Though December 10, International Human Rights Day, marked the end of the annual “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence” campaign, we know that our work on this front is far from complete. Over the last few weeks, U.S. embassies around the world and offices across the Obama administration reflected on our role in this critical fight and resolved to strengthen our efforts.
Here in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), we work with partners inside and outside the U.S. government on a daily basis to prevent and respond to gender-based violence among some of the world's most vulnerable people. We believe these efforts are a vital part of any humanitarian response and need to be front and center at the onset of any crisis. Displaced women and children are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence. They face violence and abuse not only when fleeing conflict, but also once they reach places of refuge. Without legal status or the protection of any government, stateless women and girls are also vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, including trafficking in persons.
Since 2000, when PRM began its special initiative for prevention and response to gender-based violence, we have contributed more than $62 million worldwide to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Thailand. We support a range of initiatives including programs that engage men and boys as advocates, efforts to strengthen referral networks for survivors, and safe houses for at-risk adolescent refugee girls.
In the coming year, we will continue to urge international and non-governmental organizations (NGO) to develop and implement programs and policies that protect and empower refugee women, children and youth. For example, we have urged the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and their implementing partners to involve women and children in the programming and delivery of supplies to refugees, especially food. We are funding WFP to develop safe alternatives to gathering firewood for refugee women in Dadaab, Kenya, because gathering firewood for cooking often exposes women to sexual violence and other attacks. We also actively engage with our NGO partners to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse of beneficiaries, encouraging partners to implement effective changes, rather than simply signing a code of conduct. Displaced women and their families also need access to reproductive health care, including family planning and safe birthing kits. PRM works closely with USAID and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as UNHCR and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), to promote access to reproductive health care in emergencies, including for survivors of sexual violence.
Unfortunately, all of these steps are necessary, but not sufficient. We recognize that far too many displaced women and girls remain at risk of gender-based violence. We remain committed to strengthening our efforts to prevent violence and impunity, to support survivors and their families, and to empower women and girls as agents of positive change.
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