Throughout the world, practices that undermine the well-being of women endure. But like slavery and foot-binding, they constitute egregious violations of basic human rights.
In most industrialized societies, although gender-based violence is officially condemned, it persists, implicitly sanctioned by messages in mass media.
In some developing countries, practices that subjugate and harm women - such as wife-beating, killings in the name of honour, female genital mutilation/cutting and dowry deaths - are condoned as being part of the natural order of things. Throughout much of Asia, a preference for male children results in the neglect and sometimes infanticide of girls, or their elimination by abortion in places where prenatal tests are available to determine the sex of the foetus.
And as conflicts among ethnic groups rage, women and girls have increasingly become pawns of war, and face rape and forced pregnancies. FGM/FGC, coerced sex and early marriage are also factors in the spread of HIV to women.
Eradicating long-standing traditional practices does not happen overnight. One way to begin, though, is by information and advocacy that raises public awareness and changes the climate of public opinion.
"Consensus-building around social issues is extremely difficult, because it touches the identity of nations, communities and individuals. Discussion of social questions polarizes viewpoints and may seem to widen the gap between cultures. But in the end, the overriding social purpose concentrates our minds and enables us to bridge all cultural gaps-not because we want to go home with an agreed form of words, but because all of us, each in our own way, want to save people's lives."
—UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid