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A global voice for women: The right to be heard

“If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely — and the right to be heard.” declared Hillary Rodham Clinton at the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing almost 20 years ago.

Women around the world are increasingly being encouraged to speak out and stand up for their rights. However, while governments, media outlets, and even women’s & human rights organizations are providing a platform for the voices in Africa, India, the Middle East, the Far East, and Latin America, the voices in the ‘West’ are all too often forgotten and over-looked by these people and organizations.

There is an erroneous assumption that the solution to combating violence and discrimination against women have been fought, and already won in ‘western’, ‘developed’ countries. An assumption that by simply passing laws, signing treaties and allocating a few billion dollars/euros to national & regional programs, thousands of years of gender-bias and oppression of women in these societies will be effectively challenged and eradicated. A naïve notion at best, and a dangerous one at worst.

The Internet is over-flowing with speeches and rhetoric from political leaders, women’s right activists, and a myriad of groups around the world recognizing that violence against women “knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth” (Kofi Anan). However, the idea that this is a ‘poor-person’ / ‘poor-country’ problem, and one that only takes the form of extreme physical and sexual violence, is so entrenched in the mind-set of people that the voices of victims that fall outside of these parameters are silenced by the prejudices and ignorance of those around them.
Amnesty International – Spain, in "What Specialized Justice?" (, demonstrates that the problem lay not in the desire, fortitude, and willingness of women to stand-up for their rights and denounce their abusers, but rather in the failure of judicial systems to provide protection to women who dare to raise their voices and speak out. As stated in their report, "Instead of justifying the inaction of institutions by contending that it is the “obligation” of the woman to denounce the violence, authorities should verify the effectiveness of the legal protection available and identify the obstacles that, in the law and its application, impede women from accessing and obtaining justice and protection.”

It is time for governments, and particularly government regulatory agencies that are responsible for assuring accountability of judicial actors and transparency in judicial systems, to recognize that the barriers women face in reclaiming their rights will not be broken down by rhetoric alone.

As Michelle Bachelet, former Executive Director of UN Women stated last year in her Closing Remarks at the UN Stakeholders’ Forum on Preventing and Eliminating Violence Against Women, “the shortcomings [in the protection of victims of domestic violence] are not in the vision, voices and the voluminous efforts undertaken by determined women around the world. No, the shortcomings lie elsewhere—in the lack of political prioritization… Now is the time for governments to translate international promises into concrete national action….”

The UN further explains in Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls, that “the acceptance of violence against women and girls — either explicitly or tacitly — creates a culture of impunity, which perpetuates that violence. When the State fails to hold perpetrators accountable, it contributes to a culture of impunity in which justice is denied and the roots of gender inequality grow deeper. Abuses continue, violence against women and girls is normalized and accepted, and inequality is reinforced, creating a vicious cycle”.

As Secretary Clinton recognized several decades ago, women’s rights cannot be separated from human rights, and human rights cannot be separated from women’s rights. But, until those in power start recognizing and defending the right of every woman to be heard, in a systematic and comprehensive manner, the hundreds of millions of voices of women speaking out around the world will continued to fall on deaf ears, and be silenced by the inaction and apathy of authorities.

By Quenby Wilcox, @GlobalExpats (

Article is published on Reuters Foundation website (



William62's picture

Global Partnerships

Thanks for adding your voice and showing concern. How to change cultural and social habits that perpetuate inaction and apathy of authorities is an age-old challenge!

Recently reviewing a USG report on the Global Partnership initiative, it is comforting to note how the US "...has prioritized partnerships as a foreign policy tool. Through public-private partnerships, we leverage the best of public and private sector resources to create practical solutions that promote shared prosperity and value, strengthen well-being and security, and uphold governance and the rule of law. These partnerships engage companies, start-ups, non-governmental organizations, foundations, faith-based organizations, universities, research centers, and civil society groups as full partners in the process of problem solving".

The internet and cell phone technologies, using any of the multitude of social media platforms, are clearly a way for any two people at any two points of our earth to be in contact with each other to help join in to resolve problems that exist for us.

Jennifer Faith's picture


Dear Quenby,

Thank you so much for this insightful and thought provoking post. You are so right and I agree with everything you have written. I am a middle class American woman who lived in domestic violence for more than two decades and I can attest to the fact that violence against women is not only a "poor country" phenomenon. It is a global problem and I am so thankful for world pulse and for the women who make it what it is. I write a blog specifically to battered women of faith because I know from experience that religion can play a huge part in keeping a woman bound in her violent situation. That is what happened to me. I had all the resources I needed to get out but I didn't utilize them because I was blinded to the fact that what was happening to me all those years was wrong. I didn't lack funds or education - I was simply blinded to the truth. Thank you again for your words and I wish you all the best.

Jennifer Faith

Hi Quenby,

Thank you for such resourceful thoughts. Indeed, we need to review the progress from two decades back at the United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing. The reality in our countries (both rich and poor, advanced and developing) is that gender based violence is still thriving largely because of the impunity perpetrators of the violence continue to enjoy. And this is saddening because we witness the tragic dimensions that gender based violence manifests in various societies like the tragic rape cases resulting in horrible deaths of the victims (like the rising cases in India) and even the murders that were recently witnessed in California.
Increased public protests as well as the recent hashtag activism is bent on mobilizing mass support and global voices that we hope would go a long way to strengthen our demand for women's rights to be taken more seriously. We look forward to the day when women's rights would really be human rights across our nations. Then, we can smile at a better and safer world for women and girls all over the world.

Carolyn Seaman
Girls Voices

Carolyn Seaman
Girls Voices

Quenby Wilcox's picture

Ending Impunity

Hi Carolyn,

You are so right - one of the most important elements in ending violence and discrimination against women is ending the impunity of the perpetrators. But, as important, or perhaps even more important is ending the impunity of judicial actors and members of the community who participate in the cover-up of the violence and abuse, thereby re-victimizing the victims.

Governments, and government regulatory agencies, must start severely sanctioning judicial actors who fail to exercise due diligence in the protection of victims and the defense of their rights during judicial proceedings - instead of turning a blind-eye to the negligence and malpractice of judicial actors, as is the case at present. The failure of govt. agencies to hold judicial actors accountable for their failure to exercise due diligence in their representation of victims makes them complicit (and under legal standards, accessories after the fact) to any crimes committed.

As state by the United Nations in Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls (2007) “The acceptance of violence against women and girls — either explicitly or tacitly — creates a culture of impunity, which perpetuates that violence. When the State fails to hold perpetrators accountable, it contributes to a culture of impunity in which justice is denied and the roots of gender inequality grow deeper. Abuses continue, violence against women and girls is normalized and accepted, and inequality is reinforced, creating a vicious cycle.”

Quenby Wilcox
Founder - Global Expats

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