Posted by: Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer
Violence against women and girls affects Ukraine just as it does in the United States and every other nation. Gender-based violence is a global pandemic that cuts across ethnic, racial, socio-economic, and religious lines, and knows no borders.
Gender-based violence includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse; threats; coercion; arbitrary deprivation of liberty; and economic deprivation, whether occurring in public or private life. Types of gender-based violence can include domestic violence; sexual coercion and abuse; child sexual abuse; sex trafficking and forced labor; neglect; elder abuse.
One in three women around the world will experience some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime. The shocking and brutal rape and murder of Oksana Makar by three young men in March illustrates the worst kind of violence against women and draws crucial attention to the need for urgent action. Unlike the Makar case, other forms of violence are often overlooked in the media because they are common and widespread. For instance, intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence, and a UN-sponsored survey found that 33 percent of Ukrainian women have faced domestic violence in their lives. Most victims cited alcohol abuse as a contributing factor, and 75 percent of victims never ask for help or support to deal with domestic violence.
Physical violence vastly increases women’s risk for serious medical conditions – reproductive health problems, miscarriages, sexually transmitted diseases. Country studies indicate that the risk of HIV among women who have experienced violence may be up to three times higher than among those who have not.
Women with disabilities are two to three times more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse than women with no disability.
Gender based violence extracts significant social cost as well. A 2004 study in the United Kingdom projected the total direct and indirect costs of domestic violence to 23 billion pounds per year, or 440 £ per person. Preventing and prosecuting violence against women pays enormous dividends in the long run. The United States’ Violence Against Women Act, which strengthened efforts to investigate and prosecute such crimes, is estimated to have saved more than $16 billion since its enactment in 1994.
Violence against women and girls is not just a gender or economic issue but one encompassing international human rights and national security. We need laws in place to criminalize such acts. These laws need to be enforced and hold people accountable, since impunity too often helps to fuel the violence.
Taking Action to Eradicate and Raise Awareness of Violence against Women and Girls
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, beginning on November 25, offer all of us an opportunity to renew our commitment to free women and girls from violence, whether it happens behind closed doors or as a public tactic of intimidation. Whether it occurs in our own neighborhood or on distant shores, violence against women and girls damages us all- men and women alike. As Secretary Clinton has stated, “It is time for all of us to assume our responsibility to go beyond condemning this behavior, to taking concrete steps to end it, to make it sociably unacceptable, to recognize it is not cultural; it is criminal.”
We all need to work together—the international community, governments, multilateral organizations, and grassroots-level advocates to address and prevent violence from occurring. Many nations have passed legislation addressing gender-based violence. The next critical step is to work together to improve implementation of those laws in order to increase accountability and address impunity. We need increased advocacy and more interaction between policy makers and those who work in the field. We need to empower girls to speak up for themselves, and educate boys to speak up for their sisters. We must support the inclusion of men, boys, and other critical community stakeholders – such as religious leaders – in addressing and preventing violence and changing gender attitudes. We must ultimately overcome the deep-rooted gender inequalities that either tacitly allow or actively promote violent, discriminatory practices.
U.S. Government Leadership
The United States has made significant progress in its efforts to address gender-based violence around the world, through the development of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security; the Gender-based Violence Scale-Up Initiative and Evaluation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR); the work of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; and efforts to incorporate gender-based violence programming into humanitarian response activities.
In August 2012, the United States was proud to release its first-ever Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, along with an Executive Order signed by President Obama directing its implementation. This strategy brings the whole of the US government together to indentify, coordinate, integrate and leverage US efforts and resources around the world.
We must recognize that violence against girls and women is, at root, a manifestation of the low status of women and girls around the world. Ending the violence requires elevating the status of women and girls and freeing their potential to be agents of change in their community.
The United States has made gender equality and women’s empowerment a core focus of our foreign policy. Countries cannot progress when half their populations are marginalized and mistreated, and subjected to discrimination. Evidence demonstrates that women’s empowerment is critical to building stable, democratic societies; to supporting open and accountable governance; to further international peace and security; to growing vibrant market economies; and to addressing pressing health and educational challenges When women and girls can live free from violence and are afforded equal opportunities in education, healthcare, employment and political participation, they lift up their families, their communities and their nations, and act as agents of change. As Secretary Clinton has stated, “Investing in the potential of the world’s women and girls is one of the surest ways to achieve global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for women – and men – the world over.”