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Taking on Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies


An internally displaced woman from North Waziristan.

As a commitment to the Call to Action, the United States announced its Safe from the Start Program, an initiative that aims to address and reduce the incidence of gender-based violence in emergencies.

Gender-based violence is a scourge from which no country is immune. It is estimated that globally, one out of three women faces violence during her lifetime, for no other reason than her gender.

As unfortunately commonplace as gender-based violence is under normal circumstances, it increases exponentially during conflict, natural disasters, and other humanitarian emergencies. In emergency situations societal structures break down and women and girls in particular face an increased risk of gender-based violence including sexual exploitation and abuse, rape, domestic violence, forced marriage, and trafficking.

That is why, two years ago, representatives of a number of governments, transnational organizations, NGOs and civil society organizations met in London under the leadership of the United Kingdom to form a Call to Action on Protecting Girls and Women in Emergencies. The United States took on leadership of the Call to Action in 2014.

As a commitment to the Call to Action, the United States announced its Safe from the Start Program, an initiative that aims to address and reduce the incidence of gender-based violence in emergencies.

We have used Safe from the Start funding to help our partners assist thousands of displaced Iraqis. Safe from the Start supported training for refugees from the Central African Republic on how to respond to sexual exploitation and abuse, setting up complaint mechanisms and emergency phone lines to report abuses, and in the Congo, we are helping to establish security patrol teams and install solar lights in communities so that women and girls are able venture outside after sundown.

At a Ministerial on Gender-Based Violence in Humanitarian Emergencies, a meeting co-sponsored by the United States and Sweden, Secretary of State John Kerry announced an additional $17 million dollars for Safe from the Start.

If we are to be successful in this effort, said Secretary Kerry, we need to take action. We need a zero-tolerance policy toward gender-based violence against anyone – men, women, and children.

We must treat the survivors of violence with the sensitivity, respect and the dignity that they deserve and we must bring perpetrators to justice.

Finally, to be successful, we must all work together.

“We have learned in painful and searing ways that gender-based violence can rip families apart, rip communities apart, and attack state structures. And too often, in too many countries, it perpetuates conflict and creates instability for generations,” said Secretary of State Kerry. “Preventing and dealing with the effects of gender-based violence is a fundamental moral issue; it’s a basic question of right vs. wrong.”

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