Violence Against Women Is a Global Struggle

by Humaira Shahid and Ritu Sharma

Eight years ago, Nasreen (not her real name) walked into the office of the Daily Khabrain newspaper in Lahore, Pakistan, and demanded justice. She stripped off her clothes, revealing a black and blue body covered with wounds and cigarette burns. She'd been gang raped. With tears in her eyes, she said, "My husband hired three men and got me raped in front of him because I was tired of his abuse and demanded the divorce that Islam gave me a right to. He didn't even respect me as the mother of his children. . .. I just want justice in the name of God.''

Nasreen was just one of millions of women who suffer acid attacks, rape, forced marriages and other unimaginable forms of violence around the world. One out of every three women worldwide is physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime. The good news is that there are thousands of organizations in communities around the world for abused women. These organizations run shelters and offer help, support, training, and education so that women can be self-sufficient. They also fight to change cultural attitudes and push for legal reform.

In Pakistan, for example, legal reforms in the past decade have slowly started to give women the tools of basic justice. The story of Nasreen and countless other women became a catalyst for two groundbreaking resolutions in the provincial parliament in Punjab in 2003. One prohibited acid attacks on women. The other abolished violent customary practices or vani, which include honor killings, forced marriages and women bartered into marriage to make up for crimes committed by their male family members. These reforms were unprecedented and moved forward in a parliament that is notoriously corrupt, traditionalist and patriarchal, with leaders who are not only collaborators but often directly involved in violence themselves.

The resolutions had a snowball effect. They created pressure on the federal government of Pakistan, then led by Pervez Musharraf, to amend the nation's criminal laws to protect women against domestic abuse. The following year, despite opposition from many religious leaders, a Women's Protection Act was passed that repealed the Hudood Ordinance, under which a woman subjected to rape, even gang rape, was accused of fornication.

Last year, Pakistan enacted a Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace bill. None of this would have happened without the concerted effort of local women leaders, community-based organizations, NGOs, and the media, which together created enough public awareness and pressure to move the needle.

Now the needle may move again. The International Violence Against Women Act, a historic, bipartisan effort by the United States to address violence against women globally, was introduced this week.

The bill addresses, for the first time, violence against women and girls through all relevant US foreign policy efforts, including its international assistance programs. It would support local efforts in up to 20 countries, assisting in public awareness and health campaigns; shelters; education, training, and economic empowerment programs for women, as well as legal reforms. It would also make the issue a diplomatic priority for the first time, asking the United States to respond within three months to horrific acts of violence against women and girls committed during conflict and war.

Support from the American public is strong. A 2009 poll found that 61 percent of voters across demographic and political lines thought global violence against women should be one of the top international priorities for the US government, and 82 percent supported the International Violence Against Women Act.

Despite the odds women face, we, as advocates to end this global scourge, are always awed by their strength. There are countless examples of women supporting each other to overcome the bleakest of circumstances. Helping them become economically empowered and providing protection and access to justice will enable these women to create societies that are more tolerant, less violent, less extremist, and more human and socially just. Passing the International Violence Against Women Act could truly be a life-changing force for millions of women and girls like Nasreen around the world.



Why We Speed

by Cichlidae

For most people, ‘speed’ is a pretty straightforward term. As a noun, we’re either talking about amphetamines, or, more commonly, how fast someone is driving. As a verb, it’s something that will land you a pretty nasty ticket. For a traffic engineer, though, ‘speed’ requires clarification. We have three speeds, and no, they’re not ‘slow,’ ‘glacial,’ and ‘planet formation.’

The first speed is the design speed. Pretend you’re driving a tractor-trailer on a warm, dry day. The road’s in good shape. Your rig has seen better days. You’ve had a couple drinks; your head’s halfway between fuzzy and swimming. Oh, and you’re 80 years old. This is our design driver.

If you’re driving at the design speed, your tires will squeal around every corner. You’ll be able to read signs and react to them just in time to avoid gristly accidents. You’ll have to slam on the brakes pretty often.

