The obstacles facing women are not insurmountable

Violence and discrimination against women and girls will never entirely disappear, but any success, no matter how small, is another step towards equality.

Violence against women and girls, in its many forms, affects hundreds of millions of people around the globe. Not only do the immediate victims suffer, but their children, families and communities become also part of the human toll exacted by gender-based abuses.

“It’s time we understood just how critical these issues are. We need to move them from the margins to the mainstream,” says Melanne Verveer, the U.S. ambassador at large for global women’s issues. “It is not a favor to women. It is about all of us, and the kind of world we want to achieve.”

But the issues are moving out of the margins. In places like Kalighat, a sprawling red light district in the Indian city of Kolkata, or Somaliland’s Hargeisa, determined individuals, often operating with few resources, are helping women and girls overcome the crushing obstacles placed before them.

“It’s time we understood just how critical these issues are. We need to move them from the margins to the mainstream.”

— U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer


Local student Duyen Le and her neighbor stand on path to Duyen's home in ThuThua, Vietnam

Photo by Mira Chang

It is through the work of these people that the obstacles facing the most vulnerable are gaining wider attention and with that, support is growing for initiatives to combat these problems.

“Every person in every corner of this world needs to raise a voice and say this has to stop,” says Urmi Basu, the founder of the New Light shelter in Kalighat, which helps women, girls and children who are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation.

But the successes are tempered by the many millions of people who remain at risk of violence, discrimination or some other form of marginalization.

“We’re at the point of freedom, and that means two things: one is it’s maximum danger and two is we’re not going to stop,” says feminist author and activist Gloria Steinem.

According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, urgent action needs to continue in the following four critical areas:

  • Expanding women-friendly public services: meeting women and girls’ rights to education, health and food;
  • Guaranteeing land and jobs for women: ensuring the right to a decent livelihood, through access to economic opportunities;
  • Increasing women’s voice in decision-making: full participation of women in society, starting from autonomy in the household to having a voice in all political processes; and
  • Ending violence against women and girls: too many women and girls are victimized in daily life, stunting their opportunities, curtailing their mobility and denying them rights.

“We want to choose our husbands. We want to own our land. We want to go to school. We don’t want to [suffer genital mutilation] any more,” says Rebecca Lolosoli, a former prostitute-turned-businesswoman in Kenya. “We want to make decisions. We want to participate in politics, to be leaders. We want to be equal.”

Find out how you can help at the Half the Sky movement website.

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Presented by ITVS, funded by Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional program funding provided by the Ikea Foundation, US Agency for International Development (USAID) (in partnership with FHI-360 and C-Change), Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Coca-Cola Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Seedling Foundation, the Nike Foundation, the United Nations Foundation.;

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is not in any way affiliated with or in partnership with the Half the Sky Foundation, a nonprofit organization created in 1998 to enrich the lives and enhance the prospects for orphaned children in China. For more information about the Half the Sky Foundation, visit