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Nicole Kidman: Actress, Mom, Women's Advocate

Off-screen, Kidman fights violence against women on the international stage.

Kidman on Violence Against Women continued...

"My mother raised both my sister and me to have a strong awareness and social conscience," Kidman says. "She was a strong feminist, my mother, and she told me about this group that was then called UNIFEM [United Nations Development Fund for Women], which was doing work in Cambodia with a lot of the women who had been involved with human trafficking and helping them to gain job skills. I called them up and said, 'Can I come and work for you?'"

UNIFEM later merged into U.N. Women, and during the past 7 years, Kidman has traveled throughout the world working to help the voices of female survivors of violence to be heard. She's particularly involved with U.N. Women's UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign, which has proclaimed the 25th of every month as "Orange Day" -- a day to take action to raise awareness and prevent violence against women and girls.

The campaign "has motivated and galvanized communities, organizations, and individuals worldwide," says Henriette Jansen, PhD. She's an epidemiologist and expert on violence against women who has worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international organizations for more than 30 years. She says that until fairly recently, global violence against women and girls was mostly a hidden problem, with only a few activists and researchers pushing for awareness.

"It was only in the early 1990s that the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna recognized violence against women as a specific human rights violation," Jansen says. After that, WHO and other leading international groups began collecting data on the problem. In 2013, WHO research found that 1 in 3 women worldwide -- in some countries, as many as 70% of women -- has been the victim of violence, usually from a husband, boyfriend, or other intimate partner. In the U.S., WHO reports, 83% of girls ages 12 to 16 have endured some form of sexual harassment in public schools.

Kidman believes changing these disturbing numbers isn't just a personal issue -- it's a political one as well. "I've also been involved with grassroots campaigns in certain countries to get women elected to office," she adds. "Because when women are elected, they tend to take care of things like education and health and social issues that are too often neglected."

Miss Read

When she manages to steal a little time for herself, Kidman sneaks a few minutes with one of the four or five books she always has going at once. "I love good coffee and just sort of lazing around reading. Right now, I'm reading Philipp Meyer's The Son, a sort of Texas epic that goes through generations. It's very, very violent, and a hard book to read, but it's so brilliant."

She's also immersed in Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations. Bell, an adventurer, mountaineer, and spy who explored and mapped the modern Middle East, was the first woman officer employed by British military intelligence. "I'm about to play her in a new film, and she's just fascinating," says Kidman. "I have very diverse tastes in literature. I started reading when I was 4 and read War and Peace when I was 9. I'm just an obsessive reader, and I think that's another reason I became an actor. It's how I build characters in my head, and it's how I've built my imagination."

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