Granted, most of us don’t drive like this. People who do should probably not be driving at all, in fact. All the same, we’ll design for them. This is a recurring theme among traffic and highway engineers: 99,999 people a day might use your road and have no problem with it. But if just one guy a day messes up and careens off the road, you’ve done a bad job. That’s why our design driver is so atypical.

When calculating a horizontal curve’s radius, the design speed is the main factor. You all remember a=v2/r, the equation for centripetal acceleration. If a car goes twice as fast around a curve, the radius needs to be four times as large to accommodate it, or increase the acceleration somehow. The easiest way to do this is superelevation, which is tilting the road to force you around the curve.

For a crest curve, which is going over the top of a hill, the length must be sufficient to ensure the design driver will be able to spot an object in the road (about the size of an enraged leprechaun) and stop before he hits it. Comfort is also a factor; make the crest too small, and you’ll fly over it in a graceful arc, digging a nice gouge out of the pavement downstream.

In a sag curve, driving into a valley, you can see much better, and you don’t need to steer. At night, though, that enraged leprechaun can totally sneak up on you and ruin your grille. Sight distance, then, is limited by how far your headlights can shine (about 1 degree above horizontal in the design vehicle). And, of course, the curve has to be long enough so you can actually screech to a halt once you finally see the obstacle.

Take the most dangerous curve on a road, and that’s the constraint for the design speed. A wide, flat, straight road has a tremendously high design speed. Most freeways are designed for around 70 mph, which is a pretty good clip for a buzzed octogenarian in a semi.

Next up, we have the 85th Percentile Speed (V15 in France). It’s super important for traffic engineers, because it shows us how fast people are actually driving. To get the 85th percentile speed, take the speed of 100 cars, and pick the 85th slowest (15th fastest, in other words). This speed is the key ingredient when finding red and yellow intervals at signals, the size and spacing of signs, and deciding whether or not an intersection needs a left turn lane.

Looking at variations in 85th percentile speed can tell you a lot about a road. If the shoulder narrows or there’s a leprechaun crossing, people will drive slower. Narrowing the travel lane, putting poles and trees near the edge of the road, and putting subtle curves in the road will drop the 85th percentile speed even more. Putting up a speed limit sign? Well, about that…

The third kind of speed, and the least useful to us, is the Posted Speed. I hope for your own sake you’re familiar with these black-and-white signs. By the way, the yellow ones you see posted at ramps and sharp curves aren’t speed limits; they’re advisory speeds. They’re not regulatory signs (the color is a big hint) and carry no statutory backing. That doesn’t mean you can’t get nailed for going 90 down an offramp, though; you’re still expected to go a safe and reasonable speed. Speed limits are used to set signal progression in a coordinated system. Drivers traveling at the limit should get a string of green lights.

So, how do these three speeds interact? In theory, all three should be equal. The speed people drive on a road should reflect its design speed, with a few people driving faster (hopefully not in the design vehicle) and most driving a bit slower. The speed limit should be in the same neighborhood, since the design speed is safe for almost all drivers, and very few will significantly exceed it.

As a designer, I put up that 45 mph speed limit, keeping the road safe for all. The next week, the mayor gets an angry call from an elderly citizen complaining about “those damn speed demons endangering my street!” The next day, the speed limit gets bumped down to 20 mph.

“That’s nice!” you may say. “Lower speeds mean safer roads! I learned that in driver’s ed!” Well, buddy, you’ll never be a traffic engineer with that attitude. High-speed roads (85th percentile speed over 45 mph) carry the vast majority of our traffic, but they have fewer accidents overall than low-speed roads. Yes, high-speed accidents are more dangerous than low-speed ones, but the accidents themselves are fewer. What’s really dangerous is the speed differential. When one car is driving the speed limit, 20 mph, and the guy behind him doesn’t notice the sign and drives the design speed, 45 mph, there’s a 25 mph speed differential and a big potential for accidents. If everyone drives between 40 and 50 mph, the potential is much lower.

