's illnesses. This study demonstrates how violence is not limited to physical injuries. But instead, exposure to violence is also linked to social, emotional, and cognitive impairment, the adoption of health risk behaviors, disease, disabilities, social problems and premature death.
As a woman living in the United States, I recognize that I am afforded many freedoms that women around the world are not. I have a right to safety, and I have the luxury of perusing an education and career path of my choice. It was my dream to become an actor. And I am so grateful to have had many opportunities to assist me in accomplishing it. Hands down however, my greatest and most fulfilling role has been that of a mother. Nothing compares to the profound love and sacred bond between a mother and child. But in spite of all the progress and advances we have made towards equality in my country, my children have been ripped from my arms, effectively exiled by a family court judge who forced them to move to France to accommodate their biological father who was deported and is forbidden to re-enter the United States. My children, two American-born toddlers, ages two and five years old at the time, did nothing wrong and did not deserve the punishment of being separated from their mother, much less banishment from their own county. In spite of all the progress we have made here in the states, this scenario is a clear example of the underpinnings of a patriarchal society.
Although transatlantic parenting has been difficult, I take the responsibility of being a mother, nurturer, teacher, mentor, and protector of my children very seriously. I understand that only teaching my daughter "how" to avoid violence against her will be a great disservice to her, and I also understand that raising my son within today's "man culture" mentality of aggression, superiority and entitlement will be a great disservice to him. I want instead to be free to raise both my children in a world that encourages equality, empathy, and peace; to be part of a culture that respects the bodies and roles of women and girls; to live within a global community that abhors violence against women and girls and actively seeks to hold men and boys accountable for committing crimes against them.
The United Nations Women for Peace March in March celebration of International Women's Day is extremely important to me, not just because I find violence against woman and girls unacceptable, but I recognize any form of oppression, injustice or violence to be a profound human rights violation that needs our attention and active participation to eradicate. With incredible heart and determination, the UN Women for Peace helps to raise awareness, has implemented programs for positive change, and continues to encourage all of us to take an active role on addressing this global pandemic -- effectively setting in motion an end to violence against women and girls. It is such an honor for me to be among these courageous women, girls, men and boys, and I encourage everyone to come out in support of the UN for Women for Peace's March in March celebration of International Women's Day. Only together can we create a better tomorrow for all humankind.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and UN Women for Peace, in conjunction with International Womens' Day (March 7). UN Women for Peace is hosting a March to End Violence Against Women on that day, in New York. For more information on UN Women for Peace and the event, read here.