Hundreds gather for women’s day

by Ed Swaray

When Bonnie Campbell was young, her mother’s greatest wish for her was to find a good husband.

In addition to fulfilling her mother’s hope, Campbell also went to law school and eventually became the founding director of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women.

Campbell delivered the keynote speech at the ninth International Women’s Day celebration Friday at the University Law School.

More than 300 people assembled for the 20 workshops, two theatrical performances and artistic display at the event.

Cheryl Thomas, a Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights director, said the workshops focused on 12 areas of concern for women.

Topics covered included women and poverty, women and armed conflict, and the “girl child.”

Thomas said the event provided women from various races, ethnic backgrounds and religions the opportunity to come together, learn from one another and celebrate their achievements.

Although women have accomplished many things, Campbell said work still needs to be done. For instance, she said, women suffer from cultural and religious systems established by men.

She said 25,000 brides are burned each year due to insufficient dowries in India. Pregnancies are forced in Bosnia while abortions are forced in China, she said.

Rape, Thomas said, is also used as a weapon of war in areas of armed conflicts, and genital mutilation is still practiced in some African countries.

“Cultural and religious systems that hurt and humiliate women are wrong no matter where they are practiced,” Campbell said.

One-third to one-fourth of women will experience violence in their lifetime, she said.

Barbara Frey, director of the human rights program at the University, said human rights violations disproportionately affect women because they are economically and politically less powerful in their communities.

She said the forum provided the chance for frank exchanges about the issues women face.

“We want to bring the resources of the University together with women’s rights organizations so that we can learn from each other and generate ideas for research and action,” she said.

Julie Kesti, an educational assistant who attended the event, said she is fortunate to enjoy the freedom she has because of the work of other women.

Kesti said women need to speak up for themselves and for one another.

“Violence comes from fear and misunderstanding, so it is important to be able to empathize with each other and speak with each other.”

She said she looks forward to using her experience from the event to empower her students.

Frey said the International Women’s Day celebration in Minnesota was established after the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China.