Worldwide, one in three women will experience violence in her lifetime. Given the costs violence poses to individuals, families, communities, and economies, this is a statistic we cannot ignore. On November 25, the global community will mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and begin “16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence,” an annual campaign to bring attention to ending violence against women and girls.
These designations offer the chance not only to remember and honor survivors and victims, but also to take stock of this global epidemic, reassess strategies to end it, and come back to the fight with renewed vigor.
Earlier this week, Secretary Tillerson stated that “the United States will never waver in its support for women’s equality.” Defending the rights of women and girls to live free from violence is a commitment U.S. diplomats and development experts live every day. The United States is working to support the safety and empowerment of women and girls. With humanitarian crises unfolding around the world, the United States is committed to ensuring that women and girls who have experienced, or are vulnerable to, violence during displacement, conflict or natural disaster, are able to safely access life-saving support and services.
For example, as Iraq recovers after the retreat of ISIS, U.S.-funded programs are supporting the women and girls who survived violence and captivity. Psychological, health, economic, and social services are helping them rebuild their lives. We are proud that such U.S. efforts -- and countless others around the world -- are undertaken in partnership with survivors of violence and in collaboration with other governments and donors.
Throughout the 16 Days of Activism, the U.S. Department of State and U.S. diplomatic missions around the world are stepping up global efforts to engage communities, continue support to survivors, and invest in prevention. After all, this form of violence can be human rights issue, a health issue, an economic issue, and a security issue. The fact that other international days overlap with the 16 Days of Activism offers a constant reminder of the ways different forms of violence uniquely affect women and girls, including:
- On December 1, World AIDS Day reminds us of the link between HIV/AIDS and intimate partner violence. Girls who experience violence are up to three times as likely to have HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. In 13 countries where the United States has supported data collection on violence against children, surveys show that more than one in four girls’ first sexual experiences were forced or coerced.
- On December 2, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery highlights that trafficking in persons remains a worldwide problem affecting millions of men, women, and children. More than 70 percent of victims are women and girls, and the primary motive is sexual exploitation. Further, violent extremist organizations are using human trafficking as a tactic to suppress women and girls, recruit terrorists, and stigmatize communities.
- On December 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities prompts advocates and policymakers to recognize the unique experiences of men, women, and children with disabilities. No person’s gender or ability should affect their safety, yet women with disabilities are twice as likely to experience domestic violence and face a higher risk of sexual violence.
- On December 9, the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime reaffirms the international community’s resolve to prevent atrocities and hold perpetrators to account. During conflict, women and girls are often deliberately targeted for sexual violence to humiliate, dominate, and terrorize communities. This tears apart the social fabric that holds them together, making reconciliation and peace more difficult to achieve.
- Lastly, the 16 days campaign concludes on December 10 with International Human Rights Day,which celebrates defenders of human rights around the world. Women human rights defenders are often on the frontlines tacking violence against women and girls, advocating for justice at great personal risk, and yet rarely receiving formal recognition.
This culmination of commemorative days is more than dates on your calendar. These dates remind us that transformative change is possible when the global community steps up to respond to crimes that destroy lives and stymie economies.
When we stand up for women and girls’ rights, the entire world benefits.
About the Author: Rahima Kandahari serves as Director of Operations in the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues.
Editor's Note: This entry is also published in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.