PEPFAR's Commitment To Addressing Gender-Based Violence

Posted by Daniela Ligiero
November 14, 2011
Silhouette of Rape Victim Behind Screen at Clinic in Congo

Next week marks the beginning of the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, a campaign which starts on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25 and runs through International Human Rights Day on December 10.

Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will be physically or sexually abused, and one in five will experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. In 2002, an estimated 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence. The consequences of such a widespread violence pandemic extend far beyond immediate injury and often include severe and lasting health outcomes such sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. There are also serious social, psychological and economic costs of sexual violence, affecting survivors, their families, and entire communities.

The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) recognizes that gender inequalities -- in particular, gender-based violence, including sexual violence -- fuel the spread of HIV. 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. President Obama's Global Health Initiative also prioritizes these issues within its Women, Girls, and Gender Equality Principle.

PEPFAR is committed to addressing and responding to gender-based violence, with a focus on sexual violence. Our growing financial investments reflect this commitment. PEPFAR has provided significant funding for gender-based violence activities in the field. Over the last two years, PEPFAR has invested close to $155 million on responding to gender-based violence. In FY 2010, 28 PEPFAR country teams set aside over $38 million in resources to focus on the issue. In FY 2011, this number went up to $57 million.

In addition, we have scaled up activities through a special initiative in three especially hard-hit countries (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, and Tanzania), and have provided additional support to countries through the Gender Challenge Fund, totaling approximately $60 million. These resources are having a major impact for women and girls. To cite one example of impact, in FY 2010, PEPFAR supported post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV infection to almost 23,000 survivors of sexual violence -- mostly concentrated in six countries. It is reassuring to see PEPFAR's growing commitment reflected in practice and concrete action on the ground.

With such large investments, it's all the more important that sound science and evidence inform our strategy and interventions. I recently attended the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) international forum in Cape Town, South Africa. This meeting highlighted the latest evidence in preventing and responding to sexual violence, with a focus on developing countries. Participants presented cutting-edge findings along three broad themes: primary prevention including community-based interventions; the response to sexual violence, including models of care; and sexual violence in conflict and crisis.

It was encouraging to see the range of programs, studies, and interventions presented at the conference that had received PEPFAR support. Some examples included research on the health outcomes of intimate partner violence, outcomes of health provider training on post-rape care services, population-based estimates of sexual violence against children, presence of sexual and physical violence in transactional sex networks for women, and outcomes of parent-child communication interventions.

It was clear that much research and programming is still needed. In order to turn the tide of the sexual violence and broader gender-based violence pandemic, a wide range of partners and platforms must come together, prioritizing both an investment in effective programming and in further research. PEPFAR is committed to continuing its work with global partners to expand the evidence base around gender-based violence, and to support key stakeholders in moving the agenda forward.

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