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According to a United Nations report, violence against women is the most pervasive human rights violation in the world. But it is more than that; violence, particularly rape, is a weapon of war, used against women in many conflict zones.
"We've seen this in Bosnia, Burma, Sri Lanka, Nepal and elsewhere," said Melanne Verveer, the U.S. State Department's ambassador-at-large for global women's issues, at a recent Senate hearing on the topic. "The underlying problem – gender inequality and the dehumanization of women – are often the same."
But in Africa, there is a difference in the intensity of violence, said Ambassador Verveer. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, the scale and enormity of the violence directed at women can scarcely be adequately described. Some 1,100 rapes are being reported every month. And though the level of violence against women in the DRC is unequaled, brutality against women and girls elsewhere in Africa is rampant.
Women suffer beatings, rapes, burning by acid, maiming and starvation. Often, laws governing violence against women are either weak, not enforced or non-existent, and perpetrators are only rarely punished. Domestic violence is frequently not considered to be a crime, but a tradition, a custom.
The United States is working to make a difference in the lives of African women. Since 2000, the U.S. Department of State, has provided nearly $28 million for gender-based violence prevention programs, including to build women's centers in Darfur that offer counseling and medical referral services to victims of gender-based violence.
The U.S. Agency for International Development is working with its NGO partners to help women victims of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Other U.S. Government agencies and bureaus sponsor information programs designed to draw attention to the problem.
Gender-based violence is a serious human rights and public health issue throughout the world that undermines efforts to achieve sustainable development.
"This is not culture. This is not custom. This is criminal," said Hillary Rodham Clinton during her Senate confirmation hearing in January. "We cannot have a free, prosperous, peaceful, progressive world if women are treated in such a discriminatory and violent way."