By: Mark Leon Goldberg on November 25, 2010 Via our friends at the Girl Up campaign, there is more to today than sleeping in or shopping. Today, in fact, is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Tieneke van Lonkhuyzen explains the significance of the day: Over the past few weeks, you may have seen some of our blogs on violence against girls — one of the most widespread violations of human rights in the world. Every day women and girls experience sexual and gender-based violence that violates their rights and reduces their productivity and potential. The good news is that we have the power to make a difference in the lives of adolescent girls who encounter gender-based violence, and change is underway already. Here are the facts: Up to 70 percent of women experience violence in their lifetime. Violence kills and disables as many women and girls between the ages of 15 and 44 as cancer. Worldwide, nearly 50 percent of all sexual assaults are against girls 15 years or younger. In 2002 the World Health Organization estimated that 150 million girls under the age of 18 experienced forced sex or other forms of sexual violence. This week, November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We’ll have the opportunity to take action and celebrate the amazing work that’s being done around the world to prevent and protect girls from gender-based violence. At the UN, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made it his personal commitment to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls in all parts of the world through the launch of the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign. You can join the UN’s global effort to track what individuals, organizations and governments are doing to make a difference – whether it’s volunteering, donating or advocating – through the Say NO to Violence Against Women Campaign. More than 880,000 actions have already been taken to date. In Liberia, after a 14-year civil war during which an estimated 40 percent of Liberian women were attacked, women and girls have taken the lead in preventing and responding to violence. Sexual and gender-based violence has remained widespread in Liberia. In 2008 rape was the most frequently reported crime in Liberia with girls aged 10 to 14 the most frequent victims. Perpetrators of rape are often family members and/or breadwinners of the family. These cases in particular are rarely reported or addressed because families do not want to take the economic risk of sending a father, uncle, cousin, or boyfriend who is generating income for the family to jail. Even though rape cases are not always reported, sexual violence was so widespread in Liberia that there was a backlog of cases in the courts and convictions were rare. So the women of Liberia spoke up and demanded for a special court for sexual crimes. In 2008, that court was formed and it is the first of its kind in Liberia. If you’re interested in learning about this and other ways women and girls are getting involved, check out this 10 minute video from UNIFEM: “Liberia: Tackling the Legacy of Violence against Women. Right here in the U.S., more than 150 organizations – including 40 women’s groups across the globe and our sister organization, the Better World Campaign – worked with Congress to develop the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), which if passed would consistently incorporate solutions for reducing violence against women into U.S. foreign assistance programs. And here is Ambassador Susan Rice: Today and every day, I join President Obama on the side of all women and against all acts of gender-based violence. Wherever women and children, girls and boys fall victim to physical and sexual abuse – in conflict zones, in schools, in their own homes – all of us pay a price. Such violence exacts a particularly cruel toll on individuals, but it also diminishes the human rights, prosperity and security of societies. As Vice President Biden has said, gender-based violence robs young women of their full potential. The World Health Organization has shown that sexual violence and abuse inflicts irreparable damage to the mental health of victims, unmoors individuals from civic society, and carries lasting economic and social costs – limiting, for example, victims’ ability to earn wages or care for their families. The public health consequences of sexual violence, including the use of rape as a weapon of war, can easily spread beyond borders. And few acts of violence are greater affronts to peace than the trafficking of women and girls, which continues to condemn millions to bonded labor and forced prostitution. The United States is deeply committed to ending the scourge of gender-based and sexual violence. Our Global Development Plan recognizes that investing in sustainable development outcomes – programs that bring women closer to markets, schools and clean water – improves lives, but it also makes us more secure. I look forward next month to the start of former President Michelle Bachelet’s term at the helm of UN Women and to the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Margot Wallstrom, who is investigating the brutal rapes of women this year in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We must all remain committed to eliminating the cruel and continuing impact of gender-based violence, wherever it occurs.