Gender-based violence has no place in society
Each year, we observe 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence (GBV). Established in 1999 by the United Nations General Assembly, this campaign offers a global platform for action by governments, organizations, and individuals from around the world to mobilize and call attention to the urgent need to end GBV in all its forms.
GBV cuts across ethnic, racial, socio-economic, and religious lines. It occurs in every nation, Pakistan and America included.
Globally, an estimated one in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. According to the World Health Organization, at least 30 percent of women worldwide have experienced such violence at the hands of an intimate partner. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recorded almost 3,000 cases of violence against women and girls, including murder, sexual assaults, domestic violence and kidnappings in 2016 and 2017.
According to Human Rights Watch, women and girls with disabilities are two to three times more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse. Adolescent girls also experience other threats, such as sexual violence at home or at school, subjection to harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting and early and forced marriage. One in nine girls in the developing world is married by the age of 15, and more than three million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation/cutting each year.
GBV also affects men and boys, both directly as survivors of violence and indirectly through the cycle of violence. It is crucial that men and boys participate in conversations and efforts to respond to and prevent this problem.
GBV not only hurts women and girls, it hurts society as a whole. It has an adverse effect on the progress of health, justice, the economy and international security. GBV contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS by limiting one’s ability to negotiate safe sexual practices, disclose HIV status, and access services for fear of reprisal. GBV also has an economic cost. As the World Bank recently reported, the estimated costs of intimate partner violence for countries can run from 1.2 percent to 3.7 percent of GDP – the equivalent to what many governments spend on primary education.
Ending this global phenomenon requires action from everyone. We call upon all of society to speak out and support governments, the international community, private sector companies, and grassroots-level advocates who are working to end GBV.
Eradicating GBV also requires both the development and implementation of legal frameworks to bring perpetrators to justice. Many nations have passed legislation addressing GBV; the next critical step is implementation of those laws to increase accountability and address impunity.
The United States promotes gender equality and the enablement of women and girls as a cornerstone of its foreign policy. We recognize that GBV hinders the ability of individuals, especially women and girls, to participate in and make economic, political, and social contributions to their families, communities and nations.
The United States has made it a high priority to prevent and respond to violence domestically, across U.S. government agencies, and in partnership with other governments, civil society, and the private sector.
Two U.S. government initiatives provide examples of our effort. ‘Safe from the Start’ makes sure our response to humanitarian emergencies addresses our anti-GBV goals. The ‘Voices Against Violence: The Gender-Based Violence Global Initiative’ urgently helps meet the immediate security needs of severe GBV survivors, as well as individuals facing imminent attack because of their gender or gender identity.
We work with global partners on programs like ‘Together for Girls’. It is dedicated to ending violence against children, particularly sexual violence against girls. We support UN efforts to end GBV, including against indigenous women and girls, and the work of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other international organizations to help ensure that refugee women and girls are safe and have access to education.
The U.S. Mission in Pakistan has sponsored a broad range of activities and events during the 16 Days of Activism against GBV this year.
In Islamabad, we organized a film festival on women’s rights and a screening of the acclaimed drama Bol. In Karachi, we held two Human Rights Roundtables, one of which focused on GBV in rural communities, with civil society groups and human-rights activists. Lahore’s chapter of the Pakistan-US Alumni Network created a social media campaign called “Let Me Live,” in which alumni, celebrities, government officials and business leaders appeared in videos and photos to spread the message that all sectors of society must work together to end GBV. In Peshawar, we are working with local partners to reach out to male community leaders, academia, youth, and law enforcement in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the FATA to inspire more visible advocacy for women’s rights.
Ongoing U.S.-funded programs in Pakistan have helped over 75,000 GBV survivors connect with service providers for their health, social, security and legal needs. This support includes emergency financial assistance for GBV victims and their families, who often find themselves in dire financial situations.
We call upon Pakistan and all those who care about human rights to take similar steps to focus on this scourge and eliminate it. GBV—whether in our homes, our neighborhood, or across our borders—has no place in any society.
The writer is the United States Ambassador to Pakistan.