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“How do I hold States accountable if there is no specific legally binding instrument on violence against women?” – former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Rashida Manjoo, 2012; Every Woman Advisor

In the spring of 2013, Harvard fellow and women’s rights activist Lisa Shannon sat intrigued as her professor, Charlie Clements, talked about the Mine Ban Treaty. Charlie told the class that twenty-five years ago landmines were killing and maiming nearly 100,000 civilians a year, but the International Campaign to Ban Landmines secured a treaty and stopped the killing, saving countless lives.

After class, Lisa told Charlie she’d stumbled upon gaps in international law that left billions of girls and women worldwide unprotected from violence and did he think a campaign for a treaty to end violence against women, which she’d proposed in a paper, was feasible. “If you can find five other people to dedicate 10 years of their lives to it, you can get it done,” he said.

Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women at the time, was urgently calling for a treaty, and realizing this, Lisa and Charlie invited her to attend an initial convening at Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights on the idea.

The meeting was pivotal. The women’s rights activists at the table—including Fartuun Adan, director of Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Somalia, UK Barrister Jackie Jones, forced marriage expert Vidya Sri, and activist and filmmaker Mary Lou Hartman, with Rashida Manjoo on video—discussed whether a new convention was needed. The answer was a resounding yes.

The group got to work, with Vidya and Lisa taking the lead. Based at Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights, they spent the next two years speaking with hundreds of women’s rights activists on every continent, strong leaders like disability rights advocate Yolanda Muñoz from Mexico, gender health researcher Dr. Eleanor Nwadinobi in Nigeria, and Ferdous Ara Begum, a Bangladeshian gender specialist and elderly rights expert who’d served on the UN’s CEDAW Committee (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women).

These women, along with other experts on violence against women, joined the Global Working Group, a core group of scholars, lawyers, and frontline practitioners developing the treaty. In the fall of 2013, the group formally launched Every Woman Treaty (formerly Everywoman Everywhere), a global coalition calling for an international treaty to end violence against women and girls.