Can the world stop the culture of violence against women?

The United Nations says one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex or abused by a partner in her lifetime

The abduction of more than 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, of whom 272 remain captive, in April by the militant group Boko Haram captured the world's attention. However, no Twitter campaign, or even military assistance from nations like the U.S., has been able to rescue them.

The Boko Haram leader boasted in a videotaped message that the government of Nigeria is powerless against them and that he would sell the girls on the open market.

It's an awful story, and a tragedy if these young women are never returned to their families. In this case, their plight resonates around the world.

The truth is that terrible things like this, and much worse, are happening to women across the globe every day — from war zones where families are trapped by conflict, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, to India, where authorities say a woman is raped every 22 minutes.

Societal norms, cultures and attitudes toward women fuel the problem, despite global outrage that comes when we read about these crimes.

Just last month, two teenage girls were found hanging dead from a tree in a village in India after being raped.

Their families say the police were slow in investigating the crime since the girls were from a lower caste.

The story took an even uglier turn when a politician made comments saying rapes like this “happen accidentally.”

India's new prime minister said statements like these are wrong.


“Respecting and protecting women should be a priority for the 1.25 billion people in this country.”

— Narendra Modi, Indian prime minister

Egypt has long been dealing with a problem of sexual harassment.

A United Nations survey from 2013 reported that 99 percent of Egyptian women had experienced some form of harassment — most of which involved unwanted touching, followed closely in frequency by some kind of verbal assault.

Often it happens in public, on the street as people go about their daily lives.

Even the celebration of a newly elected president was tarnished by violence, with multiple reports of sexual assault on women during inauguration celebrations in Cairo for Abdel Fattah El Sisi. A young woman was violently assaulted by a mob in an act caught on video in Tahrir Square. She was found stripped naked and bloodied.

Egypt’s outgoing president, Adly Mansour, called for the implementation of a new law that criminalizes sexual harassment. It would be the first law of its kind in Egypt, and an aggressor could face a minimum of six months in jail along with a heavy fine. 

This week in London, a gathering of foreign ministers, nongovernmental organizations and delegates from 113 countries seeks to raise public awareness about sexual violence against women. Their mission is to move the world to act.

The summit is co-chaired by British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie, actress and special envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

"It is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict," Jolie said during the conference. "It has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power. It is done to torture and humiliate innocent people and often very young children."

In the run-up to the summit, 150 governments endorsed a declaration pledging to end sexual violence in war zones. The goal is to document crimes and bring more prosecutions. Can declarations and high-profile meetings like this one make a difference?

Nigeria's government, for instance, is one that signed the declaration, but hundreds of girls kidnapped by Boko Haram have not been saved.

In the United States, the International Violence Against Women Act is pending in both houses of Congress. It seeks to make the issue a higher diplomatic priority for the U.S. Similar legislative efforts dating back to 2007 have failed.

Why are women targeted in this type of violence?

Why do many societies fail to change their attitudes toward women?

How can the world stop sexist violence?

We consulted a panel of experts for the Inside Story.

The above discussion panel was assembled for the on-air broadcast of “Inside Story.”

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