We Must Work Together to End Gender-based Violence

By Eric Whitaker, U.S. Ambassador to Niger

The U.S. Embassy stands with the international community to end violence against women in all its forms during the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women celebrated on November 25.  The U.S. Embassy will also observe the accompanying 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, culminating in Human Rights Day on December 10, in order to raise awareness about women’s rights being human rights to put an end to gender-based violence.

The U.S. Embassy believes that gender-based violence (GBV) not only violates the human rights of women and girls but is a pervasive barrier to women’s empowerment as it is a form of violent discrimination.  This type of violence can have both short-term health consequences as well as long-term consequences on women’s participation in daily life and for their being able to assume their roles in their families, communities, and countries.  Moreover, because workplace violence disproportionately affects women, it undermines women’s economic security and impedes economic growth.  Because it is so destructive to societies, communities, and families, GBV necessitates a comprehensive response from governments and civil society.  The U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security discusses the importance of protecting women and girls’ human rights, noting that women cannot fully participate in the prevention or resolution of conflict or participate in recovery efforts if they themselves are victims of violence.

GBV is prevalent worldwide:  global estimates by the World Health Organization indicate that about one in three women worldwide have experienced violence based on their gender at some point in their lifetime.  According to the United Nations, approximately 35 percent of women around the globe has experienced either physical and/or sexual violence.  Exact numbers of rape and sexual assaults are difficult to confirm owing to high levels of non-prosecution for perpetrators, stigma towards survivors, fear of retribution or reprisal, and their subsequent silence.  Women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence if they have low education, exposure to mothers being abused by a partner, abuse during childhood, and attitudes accepting violence, male privilege, and women’s subordinate status.  Furthermore, situations of conflict, post conflict, and displacement may exacerbate existing violence, such as by intimate partners, as well as non-partner sexual violence, and may also lead to other forms of violence against women.

There are many ways we can address the root causes of GBV.  Education, prevention of child abuse, and eliminating unequal power relations anchored in discriminatory gender stereotypes in the wider societal culture are all effective tools.  The U.S. Embassy has undertaken efforts in Niger to reduce GBV and weaves them into all of its programs.  For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s “Participatory Responsive Governance” project aims to increase women’s and girls’ leadership and participation in violent extremism prevention and mitigation processes in vulnerable communities through the creation of 22 groups of 220 women to improve freedom of movement and participation in conflict resolution efforts.

In the Diffa region, the USAID-sponsored “hadin Guywa Nlewa jam” allows women to actively express their concerns on security and service delivery with local authorities, humanitarian organizations, and defense and security forces.  The USAID “Safe Spaces” activity provides an emotionally and physically safe and informal environment for adolescent girls to come together to learn new skills, develop social networks, and empower each other under the mentorship of trusted and highly regarded women selected from their communities.  Under this program, adolescent girls who risk being forced into early marriage can seek help from a mentor to advocate with her parents to delay marriage until they finish school.  Our Strategic Governance Initiative (SGI) is partnering with Niger’s national security forces to implement sexual harassment prevention training in the police academy.  Our Office of Security Cooperation, in collaboration with Niger’s defense forces, earlier this year launched the first of four activities under the U.S. Embassy’s Women, Peace, and Security strategy to increase diversity of the security forces and include women’s contributions to securing Niger.

You can also take action on an individual level.  Together, we can support our mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, and wives by encouraging a culture of empowerment and addressing the subject of GBV openly.  Together, we can stop GBV and ensure the safety and security of all women and girls.