04/06/2015 06:10 pm ET Updated Jun 06, 2015

Taking Global Action for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and we've already seen a flurry of activity, from turning Niagara Falls teal to a laundry list of ways to engage on domestic advocacy.

Since the 1980s, activists have used April as a month to bring attention to sexual assault. But it wasn't until 2001 that the U.S. first observed SAAM nationally during the month of April. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has led the charge on organizing events and generating resources for SAAM each year.

At Women Thrive Worldwide, we're thrilled to see growing momentum to end sexual violence, and we believe that this is the moment to double down on efforts domestically AND globally.

The World Health Organization, in the first comprehensive global survey of two forms of violence against women and girls ever, found that a staggering one in three women will experience sexual and/or physical violence in their lifetime. In some countries, that number soars to 70 percent or higher.

While the U.S. has a long way to go to ensure that survivors of sexual violence can seek effective legal recourse and access critical medical and psychosocial services, individuals in other corners of the world often lack the most basic legal protections and services.

For instance, in conflicted-wrought eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Refugees International reports that a lack of humanitarian support for internally displaced persons has led women and girls to take on risky coping mechanisms.

Women and girls report engaging in sex in exchange for food or basic necessities, putting them at risk of violence and HIV transmission. They often must venture out into the bush for firewood and food collection, which renders them vulnerable to sexual violence when isolated and away from crowded areas. In this context, legal recourse is almost nonexistent and access to medical and psychosocial services is extremely limited.

It doesn't have to be this way. We can all get involved in making a difference and ending sexual violence.

April 7 is the SAAM Day of Action. Here are five things you can do to amplify the voices of women and girls around the world as we work toward a world free of sexual violence:

  1. Learn more. Educate yourself about violence against women and girls. Get the facts and be prepared to talk about this issue with your colleagues, friends and networks.
  2. Spread the word. Get your social media networks involved in raising awareness about sexual violence here in the U.S. and around the globe. Use the hashtag #SAAM to tag your posts.
  3. Exercise your power as a U.S. citizen and tell Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act.
  4. Ask you Members of Congress to support robust funding for the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, the only global multi-donor fund providing grants for innovative efforts to combat gender-based violence.
  5. Stay engaged. April may be Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but this issue needs attention year round.

Tackling an issue like sexual violence can seem like a daunting task. But our individual actions, taken collectively, have the power to change hearts and minds.

Just as Robert F. Kennedy said, "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

We have the power to write a brighter and more peaceful future for women and girls.