In Germany and around the world, demonstrators are trying to encourage public discussion of women’s rights and draw attention to gender violence. Dozens of demonstrations were held in Germany over the weekend.
Recently, the subject of women's rights has returned to the international spotlight, as women all over the world speak out against violence and inequality. In January, demonstrations resumed in India after yet another brutal rape, while earlier this month in Afghanistan, activists condemned a new law that will make it more difficult to prosecute domestic violence offenders.
Meanwhile in Europe, thousands of women marched through Madrid in early February, protesting a proposed law that would severely limit access to abortion. And the Internet was abuzz last week over a video by a female French director using reversed gender roles to shine light on sexual harassment in French society.
Every third woman faces violence
This weekend, the spirit spread to Germany. Women's rights activists marked Valentine's Day with a series of public demonstrations across the country, calling attention to the epidemic of violence against women both abroad and at home.
The global campaign "One Billion Rising" staged more than 150 demonstrations in Germany and many more abroad to highlight a sobering United Nations statistic: More than one billion women – or about one third of the world's women – will be beaten or raped during their lifetime.
Organizers expected a turnout similar to last year, with more than 10,000 events in 200 countries coordinated by 'V-Day,' an American non-profit organization founded by Eve Ensler, the author of the "Vagina Monologues." According to the group's website, V-Day has raised more than $90 million to support anti-violence networks for women around the world.
Dance party in Cologne
At this year's rally in Cologne, a modest but enthusiastic crowd of women (and a few men) braved rainy weather to stage a "flash mob." They converted Rudolfplatz square into an impromptu dance floor, drawing the attention of commuters and passersby.
The choreographed dance party was followed by speakers who highlighted the plight of women in countries like Egypt, India and Afghanistan. But activists were quick to point out that there are problems in Germany too.
"It exists everywhere, it just might not be as prominently spoken about but it clearly exists here," said Janet Davis, the President of the American International Women's Club of Cologne. "It does exist in Germany and people need to know about it."
Inequality, rape also issues in Germany
Although Germany generally sits near the top of global rankings of gender equality, the country made headlines recently when reports revealed the wide gap between men and women in corporate management positions.
Among Germany's 200 largest companies, women hold just 4 percent of boardroom positions. The report prompted some to demand a quota for women in management positions at publicly traded companies.
What's more, sexual assaults are still a problem in Germany. According to a 2011 United Nations crime survey, Germany ranks behind only Finland, Sweden, Belgium and Switzerland for its rate of reported sexual assaults in Europe, with 57.3 instances per 100,000 people.
"There is sexual abuse and rape and violence all over the world, but also in Germany," said Irmgard Kopetzky, an event organizer and a social worker at the Cologne Rape Crisis Center. "We have to go into the streets to raise awareness."
For now, violence and inequality against women will likely continue to be problems in Germany and around the world. But many of the attendees at the rally in Cologne were hopeful that their actions would at least encourage a public dialogue in Germany about the plight of women.
"It's not a private thing, it's not a problem of a few, it's a problem of a whole society,” said Kopetzky. "Being in public is important because it's our responsibility, it's your responsibility, it's everyone's responsibility."
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