Night of 1,000 Dinners addresses violence against women

BY MICHELLE NGO | MARCH 07, 2014 5:00 AM

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Displays of national flags, sounds of live instruments, and smells of ethnic dishes around the globe filled the banquet room of Old Brick on Thursday evening.

Around 200 members of the community gathered to spread awareness of the global issue of violence against women.

“My main message here today is all forms of violence against women is preventable,” said Theresia Thylin, the programme specialist at the U.N. Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women. “It’s not inevitable. We all have to work toward changing social norms so that it is considered unacceptable by everyone, both women and men.”

Of the 2,098 application proposals submitted to the U.N. Trust Fund this year, only around 1 percent of the organizations advocating for women’s rights will receive funding because of limited resources.

Thylin spoke at the Iowa U.N. Association’s Night of 1,000 Dinners about the goals of the U.N. Trust Fund.

While this is the 13th year hosting the event honoring International Women’s Day, Thylin is the first national speaker the event has had.

“Iowa City is a very globally engaged community, and that matches the spirit of this program,” said Yashar Vasef, executive director of Iowa U.N. Association. “We have a growing ethnic community in the town as well, and this is a great opportunity to bring us all together to celebrate women but still talk about how in some parts of the world, violence against women is culturally accepted.”

At the event, the organization provided guests with a variety of ethnic dishes, live music, a keynote address from Thylin, and a silent auction, with proceeds going toward the trust fund.

In addition, throughout the event, petitions addressing issues of gender inequality and sexual assaults were passed around to guests.

The organization is pushing for the United States to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. The U.S. is one of the eight countries in the world yet to ratify the convention with 185 of the 193 UN members having done so, Vasef said.

“This is the first document that says women’s rights specifically are considered human’s rights,” said Cora Chen, media and advocacy intern of Iowa U.N. Association. “Up until this point, we couldn’t claim legally that women have a human right not to be raped or if they want to have a child.”

Although the United States has signed the treaty, without ratifying it, the country cannot be held accountable for following guidelines of the convention, which includes the issues of domestic violence, maternal health, economic security, and human trafficking. These issues persist on massive scales, with 1 in 3 women experiencing violence in a lifetime, according to the organization.

“Violence against women often happens behind locked doors, and victims are stigmatized,” Thylin said. “It takes courage to speak out, so that’s what has supported this type of cultural silence. However, International Women’s Day helps us commemorate the progress being made while also helping us stay motivated to strive for full gender equality.”

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