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Four weeks ago, I was sitting on the floor in a sparse one-room hut on the edge of Siem Reap in Cambodia. The young woman sitting next to me had just been rescued from a forced marriage in China. She had been missing for five years, trapped in a violent relationship in a country she never planned to visit, then jailed when she tried to escape. She had just arrived home to her family, who until three weeks earlier, believed she was dead.

Her family live on $2 a day. This young woman is just one of the faces of the extraordinary levels of global violence and discrimination against women and girls.

Globally, one in three women or girls will be physically or sexually abused in their lifetime and, on average, 1 woman is killed each week by her current or former partner.

How and why do these statistics remain so stubbornly high, distributed almost equally among rich and poor? Why is violence against women still the most pervasive and systematic human rights abuse in the world?

 Where is men’s roar? Why is International Women’s Day still largely an event women promote, organise and speak passionately at, while men look on bemused?

What will it take so that International Women’s Day is no longer needed to call out inequality because men and boys are finally walking alongside women and girls as true allies?

This epidemic violence is woven into the fabric of patriarchy, normalised in communities, accepted in the ‘privacy’ of relationships, and maintained by rape and domestic violence myths that blame women for the abuse they encounter.

I’ve seen this in Australia, speaking with female friends who would never have imagined themselves in abusive relationships. I’ve heard this in Bangladesh and Thailand, as heart-breaking stories from women in refugee camps. I’ve sat on the edge of forests in Borneo with women recounting cultural practices that left deep scars. I’ve spoken to girls rescued from trafficking in India and Cambodia, whose eyes are vacant from stories of abuse that can only render you speechless.

Unless, as men and boys, we understand and embrace the fact that the ascension of women and girls in all aspects of life is to everyone’s gain, I fear in 10 years from now we will be having this same conversation and that, by then, it will be too late.

There is an important connection between girls’ education and mitigating climate change. It is projected that by 2025, 12.5 million girls will be prevented each year from completing their education due to climate change. More educated women have smaller families, which also further reduces communities’ vulnerability to climate-related disasters.

It is also well proven that educating women and girls inclusively has an enormous social and economic benefit globally. For two stark examples, look at the current state of Afghanistan, compared to how women and girls have largely rebuilt Rwanda after the genocide, to become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

Simone Clark, CEO, UN Women

Even in Australia we continue to under-utilise female expertise and talent from our corporate boards to our parliaments. It is not a supply problem. It’s a demand problem.

In meeting with NGO leaders around the world, I’ve seen the extent to which funding NGOs can create an exponential impact on the intractable issues they seek to solve.

For most privileged men, who have no idea what it’s like to look over our shoulder when we walk home at night, our willingness to listen, to become true allies, is not only the right thing to do but critical at this point in our collective history.

We may not all be responsible when sweet little boys grow up to become abusive men – but given how common this is and how tragic the outcomes, this uniquely fragile time is asking us all to become radical agents for change.

Shop for Change begins this International Women’s Day, March 8 – 10

This year i=Change will become a destination for us to make a choice: that when we shop, we can shop for change – from a business that gives back from every sale.

These choices have already added up to over $7.5m donated, impacting the lives of up to 1.5m people.

The choices we make each day can collectively change the course of history. We can be the change.

Jeremy Meltzer is Founder & CEO of i=Change

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