We try to keep speed limits close to the design speed for a reason. If motorists are allowed to drive at what they feel is a safe speed, they’re more at ease and tend to group around the 85th percentile speed. With our artificially low speed limits, however, the 85th percentile speed is generally 10 mph greater than the speed limit; that difference sometimes reaches 20 mph on low-volume roads. The result is that a majority of drivers are breaking the law. Those that choose to obey the limit increase the risk of accidents.

Note that I’m not encouraging you to break the law. You’d have a tough time finding a judge who understands that you were doing 95 on the Parkway because it’s a safe speed for your car. The next time you see a speed limit, though, you’ll understand what it means and who decides it (the same drunk old lady driving the design vehicle.)



How to Fall 35,000 Feet—And Survive

You're six miles up, alone and falling without a parachute. Though the odds are long, a small number of people have found themselves in similar situations—and lived to tell the tale. Here's a 120-mph, 35,000-ft, 3-minutes-to-impact survival guide.

By Dan Koeppel

6:59:00 AM
35,000 Feet

You have a late night and an early flight. Not long after takeoff, you drift to sleep. Suddenly, you’re wide awake. There’s cold air rushing everywhere, and sound. Intense, horrible sound. Where am I?, you think. Where’s the plane?

You’re 6 miles up. You’re alone. You’re falling.

Things are bad. But now’s the time to focus on the good news. (Yes, it goes beyond surviving the destruction of your aircraft.) Although gravity is against you, another force is working in your favor: time. Believe it or not, you’re better off up here than if you’d slipped from the balcony of your high-rise hotel room after one too many drinks last night.

Or at least you will be. Oxygen is scarce at these heights. By now, hypoxia is starting to set in. You’ll be unconscious soon, and you’ll cannonball at least a mile before waking up again. When that happens, remember what you are about to read. The ground, after all, is your next destination.

Granted, the odds of surviving a 6-mile plummet are extra­ordinarily slim, but at this point you’ve got nothing to lose by understanding your situation. There are two ways to fall out of a plane. The first is to free-fall, or drop from the sky with absolutely no protection or means of slowing your descent. The second is to become a wreckage rider, a term coined by Massachusetts-based amateur historian Jim Hamilton, who developed the Free Fall Research Page—an online database of nearly every imaginable human plummet. That classification means you have the advantage of being attached to a chunk of the plane. In 1972, Serbian flight attendant Vesna Vulovic was traveling in a DC-9 over Czechoslovakia when it blew up. She fell 33,000 feet, wedged between her seat, a catering trolley, a section of aircraft and the body of another crew member, landing on—then sliding down—a snowy incline before coming to a stop, severely injured but alive.

Surviving a plunge surrounded by a semiprotective cocoon of debris is more common than surviving a pure free-fall, according to Hamilton’s statistics; 31 such confirmed or “plausible” incidents have occurred since the 1940s. Free-fallers constitute a much more exclusive club, with just 13 confirmed or plausible incidents, including perennial Ripley’s Believe It or Not superstar Alan Magee—blown from his B-17 on a 1943 mission over France. The New Jersey airman, more recently the subject of a MythBusters episode, fell 20,000 feet and crashed into a train station; he was subsequently captured by German troops, who were astonished at his survival.

Whether you’re attached to crumpled fuselage or just plain falling, the concept you’ll be most interested in is terminal velocity. As gravity pulls you toward earth, you go faster. But like any moving object, you create drag—more as your speed increases. When downward force equals upward resistance, acceleration stops. You max out.

Depending on your size and weight, and factors such as air density, your speed at that moment will be about 120 mph—and you’ll get there after a surprisingly brief bit of falling: just 1500 feet, about the same height as Chicago’s Sears (now Willis) Tower. Equal speed means you hit the ground with equal force. The difference is the clock. Body meets Windy City sidewalk in 12 seconds. From an airplane’s cruising altitude, you’ll have almost enough time to read this entire article.

