Today, November 25, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In a show of support for a new 16 day campaign of activism launched by the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women, the New York skyline was set ablaze with fiery colors last night, as both the UN headquarters and the Empire State Building were illuminated in orange. The campaign, which begins today, ends on December 10, which is International Human Rights Day.

The new campaign invites individuals to “Orange Your Neighborhood” (check out the hashtag #orangeurhood for some great photos), to symbolize hope for a brighter future, free from violence against women and girls. What we know today is that one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence at some point in her life, and slightly more than one in ten girls have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. These statistics give us pause, as we consider the sheer number of women affected by violence.

In addition to being a clear violation of their fundamental human rights, violence against women affects more than simply their physical integrity; it restricts their access to health, education, economic opportunities as well as their civil, political and social rights. There are also real, financial costs associated with violence against women, such as the direct costs of services to treat and support abused women and their children and to bring perpetrators to justice. In the US, the annual costs of intimate partner violence have been estimated at $5.8 billion.

Almost 20 years ago, UN member states adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, taking up the global call to end all forms of violence against women and girls by highlighting violence against women as one of 12 critical areas of concern. Since then, progress has been made as countries pass laws to better protect women and awareness campaigns have helped educate the public. Nevertheless, given the horrific statistics cited above, much remains to be done.

The “Orange Your Neighborhood” campaign is an opportunity for youth to get engaged in an issue that affects us all, no matter what gender or nationality. As Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon notes, “The pervasiveness of this violence should shock us all. Violence against women and girls is happening where you live — and possibly even to someone you know.” Violence against women is, unfortunately, a universal issue. No country or region is spared, giving this campaign global significance. The 16 day campaign is an opportunity to once again bring this critical issue to the forefront.

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