The day before we were to celebrate International Women's Day at large commemorative events at United Nations Headquarters in New York, my husband and I had a much smaller encounter that proved the power of individuals to effect change.
We were returning from Sierra Leone in West Africa to our home in New York with a stopover in London.
There was only a brief interval between our connecting flights. Normally, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, my husband must use even fleeting moments of free time to speak with world leaders. But this time, he chose to meet an ordinary citizen. Although there was no shortage of crises to address and officials to contact, we arranged to see Fahma Mohamed, a 17-year-old woman in the United Kingdom who pioneered a winning campaign against female genital mutilation.
As soon as he heard about it, my husband published an article supporting her efforts to enlist all head teachers to raise awareness of the horrors of female genital mutilation. We were delighted to hear that her campaign has succeeded. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has agreed to Ms. Mohamed's proposal that he write to primary and secondary schools to support them in tackling female genital mutilation.
Meeting this bright young woman, we were struck by her energy and passion and commitment to shield girls from harmful traditional practices.
Ms. Mohamed is extraordinary, and she is not alone. There are many activists around the world -- young and old, male and female -- working to end various forms of violence against women.
The UNiTE campaign has mobilized participants around the world, raising awareness and spurring action.
The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women supports projects in more than 120 countries. These initiatives are helping victims of rape overcome their trauma, working to outlaw attacks against women, and carrying out many other effective measures to change attitudes in society. The results are real and lasting.
The UNiTE campaign, the Trust Fund and other activities are part of a global wave of progress that is altering the way violence is perceived. As a result, shame, which for too long in too many places attached to the victims, is now placed where it belongs: on the perpetrators.
In international law, in national parliaments, in homes and schools around the world people are rejecting violence against women and girls.
The aim is to protect them, but the result benefits all of society.
When women and girls can move freely without fear of attacks, they can engage more productively in their communities, their countries and our world.
When men learn that harassment, discrimination and violence against women is cowardly and disgraceful, they raise boys who respect women's wellbeing.
When we change the culture of violence against women into an attitude of respect and appreciation, we enable them to unleash their potential as leaders of a new future.
On International Women's Day, I call on all people to join our efforts to usher in a world free of violence against women and girls, where all people are safe and equal.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and UN Women for Peace, in conjunction with International Women's' 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.