7:00:20 AM
22,000 Feet

By now, you’ve descended into breathable air. You sputter into consciousness. At this altitude, you’ve got roughly 2 minutes until impact. Your plan is simple. You will enter a Zen state and decide to live. You will understand, as Hamilton notes, “that it isn’t the fall that kills you—it’s the landing.”

Keeping your wits about you, you take aim.

But at what? Magee’s landing on the stone floor of that French train station was softened by the skylight he crashed through a moment earlier. Glass hurts, but it gives. So does grass. Haystacks and bushes have cushioned surprised-to-be-alive free-fallers. Trees aren’t bad, though they tend to skewer. Snow? Absolutely. Swamps? With their mucky, plant-covered surface, even more awesome. Hamilton documents one case of a sky diver who, upon total parachute failure, was saved by bouncing off high-tension wires. Contrary to popular belief, water is an awful choice. Like concrete, liquid doesn’t compress. Hitting the ocean is essentially the same as colliding with a sidewalk, Hamilton explains, except that pavement (perhaps unfortunately) won’t “open up and swallow your shattered body.”

With a target in mind, the next consideration is body position. To slow your descent, emulate a sky diver. Spread your arms and legs, present your chest to the ground, and arch your back and head upward. This adds friction and helps you maneuver. But don’t relax. This is not your landing pose.

The question of how to achieve ground contact remains, regrettably, given your predicament, a subject of debate. A 1942 study in the journal War Medicine noted “distribution and compensation of pressure play large parts in the defeat of injury.” Recommendation: wide-body impact. But a 1963 report by the Federal Aviation Agency argued that shifting into the classic sky diver’s landing stance—feet together, heels up, flexed knees and hips—best increases survivability. The same study noted that training in wrestling and acrobatics would help people survive falls. Martial arts were deemed especially useful for hard-surface impacts: “A ‘black belt’ expert can reportedly crack solid wood with a single blow,” the authors wrote, speculating that such skills might be transferable.

The ultimate learn-by-doing experience might be a lesson from Japanese parachutist Yasuhiro Kubo, who holds the world record in the activity’s banzai category. The sky diver tosses his chute from the plane and then jumps out after it, waiting as long as possible to retrieve it, put it on and pull the ripcord. In 2000, Kubo—starting from 9842 feet—fell for 50 seconds before recovering his gear. A safer way to practice your technique would be at one of the wind-tunnel simulators found at about a dozen U.S. theme parks and malls. But neither will help with the toughest part: sticking the landing. For that you might consider—though it’s not exactly advisable—a leap off the world’s highest bridge, France’s Millau Viaduct; its platform towers 891 feet over mostly spongy farmland.

Water landings—if you must—require quick decision-making. Studies of bridge-jump survivors indicate that a feet-first, knife-like entry (aka “the pencil”) best optimizes your odds of resurfacing. The famed cliff divers of Acapulco, however, tend to assume a head-down position, with the fingers of each hand locked together, arms outstretched, protecting the head. Whichever you choose, first assume the free-fall position for as long as you can. Then, if a feet-first entry is inevitable, the most important piece of advice, for reasons both unmentionable and easily understood, is to clench your butt.

No matter the surface, definitely don’t land on your head. In a 1977 “Study of Impact Tolerance Through Free-Fall Investigations,” researchers at the Highway Safety Research Institute found that the major cause of death in falls—they examined drops from buildings, bridges and the occasional elevator shaft (oops!)—was cranial contact. If you have to arrive top-down, sacrifice your good looks and land on your face, rather than the back or top of your head. You might also consider flying with a pair of goggles in your pocket, Hamilton says, since you’re likely to get watery eyes—impairing accuracy—on the way down.

