In US and abroad, new focus on anti-violence

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In US and abroad, new focus on anti-violence
Indian Dalit women shout slogans during a protest against a gang-rape of four Dalit girls in Haryana’s Hisar district, as they gather outside the residence of Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda in New Delhi, India, Sunday, May 11, 2014. Seven weeks after the incident, families of the victims are protesting in the Indian capital demanding justice for the girls whom they say were allegedly raped by upper caste men. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)
Indian people hold placards and candles as they participate at a candle light vigil as they mark the first anniversary of a young woman's demise after the fatal gang rape, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. The victim, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, became a rallying cry for tens of thousands protesting the treatment of women. The outrage spurred the government to adopt more stringent laws that doubled prison terms for rape and criminalized voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)
Indian Dalit women shout slogans during a protest against a gang-rape of four Dalit girls in Haryana’s Hisar district, as they gather outside the residence of Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda in New Delhi, India, Sunday, May 11, 2014. Seven weeks after the incident, families of the victims are protesting in the Indian capital demanding justice for the girls whom they say were allegedly raped by upper caste men. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)
A Pakistani Muslim devotee woman prays at the shrine of saint Mian Mir Sahib during the 368th death anniversary of the saint in Lahore on January 31, 2012. The famous saint was equally popular among the Muslim and Sikh religions, as Mian Mir went to Amritsar in December 1588 to lay the foundation stone of Sikh's holiest Golden Temple, which is commonly known as Sri Harminder Sahib. AFP PHOTO / ARIF ALI (Photo credit should read Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)
Women chant slogans as they march in a "Slut Walk" to protest the mistreatment of women in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, May 25, 2013. The sign at center reads in Portuguese "I don't want to hear more about women getting raped, I just want to be free" "Slut Walks" have been held around the world, asserting that women's rights should be respected no matter their occupation, beliefs, age, or physical appearance. The protests originated in Toronto, Canada, where they were sparked by a police officer's remark that women could avoid being raped by not dressing like "sluts." (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)
A woman holds a rosary as she speaks to women making a "Slut walk" in favor of abortion rights and women's rights on Copacabana beach near the site of a vigil that is part of World Youth Day celebrations attended by Pope Francis in Rio de Janeiro, Saturday, July 27, 2013. The sign at top right reads in Portuguese "My mother and I, we're both sluts." (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
People attend a demonstration calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls of the government secondary school in Chibok, in Abuja, Nigeria, Thursday, May 22, 2014. Scores of protesters chanting "Bring Back Our Girls" marched in the Nigerian capital Thursday as many schools across the country closed to protest the abductions of more than 300 schoolgirls by Boko Haram, the government's failure to rescue them and the killings of scores of teachers by Islamic extremists in recent years. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
A South African school girl, with traditional African paint markings on her face, stand with other children and religious leaders as they take part in a silent protest in support of the kidnapped school girls from Chibok Secondary school in Abuja, Nigeria, that were abducted a month ago, in Cape Town, South Africa, Friday, May 16, 2014. Amid apparent security concerns, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has cancelled a trip to the traumatized town from which Islamic extremists abducted more than 300 schoolgirls a month ago. Two officials in the presidency confirmed the cancellation on Friday. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
FILE - In this March 8, 2014 file photo, Myanmarese refugee women handcuff, blindfold and cover their mouths with black cloths during a protest on International Women's Day in New Delhi. Myanmarese in Delhi alleged their government used forms of violence against women as weapons of war and demanded an end to it. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal, FIle)
Myanmarese refugees participate in a protest on International Women's Day in New Delhi, India Saturday, March 8, 2014. Myanmarese in Delhi alleged their government used forms of violence against women as weapons of war and demanded an end to it. They also urged India for protection from sexual violence, healthcare and education for their children in India. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)
FILE - In this Nov. 25, 2013 file photo, women with fake bruises painted on their faces protest to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women outside the government palace in Quito, Ecuador. "People are beginning to make the connection between the violence and how women are treated on a day to day basis," said Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)
Activists from a variety of non-government organizations hold placards during a procession organized to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, in Kolkata, India, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
A young Romanian woman wearing make up to suggest she is a victim of domestic violence takes part in a protest in Bucharest, Romania, Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. Dozens of women gathered in protest on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women demanding the introduction of the restraining order in Romanian legislation. Romania is a European Union member state but has no proper legal framework to combat domestic violence against women, with police unable to intervene if acts of violence take place inside the couple's home.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
CORRECTS DAY - A demonstrator with her body painted in Portuguese words "Free. My body. My rules" screams as she beats a drum and another holds up a stick of lipstick during a protest against sexism and in defense of women's rights in Brasilia, Brazil, Saturday, June 22, 2013. Demonstrators once again took to the streets of Brazil on Saturday, continuing a wave of protests that have shaken the nation and pushed the government to promise a crackdown on corruption and greater spending on social services. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
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By DAVID CRARY

