On March 5th, as he opened the United Nations commemorative event for International Women’s Day, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for greater international action to end violence against women. While every year seems to mark new highs for women’s achievements in the United States, around the world the situation has regressed in alarming ways.

Consider some of the stories coming out daily from Darfur. A 25-year-old woman raped in front of her two children by a man carrying a gun. A 17-year-old girl who was chased down, bitten on her arm and neck to mark her as compromised, and then raped by a man in uniform. A woman seven months pregnant who was robbed and gang raped. In this conflict, as in many others, rape and violence against women are weapons. This is nothing new to those who remember the news coming out of Bosnia over 10 years ago.

Consider also, the story of 44-year-old Muzzamil Hassan, a prominent Muslim businessman, who was arrested for allegedly beheading his wife, 37-year-old Aasiya Z. Hassan. Before her tragic murder, Aasiya was planning to serve her husband with divorce papers and had obtained an order of protection, which had forced her violent husband out of their home. This story did not come from Darfur, or the Democratic Republic of Congo, or some obscure village in the Middle East. It came from the state of New York. And it received little attention in the media.

The international community has a duty, first and foremost, to speak out against and put a stop to the violent abuse of women. This includes brutal practices such as genital mutilation, sex trafficking, enslavement, rape, and forced marriage-to mention just a few of the barbaric treatments that women and girls around the world endure.

More than that however, we have an obligation to help girls and women succeed because only when they succeed can we expect entire societies to grow into developed and sustainable economies. Consider even the most mundane case of a girl in Pakistan who excels at science but is pushed into a menial line of work because engineering is not considered an acceptable profession for a woman in her country. By not allowing her to fulfill her potential, a developing country loses important brainpower and development potential.

The developing global markets cannot expect to overcome economic stagnation without allowing women and girls to be part of the workforce. “No country can achieve lasting success and stability and security if half of its population is sitting on the sidelines,” said former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. This rings especially true considering the difficult economic times the world is experiencing.

International Women’s Day, officially honored as a national holiday on March 8th, is a day to bring awareness about women’s rights. International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900’s, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.

International Women’s Day is a day for women in the United States to remember their good fortunes. But in countries ridden with conflict and societies where girls and women are victims of horrific crimes, International Women’s Day is just another unbearable day.

We must then, rise to the challenge of protecting those women who are in a desperate position. Advocating for an end to violence against women must be done at the highest level possible. We need to treat violations of human rights against women as an issue of outmost strategic importance, placed at the very top of our foreign policy agenda. Only by giving this issue the place it deserves can we move forward and celebrate all women’s rights on March 8th.

Ana Carcani Rold is the Editor-in-Chief of Diplomatic Courier and G8 Summit magazines and a visiting fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum.