While 2017’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence (GBV)—which runs annually from November 25 to December 10—has come to a close, the work to address this global scourge is far from complete. Efforts to promote gender equality and improve the status of women and girls is not limited to a single date, month or season, rather it is a continuous commitment requiring all members of society to uphold human rights, respect for human dignity, and to promote a life free from violence. We were impressed by the strong efforts U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the globe took to leverage the 16 Days of Activism and to make a real difference in integrating gender and women’s empowerment into all areas of U.S. foreign policy, diplomatic engagement, and development.
Our diplomatic missions worldwide have responded to the problem of GBV in creative and thoughtful ways, taking into account the local contexts, cultures, races, and other sensitivities. Many working in challenging environments in the field have welcomed the chance to address GBV in its many forms. Their leadership in working with governments, law enforcement, civil society and institutions across the spectrum has led to positive change and raised awareness about the social, economic, and political repercussions of this devastating violence. The activities U.S. officials overseas carried out during the 16 Days of Activism demonstrate that solutions to address GBV require holistic, evidence-based, and innovative approaches—from developing multi-stakeholder partnerships to launching social media campaigns. In some societies, the shame and stigma surrounding GBV causes women and girls to suffer abuse in silence and therefore the severity of the problem goes underreported. In many places, effective solutions require greater educational engagement with men and boys about the toll such GBV plays in everyone’s lives, regardless of gender. Still elsewhere, a lack of coordination among government agencies impedes appropriate responses and prevents adequate delivery of services to victims and survivors.
In South Africa, Embassy Pretoria worked with youth and media to focus on the intersection between HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence, with the Public Affairs Section leading the charge on an innovative “Youth Media Change Makers Expo,” part of a larger #GirlSafe campaign. The program was designed to address the socio-economic challenges the leave young women in South Africa more vulnerable to GBV and HIV/AIDs, and tapped into the existing Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe (DREAMS) partnership.
U.S. Consulate Chengdu in southwest China organized an array of activities to raise public awareness about the staggering scope of the GBV problem in Sichuan province. Women were victims in over 94% of reported cases on domestic violence and tended to be from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Official figures grossly understate the scope of the problem—resources, including shelters for victims, are inadequate. The Consulate led efforts to increase education and provided a platform for NGOs that train and equip impoverished women in rural areas with financial and leadership skills to discuss their work with the Chinese audience in southwest China.
U.S. Embassy Chisinau in Moldova exemplified how a robust whole-of-mission approach could be harnessed to make governments more accountable and responsive to the problem of GBV, as well as strengthen the capacity of community police and civil society. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) worked in collaboration with Embassy officials to marshal forces and engage the Moldovan Government and National Police Inspectorate to produce outreach material on domestic violence. Throughout Moldova, INL grantees delivered specifically-timed trainings to judges, prosecutors, and investigators on handling sexual assault and domestic violence cases, while the Public Affairs Section rolled out a sustained social media campaign.
U.S. Embassy Quito used the #OrangetheWorld theme in Ecuador to put a focus on digital abuse, cyber bullying, and sexual assault and worked with activists to amplify the “Amiga, Ya No EstásSola” anti-GBV campaign. The Embassy also brought in a U.S. GBV expert to share strategies on combatting GBV with an emphasis on educating youth and engaging men and boys.
The U.S. Mission to Doha in Qatar, meanwhile, assembled a diverse group of prominent and influential figures from government, local media, academia, military, and the music industry to develop and post public service announcements challenging the mindset that domestic violence is a “private matter” rather than a crime.
And in one last example of U.S. leadership on the issue, the U.S. Mission to Pakistan worked on multiple fronts to raise awareness and spur action around GBV. For example, members of the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network (PUAN) posted anti-GBV messages on various internet platforms, including Mission Pakistan’s social media, using the hashtag #EqualityNow, while Consulate Karachi organized round tables to discuss what is seen a culturally sensitive issue.
These examples from all regions of world not only reflect that GBV knows no boundaries but also the innovative solutions that U.S. diplomats are using in partnership with global civil society to end this global scourge.
About the Author: Irene Marr serves as a Senior Policy Advisor in the Secretary’s Office for Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.