Women plead for end to violence

The rape and killing of an Indian medical student in December sparked weeks of protests in India, and demonstrations spread to Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In Pakistan there was horror following the shooting of 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai for her advocacy of education for girls, and in South Africa last week the nation was rocked by the case of a 17-year-old woman being gang raped, sliced open and left for dead.

Today, February 14, is Valentines Day but - far more importantly - it is also One Billion Rising day.

Women and men across the globe are called on to unite in protest against violence against women by saying "Enough! The violence ends now."

The figure of one billion is derived from the estimate that one in every three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.In New Zealand, events are planned for Wellington, Auckland, Levin, Invercargill, Horowhenua, Hawera, Palmerston North, Napier and other locations.

However, the fact that the onebillion rising.org website features a lot of pink, and that many of the day's activities, in New Zealand and in other nations, involve fun activities such as dance and performances, should not detract from the deadly seriousness of the activists' intent.

Just as the Ukrainian protest group, Femen, uses topless women demonstrating to draw media attention to its protests against rape, One Billion Rising is absolutely resolute about the need for action on violence against women.

And these are not one-off events.

Women around the world are drawing together in ever-greater numbers to stand up against the way in which physical and sexual assault is used as a method of controlling half the globe's population.

India's Pink Gang, the all-female group clad in electric pink saris, is now the largest women's direct action group in the world. It began when women started fighting back against husbands who beat and abused their wives.

In New Zealand, 2013 offers a real opportunity to take constructive steps to counter violence against women.

The Glenn Inquiry into all forms of child abuse and domestic violence is about to begin up to nine months of evidence-gathering. It is adopting a grass-roots approach to its investigation, with large numbers of victims and frontline workers about to provide details both about their experiences and about the shortcomings in responses to the twin blights of child abuse and family violence.

That will shine a spotlight on the problem and enable New Zealanders who think they have not been touched by family violence or child abuse to understand the full extent of the problem in this country.

At the same time, let's draw together as a nation to also examine how we deal with violence against women outside the family context - in the workplace, among strangers and everywhere else that it occurs.

Let's dust off the myriad reports which have been prepared but never acted on: the 2007 Living at the Cutting Edge: Women's Experiences of Protection Orders study and the 2010 It's Still Not OK report.

Let's reread Sir Ronald Davison's 1994 Report of Inquiry into Family Court Proceedings involving Christine Madeline Marion Bristol and Alan Robert Bristol.

Dr Peter Adams of the University of Auckland's School of Population Health, in his 2012 book Masculine Empire: How Men Use Violence to Keep Women in Line, detailed the way in which violence against women is used by individual men in individual homes to control women. As what has gone on in the home has traditionally been regarded as private, the global effect of this individual coercion and oppression is seldom recognised in its totality.

Now is the time both to acknowledge how widespread in scope it is and to act to put an end to it.

After all, if women across the globe come together, it will not be One Billion Rising, but rather Three Point Five Billion Rising.

Catriona MacLennan is a barrister and a Think Tank member of the Glenn Inquiry. The views expressed in this article are her own.