Violence against women out of control

  • March 16, 2007

TORONTO - Rape as a weapon of war, rape in the form of the globalized sex trade, rape among school children, rape as the means of transmitting HIV, rape inside marriage — former United Nations special ambassador Stephen Lewis urged Catholic teachers to think about how rape is defining the world we live in and the future we face.

To mark International Women’s Day, Lewis addressed Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association delegates March 11 in the first-ever speech presented by the union’s human rights caucus. Violence against women is a “contagion” that is out of control, and teachers have to do something about it, Lewis told a rapt convention ballroom bursting with more than 600 teachers.

Lewis urged the union to write to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon insisting the international assembly increase its “paltry” $13 million in funding for the UN Development Fund for Women. The agency needs $1 billion a year to be able to do anything meaningful on a global scale, according to Lewis.

The fund is so under financed that the new secretary general won’t even talk about having the new agency fund its own projects, and instead speaks of a hope that it will “enhance” existing programs.

“If all you’re talking about is enhancing what is there, you might as well abandon the charade,” said Lewis.

Outgoing OECTA president Donna Marie Kennedy promised Lewis the union would write the letter.

Lewis also urged the teachers, in defence of basic civilization, to teach young boys to cherish and respect girls and women.

“You’re teachers, for heaven’s sake,” said Lewis. “Teaching young boys respect for young girls, teaching that respect is at the heart of civilization.”

By far the most important thing teachers can do about sexual violence and exploitation will happen in the classroom, Kennedy told The Catholic Register after Lewis’s speech.

The World Health Organization estimates one in five girls worldwide experience sexual violence.

Globally, there are approximately four million trafficked women and girls caught up in the sex trade, and about 500,000 new captives per year are brought into the $9 billion per year global industry, Lewis said.

Lewis told the teachers rape as a weapon of intimidation and terror is “out of control” in Darfur, Sudan, and is reason enough for the United Nations to intervene in Sudan, where the government stands accused of training and financing janjaweed militias that prey on refugee women.

“Everybody knows it, and no one has felt strongly enough to step in to protect the lives of women,” he said. “Rape as a weapon of war is entirely out of control, and the response of the world is so modest as to be inconsequential.”

The former special UN ambassador on AIDS also pointed out the role rape has played in spreading the virus which causes AIDS deaths.

“The predatory violence of men is driving the virus,” he said.


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