The United Nations General Assembly passes a resolution designating November 25 the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women. The resolution, which was introduced by the Dominican Republic, marked the anniversary of the death of three sisters, Maria, Teresa, and Minerva Mirabel, who were brutally murdered there in 1961. While women in Latin America and the Caribbean had honored the day since 1981, all UN countries did not formally recognize it until 1999. Many organizations, including the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), had been pushing for international recognition of the date for some time. A year earlier, Noeleen Heyzer, the director of UNIFEM, gave a speech at a fundraising breakfast in Toronto, Canada, encouraging men and women to participate in 16 days of activism against gender violence.
The voluntary effort was to begin on November 25 and last through December 10, the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was passed in 1948 as a response to the genocidal terror of the Nazi regime. This 16-day period had particular significance for Heyzer's Canadian audience, for one of Canada's most horrific tragedies occurred on December 6, 1989, when Marc Lepine went on a shooting spree at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. Lepine had entered the college with a shotgun and murdered 14 female engineering students before turning the gun on himself in what later became known as the "Montreal Massacre." In his suicide note, Lepine declared his murdering spree to be an attack against feminism. Women's organizations worldwide have successfully pulled together for increased awareness and support of their cause. Although this is a sign of positive change in the struggle to end violence against women, statistics show that there is still much work left to do. A report released in 1994 by the World Bank, entitled Violence Against Women: The Hidden Health Burden, estimated that one out of every four women worldwide has been, or will be, raped. The report also said that violence against women is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria combined. Furthermore, it is estimated that as high as 75 percent of women in some countries are abused by their husbands.