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Diplomacy in Action

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
December 10, 2010


 Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Each year, governments, international and non-governmental organizations, and others in civil society mark the 16 days between the International Day to End Violence against Women (November 25) and Human Rights Day (December 10) to raise awareness of the ongoing threat of gender violence.

We certainly welcome the chance to join our international organization and NGO partners in marking the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. But for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), preventing and responding to gender-based violence is a priority 365 days of the year. With the leadership and deep commitment of the President and of Secretary of State Clinton, we are working closely with our colleagues throughout the U.S. government to better integrate and elevate the critical work of so many agencies on this issue.

For PRM, protection of the world’s most vulnerable citizens – refugees and displaced people – is at the core of our mission. And the unfortunate reality is that women and girls displaced by conflict and crisis around the world continue to be targeted by combatants, armed elements, and others. From the rubble of Haiti to the hills of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), gender-based violence is a global scourge.

Since 2000, PRM has been among the leaders in raising and addressing the special protection needs of women and children in humanitarian settings, providing more than $41 million in targeted gender-based violence programming and engaging with international and non-governmental organization partners to develop policy to better address the unique needs of women and children in conflict. We fervently believe that efforts to prevent and respond to gender-based violence should begin at the onset of every emergency and should form a part of any humanitarian response.

Whenever I travel overseas, I speak with women and girls about their lives and the challenges they’re facing. The challenges can be overwhelming, from widespread sexual violence by combatants to pervasive domestic violence. Whether I’m meeting with the women’s leadership committee in a refugee camp in Chad, students at a secondary school for girls in Jordan, or women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan, the perspectives I obtain help to shape our policy and programs.

Date: 12/13/2010 Description: Crowded post-earthquake conditions in Port au Prince have left women and children particularly vulnerable, including to violence, rape, and attack.Photo by Jessica Yutacom, PRM Program Officer - State Dept Image

Crowded post-earthquake conditions in Port au Prince have left women and
children particularly vulnerable, including to violence, rape, and attack.
Photo by Jessica Yutacom, PRM Program Officer

Over the next year, PRM plans to provide at least $11 million of targeted funding to prevent and respond to gender-based violence (GBV), promote access to reproductive health care in emergencies, and support literacy and livelihood trainings for refugee women and girls, as well as promote women’s participation and capacity building worldwide. Many of our efforts are directed through our multilateral partners, such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to ensure that the needs of women and girls are at the forefront of programming supported by other donors as well. And the impact of these collective efforts is clear: when the ICRC trains women to become orthopedic technicians in Afghanistan, female victims of landmines receive better care and their families benefit. When refugee women and girls returning to their communities receive literacy training and access to economic opportunity, their entire community stands a better chance of recovery. And when UNHCR and other organizations work with men and boys to promote understanding and support for women’s rights, we increase the chances for sustainable peace.

This is money well spent – especially when you know the personal stories of the people whose lives we touch – women like “Jacqueline” living in eastern DRC. With support from PRM, the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) is working to enhance local capacity to provide mental health training. When Jacqueline’s small daughter was brutally raped, she turned to CVT for counseling and met rape survivors and other mothers whose daughters had been raped. Outraged by the lack of judicial recourse when she identified her daughter’s attacker and was ignored, Jacqueline formed a committee with these women, joined by community leaders, to demand that survivors of sexual violence receive appropriate attention and treatment from the authorities. As a result of their advocacy, the local police chief has pledged to improve the response of his force to sexual violence cases. If Jacqueline has the courage to speak out and demand justice for her daughter, we should do everything we can to help her achieve it.

Date: 12/13/2010 Description: Male participant in IRC's GBV initiative -Men Involved in Peace-building Initiative.Photo by Hoa Tran, PRM Program Officer - State Dept Image

Displaced Congolese women flee to North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Photo courtesy of UNHCR / P. Taggart

PRM-funded programs often include community-based initiatives such as CVT’s that raise awareness of GBV, provide counseling services for survivors, GBV training for police and the judiciary, and staff education. Our funds also support assistance to victims of human trafficking, many of whom are GBV survivors, and programs that serve survivors of sexual violence who were targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This year, for example, PRM funded the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in four refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border to implement a program to support and strengthen community-based efforts to respond to and prevent violence against women and girls. IRC promotes a holistic response to GBV by ensuring that survivors’ legal, health, and psycho-social needs are met by camp-based organizations. The program is also implementing innovative prevention models such as engaging men to end violence against women and conducting workshops for couples that promote healthy communication, conflict-resolution, and anger and stress management. In addition, PRM has funded IRC to develop and pilot training materials and methods for building the capacity of camp-based organizations to respond to child sexual abuse.

Date: 12/13/2010 Description: Male participant in IRC's GBV initiative -Men Involved in Peace-building Initiative.Photo by Hoa Tran, PRM Program Officer - State Dept Image

Male participant in IRC's GBV initiative –Men Involved in Peace-building Initiative.
Photo by Hoa Tran, PRM Program Officer

A key component of an effective response to GBV is the provision of sexual and reproductive health care – which is too often over-looked during emergencies and natural disasters. This includes reproductive health commodities, such as family planning and safe birth kits, or medical and psycho-social support to recover from the trauma of rape and other forms of gender-based violence. There is a strong link between the reproductive health of a community and that community’s ability to recover from crisis or calamity. Family planning and reproductive health care are indispensable to the health of women; the health of women is critical to the stability of families and communities; and women’s health and participation in efforts to rebuild after a crisis are essential to achieve economic and social recovery and development. And as we all know, we are well-advised to ensure that vulnerable women are the beneficiaries of broader programs of support: experience has shown that the benefits that vulnerable women receive from aid, training, and self-sufficiency programs are generally invested in their families and communities.

Here in PRM, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign gives us the opportunity to review and strengthen our efforts to prevent and respond to these abuses, and we join with people around the world in recognizing the extraordinary efforts of community leaders, advocates, and humanitarians in promoting this critical objective.

Many thanks, and kind regards,
Eric Schwartz
Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration

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