On November 25, the world observed the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. We are now in the "16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence," which links November 25 to International Human Rights Day on December 10, recognizing the connection between women's rights and human rights. These 16 Days offer all of us an opportunity to renew the commitment to ending violence against women and girls in all its forms.
Promoting the status of women and girls is not just a moral imperative but a strategic one; it is, in essence, a strategy for a smarter foreign policy. Strengthening the prevention of and response to gender-based violence is of vital importance, because no country can achieve peace and prosperity if half of its population is deprived of reaching its full potential. As Secretary Clinton has so often said, women are drivers of economic growth. Women's education is linked to economic growth and improved health outcomes. Women are essential agents of change in peace-building and conflict resolution. When women and girls are not protected, their ability to participate fully in the development of society isstunted, which adversely affects us all.
Violence against women and girls is sadly a global epidemic, rooted in the low status of women and girls. To turn back the tide, we know we must work on prevention efforts, protection from violence, and prosecution of perpetrators.
This past August, the United States released its first-ever Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, accompanied by an Executive Order from President Obama which directs all relevant U.S. agencies to implement the strategy. This is an important step forward " an effort to marshal the United States' expertise and capacity to address gender-based violence, and one that represents a multi-sector and whole-of-government approach.
For example, the U.S. Department of Defense, one of the many agencies which has joined this effort, funded a $2.97 million project administered by the Department of State's Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help create a civilian police force to respond effectively to cases of gender-based violence. The project has trained male and female police officers on how to investigate gender-based violence cases, built police stations in remote areas, provided essential equipment enabling police to be more responsive to the community, and funded a public awareness campaign on gender-based violence. Local community stakeholders also have been engaged as well with this strategy.
In Afghanistan, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs supports a training program for prosecutors at Violence Against Women Units at the Office of the Attorney General in Kabul and seven provinces nationwide, which are dedicated to prosecuting crimes against women and girls. Thus far, the units' efforts have led to 27 convictions.
As the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, I have met with women and girls in countries all over the world. Everywhere I travel, I hear the stories of the violence that girls and women confront every single day -- at home, walking to school, fetching water, or as targets in conflict. The violence they experience takes so many different forms, from domestic violence to rape, from harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage, to "honor" killings, acid violence, and other horrific acts.
Yet, I have also seen the tremendous efforts that women and girls have made to overcome the violence in their lives, and I have been inspired by their resilience and strength. We must support these brave women and girls as they move from pain to empowerment and likewise empower men and boys who are also working to end such violence in communities around the world. This will take the leadership and coordination of a broad range of sectors and partners -- from community and religious leaders to grassroots and faith-based organizations, from police, judges, and prosecutors, to parents and teachers. Engaging men and boys is also critical to addressing the root causes of gender-based violence.
The U.S. government, through this strategy and our many programs around the world, is committed to this effort. We hope people in all corners of the globe will hear the call to action during the16 Days of Activism and work until we eliminate this global scourge and every woman and girl can realize her God-given potential.