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From Beijing to Minnesota
" Though much progress has been made, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. Violence against women is still of pandemic proportions, with one in three women experiencing physical or sexual violence worldwide, mostly by an intimate partner."
- Amy Lauricella

By Amy Lauricella


The words "Women's rights are human rights" still echo from the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where Hillary Clinton first uttered them. Clinton's words and spotlight on women coming together to create change reverberated throughout the women's rights movement. The effects spread around the world, including to Minnesota where the campaign was already well underway.

Minnesota has a rich history of supporters working together for women's human rights. In 1973, the first battered women's shelter in the United States opened in St. Paul. In 1977, Minnesota became the first state to allocate financial support to battered women's shelters. In 1979, the Minnesota Domestic Abuse Act passed. The Act included one of the first civil protection order remedies for domestic violence victims in the world. In the 1980s, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) in Duluth developed the "Duluth Model" of coordinated community response. The Duluth Model is a systemic response to ensure effective implementation of domestic violence laws, and won the 2014 Future Policy Award as the world's best policy for ending violence against women and girls. It is now used worldwide.

In 1993, a volunteer attorney took a stand for women's human rights by appealing to the executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights (then called The Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee), a Minnesota-based human rights organization, to start a dedicated women's rights program. That attorney was Cheryl Thomas, a former lawyer with the Minnesota Attorney General's office and later a partner at Briggs & Morgan. Thomas had seen enough infringement of women's human rights to know that a separate program was needed.

Since then, Thomas has been committed to working with frontline advocates to bring about systemic change and legal reform that protects women from violence. She was stepping up for women at the same time that the Soviet Union fell, providing an opportunity for dozens of newly created countries to review their penal and civil codes that did not prioritize women's rights. She worked with frontline advocates, nongovernmental organizations, government officials, and other experts from around the world on establishing laws designed to support the change of patriarchal cultural norms, explicitly prohibit violence against women, and provide victims with legal tools to escape violence.

Though much progress has been made, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. Violence against women is still of pandemic proportions, with one in three women experiencing physical or sexual violence worldwide, mostly by an intimate partner. After 21 years of dedicated women's rights work, and with this startling reality in mind, Thomas and over 40 supporting individuals founded Global Rights for Women in 2014, an international NGO dedicated solely to deepening and broadening the international body of work keeping women safe from violence.

Global Rights for Women's work is grounded in listening, connecting and convening with those on the ground in countries where violence against women is still tolerated with impunity. Global Rights for Women prioritizes working collaboratively to create systemic and legal change that will positively impact the lives of women and girls. Through cooperative and cross-cultural partnerships, the team from Minnesota and frontline advocates around the world are working together so that the threat of violence is removed from women's lives. Global Rights for Women envisions a world where women and girls are safe from violence and they can reach their full potential. Women's rights are human rights, and from Minnesota to Beijing we are committed to defending them.

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Amy Lauricella lives in Minneapolis and is an international human rights lawyer with Global Rights for Women. www.globalrightsforwomen.org

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