09/06/2014 12:28 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2014

Ending Gender-Based Violence Around the World


In late May, two Indian girls who had gone outside to use the restroom were gang-raped and then hung from a tree.

That same week, a pregnant Pakistani woman was attacked and brutally murdered by a group of her family members in a so-called "honor killing." Onlookers -- including police -- watched as she was beaten to death in a public place. Pakistan's Human Rights Commission reported that 869 "honor killings" took place in 2013 -- due to lack of reporting out of shame or fear of additional violence, however, the number is undoubtedly significantly higher.

In Egypt, ongoing sexual violence against women protesters has not quelled; just recently, a woman suffered a horrific mass sexual assault while attending the inaugural celebrations for incoming President Sisi.

Violence against women and girls touches every corner of the globe and is one of the world's most pervasive human rights violations. According to the World Health Organization, one out of every three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime -- with rates reaching a shocking 70 percent in some countries. This is nothing short of an epidemic. This violence ranges from rape and domestic abuse to acid burnings and human trafficking. Not only does violence impact the individual and the family, it is damaging to society: it impedes economic growth, destabilizes communities, and complicates progress on other critical issues, such as poverty and HIV and AIDS.

For me, the struggle for women's human rights began the moment I was born in Tehran at the height of the Iranian Revolution, a time when the status of women was quickly deteriorating. My parents realized the dangers of raising a daughter in a social, political and legal climate that was growing increasingly oppressive toward women and girls. Although they fled to London when I was just three-weeks-old, the challenges facing women's rights in Iran became ingrained in my social consciousness.

Women and girls, men and boys all share the right to live free of violence, which is, unfortunately, experienced by both men and women. Women and girls, however, disproportionately experience violence due to a deeply rooted global culture of gender discrimination. Violence is committed against women and girls as they attempt to access education -- as evidenced by the as yet unresolved mass kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Nigeria. In El Salvador, women face the highest rate of femicide in the world, with 12 murders per 100,000 women each year. And we know that women are uniquely and tragically affected by armed conflict -- rape used as a weapon of war has been documented in countless conflicts around the globe.

As human rights advocates, we demand that the rights of half the world's population -- women -- be respected. No one should experience violence or live in fear of it when he or she seeks to access the full range of their human rights. There is legislation here in the U.S. that would help. The bipartisan International Violence Against Woman Act (IVAWA) would make ending gender-based violence a top priority in U.S. diplomatic and foreign assistance efforts. IVAWA recognizes that while women and girls disproportionately suffer from violence, men and boys suffer from it as well. IVAWA seeks to end gender-based violence against all. It will help engage men and boys and community leaders in efforts to transform attitudes about equality and the acceptability of violence. We know that men and boys are powerful allies against violence.

Through IVAWA, U.S. foreign assistance programs and funding that are already in place to address violence and increase women's opportunities would become more efficient, effective and coordinated across agencies, all without costing the taxpayer another dime.

Some might ask why the United States should care about ending gender-based violence around the world? While we know there is much work to be done to end violence against women here at home, we must recognize that the status of women and girls and the stability of nations go hand-in-hand; countries with the most discriminatory laws and cultural attitudes toward women tend to also experience the greatest unrest and turmoil, which in turn directly impacts global stability. IVAWA is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the smart thing to do for U.S. national security.

As some of you may know, I am an actress, and while preparing for a role often requires a study of the human condition, our job as activists and citizens of the world involves changing the human condition. The United States must assume a leadership role in ensuring equal rights for women and girls, including the right to live free from violence. Passing IVAWA is a critical step toward a future free of gender-based violence.