On Friday August 10, the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) released the first ever U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, including their implementation plans. An accompanying Executive Order issued by President Obama was also released, directing all relevant agencies to implement this strategy. These efforts highlight the United States’ commitment to preventing and responding to gender-based violence around the world.
Gender-based violence knows no bounds or borders. As the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, I have met with women and girls around the world, and have heard about the immense challenges they face. Too often I have heard stories of the violence that they are confronted with every single day — at home, at school, while walking to fetch water. The violence they experience takes so many different forms, from rape to early or forced marriage, from harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting to “honor” killings, acid violence, sexual violence in conflict, and so much more.
Yet, I have also seen the tremendous efforts that women and girls have made to overcome their circumstances, and I have been amazed by their resilience. We must support these strong and determined women and girls as they move from pain to empowerment, and at the same time work to create a world free of violence.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s commitment to advancing the rights of women and girls and improving their status around the world is embodied in the U.S Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence, and the Executive Orderthat will set it into motion. The strategy lays out concrete objectives and actions to marshal the United States’ expertise and capacity to address gender-based violence, and represents a multi-sector and whole of government approach — one that includes the justice, legal, security, health, education, economic, social services, humanitarian, and development sectors.
The strategy prioritizes four objectives:
• To increase coordination of gender-based violence prevention and response efforts among U.S. government agencies and with other stakeholders;
• To enhance integration of gender-based violence prevention and response efforts into existing U.S. government work;
• To improve collection, analysis, and use of data and research to enhance gender-based violence prevention and response efforts; and
• To enhance or expand U.S. government programming that addresses gender-based violence.
The terrible consequences of this violence must not be underestimated. Gender-based violence, for example, increases women and girls’ overall vulnerability to HIV. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is working to address the link between violence and HIV and invests in a wide range of programs to address this problem. Children who experience violence are more likely to experience or perpetuate violence later in life. Gender-based violence undermines not only the safety, dignity, overall health status, and human rights of the millions of individuals who experience it, but also the public health, economic stability, and security of families, communities, and nations.
Regardless of the form that gender-based violence takes, it is a human rights violation or abuse, a public health challenge, and a barrier to civic, social, political, and economic participation. The problem of such violence is, at root, a manifestation of the low status of women and girls around the world. Ending the violence requires supporting important prevention efforts that aim to sensitize community members on the importance of raising the value of girls. It also includes working with communities, with police and judges, religious leaders, and with boys and men, as important partners in this effort. It requires a commitment to quality education and economic opportunity for both girls and boys.
With the release of this new strategy, we renew the call to eradicate gender-based violence in every community around the world. In moving forward, we all need to work together — governments, multilateral organizations, and grassroots-level advocates — to implement concrete solutions. We need increased advocacy and more interaction between policy makers and practitioners in the field. We need to empower girls to speak up for themselves, and educate boys to speak up for their sisters. And we must ultimately overcome the deep-rooted gender inequalities that either tacitly allow or actively promote practices that are damaging to women and girls.