7:02:19 AM
1000 Feet

Given your starting altitude, you’ll be just about ready to hit the ground as you reach this section of instruction (based on the average adult reading speed of 250 words per minute). The basics have been covered, so feel free to concentrate on the task at hand. But if you’re so inclined, here’s some supplemental information—though be warned that none of it will help you much at this point.

Statistically speaking, it’s best to be a flight crew member, a child, or traveling in a military aircraft. Over the past four decades, there have been at least a dozen commercial airline crashes with just one survivor. Of those documented, four of the survivors were crew, like the flight attendant Vulovic, and seven were passengers under the age of 18. That includes Mohammed el-Fateh Osman, a 2-year-old wreckage rider who lived through the crash of a Boeing jet in Sudan in 2003, and, more recently, 14-year-old Bahia Bakari, the sole survivor of last June’s Yemenia Airways plunge off the Comoros Islands.

Crew survival may be related to better restraint systems, but there’s no consensus on why children seem to pull through falls more often. The Federal Aviation Agency study notes that kids, especially those under the age of 4, have more flexible skeletons, more relaxed muscle tonus, and a higher proportion of subcutaneous fat, which helps protect internal organs. Smaller people—whose heads are lower than the seat backs in front of them—are better shielded from debris in a plane that’s coming apart. Lower body weight reduces terminal velocity, plus reduced surface area decreases the chance of impalement upon landing.

7:02:25 am
0 Feet

The ground. Like a Shaolin master, you are at peace and prepared. Impact. You’re alive. What next? If you’re lucky, you might find that your injuries are minor, stand up and smoke a celebratory cigarette, as British tail gunner Nicholas Alkemade did in 1944 after landing in snowy bushes following an 18,000-foot plummet. (If you’re a smoker, you’re super extra lucky, since you’ve technically gotten to indulge during the course of an airliner trip.) More likely, you’ll have tough work ahead.

Follow the example of Juliane Koepcke. On Christmas Eve 1971, the Lockheed Electra she was traveling in exploded over the Amazon. The next morning, the 17-year-old German awoke on the jungle floor, strapped into her seat, surrounded by fallen holiday gifts. Injured and alone, she pushed the death of her mother, who’d been seated next to her on the plane, out of her mind. Instead, she remembered advice from her father, a biologist: To find civilization when lost in the jungle, follow water. Koepcke waded from tiny streams to larger ones. She passed crocodiles and poked the mud in front of her with a stick to scare away stingrays. She had lost one shoe in the fall and was wearing a ripped miniskirt. Her only food was a bag of candy, and she had nothing but dark, dirty water to drink. She ignored her broken collarbone and her wounds, infested with maggots.

On the tenth day, she rested on the bank of the Shebonya River. When she stood up again, she saw a canoe tethered to the shoreline. It took her hours to climb the embankment to a hut, where, the next day, a group of lumberjacks found her. The incident was seen as a miracle in Peru, and free-fall statistics seem to support those arguing for divine intervention: According to the Geneva-based Aircraft Crashes Record Office, 118,934 people have died in 15,463 plane crashes between 1940 and 2008. Even when you add failed-chute sky divers, Hamilton’s tally of confirmed or plausible lived-to-tell-about-it incidents is only 157, with 42 occurring at heights over 10,000 feet.

But Koepcke never saw survival as a matter of fate. She can still recall the first moments of her fall from the plane, as she spun through the air in her seat. That wasn’t under her control, but what happened when she regained consciousness was. “I had been able to make the correct decision—to leave the scene of the crash,” she says now. And because of experience at her parents’ biological research station, she says, “I did not feel fear. I knew how to move in the forest and the river, in which I had to swim with dangerous animals like caimans and piranhas.”

Or, by now, you’re wide awake, and the aircraft’s wheels have touched safely down on the tarmac. You understand the odds of any kind of accident on a commercial flight are slimmer than slim and that you will likely never have to use this information. But as a courtesy to the next passenger, consider leaving your copy of this guide in the seat-back pocket.