Most people have a picture of themselves or their kids as their profile picture on the social networking site Facebook. My kids' smiling faces were on mine, too, because frankly they are a lot cuter to look at than me.
I changed the image a couple of years ago to that of an open hand with the words Stop Violence Against Women after reading about Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman who was facing death by stoning based on charges of alleged adultery in 2006. The latest update I could find was a July 2012 Amnesty International report noting that Ashtiani remains in an Iranian prison apparently still facing the death by stoning sentence while her lawyer remains held as a prisoner of conscience.
It could be argued I'm preaching to the converted with my FB profile photo. Probably. I've often wanted to upload a fresh image, but each time I consider it, without fail a violent attack against a girl or woman makes headlines around the world.
Last October, I wept at the story of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to promote girls' education. Now 15, Malala was recently released from a hospital in the U.K. where she and her family will stay while she receives further treatment.
Malala, for her courage in the face of violent and dangerous opposition, is my hero. She's a far braver girl than I was at 15 or in my 40s. Like many people around the world have already done, I signed a Canadian-sponsored petition asking the Nobel Committee to award the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize to Malala. As of yesterday, the petition needed 21,865 to reach its goal of 300,000 to overcome its first hurdle. (Go to change.org/en-CA/petitions/nobel-peace-prize-for-malala.)
Then came the horror story out of India mid-December about the gang rape of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey that was so sickening I couldn't stomach reading about it. My heart sank when I heard she succumbed to her injuries Dec. 29.
I weep often these days (when I'm alone). But I find hope when - following such despicable acts - men and women around the world and particularly in India, join mass protests demanding an end to violence against women and a change of attitudes. Men, in particular, must speak out and challenge other men when they hear sexist, degrading talk. And all parents - mothers and fathers - must instill in their children that girls and women are not second-class citizens but equal in every way. I don't shy away from telling my seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son that in far too many places around the world, little girls are not allowed to go school or to follow their dreams simply because they are girls. And then I ask: "Do you think that's right?"
They both reply "No" with my daughter following up with "But why is that mummy?"
Because some narrow-minded, backward thinking people seem to think girls and women are of less value than men and should remain in their shadows where they can be controlled and do little more than cook, clean and have babies.
Malala's supportive father Ziauddin is also an inspiration who clearly does not share the view of the Taliban and many others in his native Pakistan. He told a reporter that his daughter "has drawn a red line between barbarism and civilization."
But before you think we're so evolved in the West, let's rehash a few cringe-worthy media moments from 2012 as noted by Upworthy's Rebecca Eisbenberg, who titled her list "All the things you wouldn't say in front of your own mother that were said by the media in 2012." Here's a sampling:
1. Broadcaster John McLaughlin asks conservative pundit Pat Buchanan when the U.S. will elect a female as president. Response: "2040 or 2050."
"That late?" Buchanan's response: "Let's hope so."
2. Who can forget the bizarro, stone-age rants of Rush Limbaugh calling "college co-ed" Sandra Fluke a "slut" for wanting contraception included in her Georgetown University health care plan? She was refused to speak at a government reform committee, but later spoke to House Democratic members. Limbaugh said "essentially she must be paid to have sex _ so what does that make her? It makes her a slut, it makes her a prostitute."
3. A female Fox journalist asserts that "women are victims of violence all the time" and so should learn to make better choices.
4. More infuriating and disheartening, however, are folks like George Stephanopoulos and Barbara Walters embarrassingly asking or commenting on Hillary Clinton's longer hair.
5. And here's this charming nugget from Fox Sports: Racecar driver Danica Patrick challenges a reporter about his use of the word sexy to describe her. To which a Fox reporter named Ross Shimabuku says in a voiceover during his sportscast: "I've got a few words and it starts with a B and it's not beautiful."
Sure, these were U.S. examples, but here in Canada we have the RCMP and its mistreatment of some female members, not to mention the appalling lack of care and interest on the part of the VPD and RCMP to take seriously the cases of the missing women from the Downtown Eastside. You may consider that old news. I don't.
Women looking for inspiration to speak out might want to google Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's blistering tongue lashing last October of opposition leader Tony Abbott over his sexist attitude. Spine-tingling.
It is a new year. Let's all work to Stop Violence Against Women. What a beautiful world it could be - for everyone. Check out stopvaw.org.