Nearly 300 schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria. A pregnant Pakistani woman stoned to death by her family for marrying the man she loved. Widespread rape in many war zones. And in California, a murderous rampage by a disturbed young man who had depicted sorority members as a prime target.

From across the world, startling reports of violence against women surface week after week. The World Health Organization has declared the problem an epidemic, calculating that one in three women worldwide will experience sexual or physical violence - most often from their husband or male partner.

Yet even as they decry the violence and the abundance of misogynistic rhetoric, women's rights activists see reasons for hope.

"The violence has been happening forever - it's not anything new," said Serra Sippel, president of the Washington-based Center for Health and Gender Equity. "What's new is that people in the United States and globally are coming around to say 'enough is enough,' and starting to hold governments and institutional leaders accountable."

Even in India - where just this past week, two teenage cousins were raped and killed by attackers who hung their bodies from a mango tree - there are signs of change. Public outrage over the 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student led the government to expedite legislation increasing prison terms for rapists. In April, a court sentenced three men to death for raping a photojournalist in Mumbai.

In the United States, the military says it's stepping up efforts to combat sexual assault in the ranks and President Barack Obama's administration is campaigning against sexual violence at colleges and universities. A month ago, for the first time, the Department of Education revealed its list of schools under investigation for how they have responded to the problem.

On May 8, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and several of her colleagues introduced the International Violence Against Women Act, a bill intended to make anti-women violence a higher diplomatic priority for the United States. And from June 10-13 in London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and actress Angelina Jolie will co-chair the first-ever Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.

"It's absolutely essential that we shed a light on how pervasive this problem is," said Julia Drost, policy advocate for Amnesty International USA's women's human rights program. "From the top on down - world leaders to family members - people need to take responsibility."

In some important respects, the May 23 rampage in California was different from the systemic violence against women that abounds in much of the world. The assailant, Elliot Rodger, had been plagued by mental health problems for years, and four men were among the six University of California, Santa Barbara students that he killed.

Nonetheless, accounts of Rodger's hostility to women, and his bitterness over sexual rejection, led to an outpouring of commentary and online debate over the extent of misogyny and male entitlement. On Twitter, using hashtags such as YesAllWomen, many women worldwide shared their experiences with everyday harassment and sexism.

"People are beginning to make the connection between the violence and how women are treated on a day-to-day basis," said Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.

She welcomed the ever-expanding ability of women around the world - and their male allies - to show solidarity and voice anger via social media.

"It's an issue that's being taken seriously in a way that it wasn't before," she said. "Governments are acknowledging there's a responsibility of the state to prevent violence against women - even in the home - and bring perpetrators to justice."

The next crucial step, according to Gerntholtz and other activists, is to engage more men and boys in efforts to break down gender stereotypes and condemn anti-women violence.

Yet even as Rodger's rampage prompted an outcry against misogyny, it also sparked a backlash from men and women who said it was wrong to suggest the California killings reflected a broader problem of sexism in the U.S.

"Sure, this guy hated women, but this is a hatred we should be able to recognize as insanity," said Charlotte Hays, director of cultural programs for the Independent Women's Forum. "This has nothing to do with violence against women."

Rodger "hated everyone, he was a misanthrope," said Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who often writes skeptically about contemporary feminism.

"Is there misogyny in American culture? Yes," she said. "But we also have a problem with male-bashing and hatred of men."

Sommers questioned the efforts to link developments in the United States to the violence and discrimination faced by women abroad.

"We're a society where women are equal before the law ... though certain activists don't like to hear that," she said. "Creating this idea that women in America are an oppressed class, that we are held back by patriarchy similar to our sisters living under Sharia law - that's just ridiculous."

In contrast, Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said it was appropriate to draw international parallels. She contended that government neglect of anti-women practices has been widespread, whether in developing nations where girls are blocked from attending school or in the United States, with its problems of sexual assault on campus and in the military.

"The specific expression takes different forms in different countries," she said. "But the underlying attitude is the devaluing of women as human beings."

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