Today , along with my sisters, nieces, colleagues, and friends, I will join the Women’s March on Washington, DC. I’m marching for us all, including my baby daughter. It will be the first night I spend away from her since her birth. That’s how important this march is.

In my time at Human Rights Watch, I have interviewed hundreds of women who have experienced everyday humiliations and horrific abuses in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Indonesia, Mozambique, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore. These have included domestic workers who were locked, unpaid, and beaten in their workplaces for years. In my personal life in the United States, I have listened to friends describe painful histories of sexual abuse at the hands of parents, men they dated, and strangers. Sexual harassment and stereotyping have constantly intruded into my own life.

In that same time, I have seen the dignity and strength with which survivors of abuse have moved forward. I have seen scrappy grassroots women’s organizations grow in reach and impact. I have seen how women and men, civil society organizations, the press, and governments can work together to put in place key protections to safeguard women’s rights.

For example, domestic workers around the world partnered with trade unions and human rights groups to successfully push for the International Labour Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention. This helped lead to new protections in dozens of countries, including Brazil, Kenya, Kuwait, the Philippines, and Spain, improving working conditions in a sector rife with exploitation.

Sometimes discrimination and violence against women and girls is out in the open. As Human Rights Watch has documented around the world, these can range from sexual harassment on the street, rape used as a weapon in war, or discriminatory laws that “keep women in their place.” It is often widespread, such as child marriage, which exposes girls as young as 12 to violence, health risks, and a lifetime of poverty.

But discrimination and violence also takes place behind closed doors. Domestic violence, discrimination in pay, restrictive gender stereotypes, and abuse of women workers often goes unseen in homes, schools, factories, and in attitudes and behavior.

Scene on the national mall, Women's March, Washington DC, January 21, 2017.

© 2017 Alexandra Kotowski

 

And other times, it is felt as an absence. The lack of comprehensive sexuality education, health care to save women from dying in childbirth, or seeing few women in leadership positions in government and business.

How do we safeguard women’s rights? We have to talk about abuses. We have to work together. We need to fight for laws that defend gender equality and measures that promote access to education, health care, and political participation. And we have to let policymakers and law enforcement know we expect them to respect women and girls’ humanity, dignity, and rights.

This is what the Women’s March is about. This is #WhyIMarch.