The United Nations Development Fund for Women has launched a worldwide campaign against gender violence, pulling in the power of celebrity spokesperson Nicole Kidman and a brand new anti-violence Web site. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women will experience violence in their lifetimes.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign kicked off on Nov. 25, which is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It ends on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.

UNIFEM launched a “virtual book” project asking individuals and nations to pledge their support to ending violence and sign a petition. More than 89 nations have domestic violence laws on the books, but over 200 do not, according to Joanne Sandler, UNIFEM president.

Local activist groups around the world are sponsoring events during the two-week period. Scottish footballers are lending their voices to a national campaign, while activists in the Southern Africa Development Community are urging their governments to adopt a law against gender bias. Film screenings, readings and discussions are being planned worldwide.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • Labor politician Julia Gillard is the first woman to become deputy prime minister in Australia, the nation’s second highest office. She will also serve as minister of education, employment and social inclusion, an extremely ambitious undertaking, the Sydney Daily Herald reported Nov. 26. “I didn’t get involved in the Labor Party or go into Parliament to become the first woman to do something. I did both of those things because I passionately believe we can be a better country than we are,” Gillard said. New Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has named a record seven women to his cabinet.
  • Britain has officially announced a new policy for rape trials: Video statements made by the victim will be admissible as primary evidence in court and accusations will be prosecuted no matter how much time has elapsed since the crime occurred. Juries will now be briefed about common misperceptions and myths surrounding rape. The changes are intended to increase the number of rapes reported and improve the conviction rate, which is currently about 5.7 percent of the cases going to trial, the BBC reported Nov. 28.
  • Women’s rights activists and lawmakers in Israel have drafted a law to raise the legal age for marriage from 17 to 18, the BBC reported Nov. 26. At least 1,700 Israeli women marry at age 17 each year and 200 cases of underage marriages are reported. The practice is prevalent among Arab Muslims and Orthodox Jews. Activists say underage marriage harms women’s health and violates their rights to education. A Nov. 22 study from the International Women’s Health Coalition estimates that over 100 million girls and teens will be married over the next decade.
  • Female genital mutilation in Kenya has dropped, affecting 34 percent of women and girls in 2007, down from 50 percent in 1999, Kenyan daily The Nation reported Nov. 22. Cameroon is the only country in Africa that has virtually wiped out the practice, bringing it down to 1 percent in the last eight years.
  • Canada’s Parliament formally called on Japan Nov. 29 to apologize for forcing more than 200,000 women to work as sex slaves for its soldiers both before and during World War II.
  • Following a pressure campaign from anti-smoking activists, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company has dropped all newspaper and consumer magazine advertising for its controversial cigarette brand Camel No. 9. Activists complained that the flower-strewn, magenta-and-black advertising targets young women, the Associated Press reported Nov. 29.
  • In Italy, the first advertisement to use the word “condom” has begun filming, Reuters reported, and director Francesca Archibugi called it “a triumph against taboo.” Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day to raise awareness over the virus that has killed over 25 million people since 1981 and affects 33 million people today.

For more information:

U.N. Peititon to Say No to Violence:

U.N. Population Fund, 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women:

From the Women’s eNews Archives:

“Russian Women Struggle to Survive Domestic Violence”
March 10, 2005:

“Experts Link Gender Violence with Spread of AIDS”
April 19, 2002:

“Young Afghan Women Setting Themselves Ablaze”
Aug. 8, 2002:

“Legislator Fights Pakistan’s ‘Blood’ Marriages”
Oct. 20, 2003:

“Missing Daughters on an Indian Mother’s Mind”
March 16, 2006:

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Gender-based violence rarely makes it into the mainstream media, according to the United Nations Population Fund, which identified the top five under-reported stories about women and violence to open the U.N.’s anti-violence campaign on Nov. 25.

A population fund report found that domestic violence in the Russian Federation, sex slavery in India, self-immolation in Central Asian republics, the link between gender-based violence and HIV, and “compensation” marriages were the least covered gender violence stories in 2007 despite the statistics that accompany them.

An estimated 14,000 women are murdered each year by their partners in the Russian Federation, one every 35 minutes.

In India, researchers estimate 40 to 50 million girls have been lost to gender-selective abortion or infanticide, and the shortage is fueling the sex-trafficking industry.

Compensation marriage–the practice of forcing girls into arranged marriages as compensation for a crime, to pay debts or to settle disputes–remains widespread in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

The AIDS gender gap grows each year. Studies show that women who suffer violence at home are 10 times more likely to become infected with HIV.

The practice of self-immolation–suicide by lighting oneself on fire–in Northern Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan is rising as economic crises intensify and women and young girls face increasing pressures.

“Many abuses on women and gender-based violence are not well known beyond women and gender-based publications,” the U.N.’s Patricia Leidl told Women’s eNews. “They really need to reach a mainstream audience. You don’t bring social or legislative change unless people know that the problem exists and start pressuring governments where these problems exist. Raising awareness is the first step.”

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • The income gap between top male and female lawyers grows as they move up the ranks at firms, and top positions are still primarily held by men, according to the National Association of Women’s Lawyers. A Nov. 15 study surveyed the biggest 200 law firms in the United States, and found that 15 percent had no women on their top committees.
  • A 15-year-old claimed she was raped multiple times while jailed in Para, Brazil, the Associated Press reported Nov. 23. The woman shared the same cell with up to 20 men over three weeks and says she was forced to exchange sex for food. Women’s rights groups said the scandal highlights a national shortage of facilities for female offenders.
  • Around the globe, 95 million women have been economically displaced from their homes and now make up 49.6 percent of international migrants seeking opportunities across boundaries. A Nov. 26 World Bank study found that language skills were crucial for labor force participation and economic success and recommended developing new mechanisms to help women influence how the money they send back home to families is spent.
  • Domestic violence touched Hillary Clinton’s campaign Friday. Leeland Eisenberg was supposed to be in court on domestic violence charges. Instead, he allegedly took the Rochester, N.H., office of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign hostage. One by one the hostages were released and Eisenberg surrendered. His wife, Lisa (Warren) Eisenberg, filed for divorce on Tuesday, Nov. 27, citing irreconcilable differences over Eisenberg’s alcohol and drug abuse and severe verbal abuse and threats.
  • Gail L. Pumphrey and her three children were buried Friday. The family was murdered on Thanksgiving Day in Montgomery County, Maryland. Her ex-husband, David P. Brockdorff, killed the four and then shot himself, police said. Pumphrey had asked the courts to confiscate her ex-husband’s rifle twice, the Baltimore Sun reported Nov. 30, but the judges failed to issue an order requiring him to do so. In
  • A British teacher in Sudan was sentenced to two weeks in jail because children in her classroom named a teddy bear “Mohammed.” She was accused of blasphemy for using the name of Islam’s prophet even though Mohammed is a common first name. Diplomatic pressure prevented a harsher sentence and secured her deportation back to Britain.
  • Documents obtained by the Politico Web site reveal that presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani used taxpayer-funded police security to escort him and then-girlfriend Judi Nathan on weekend trysts while he was mayor of New York. At the time, he was amarried to Donna Hanover, whom he later divorced to marry Nathan.

Sarah Seltzer is the editorial intern; Dominique Soguel is Arabic editor.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected].