The United States is committed to empowering women all over the world. “In too many places around the world today women face barriers – barriers to equality, to resources, to opportunities,” said USAID’s Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment and Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment, Michelle Bekkering. “It could be a barrier to credit, to the connectivity needed to launch a business.” And all too frequently, women are hamstrung by gender-based violence, at home or within the community.
Gender-based violence takes an enormous toll on women, on girls, on their families, on communities and countries, said Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator Bekkering:
“Gender-based violence, is a pervasive barrier to global security, to women’s empowerment, and to economic growth. It is estimated right now that gender-based violence has cost the world more than five percent of its global GDP, having a greater aggregate economic impact than war.”
USAID is taking a two-pronged approach to doing away with this scourge: prevention and response. On prevention, we first need to learn what’s causing the problem, particularly if the number and severity of incidents spike within a given region. How do natural disasters compound gender-based violence? What about lack of access to natural resources? What is the impact of local laws?
As part of a response to the problem, we look at the regulatory framework, make sure there are laws that clearly define and punish perpetrators of gender-based violence.
Improving girls’ education is a step in the right direction, said Ms. Bekkering. For every additional year that a girl goes to school, she is less likely to be a victim of gender-based violence. So is improving women’s access to digital technologies, and ensuring support from local leadership.
U.S. Congress appropriates a combined 150 million dollars to the State Department and to USAID for the global effort to address gender-based violence. It also provides appropriations for combating child, early, and forced marriage, which are closely linked to gender-based violence. Since 2012, USAID has provided critical services to over five million survivors and persons at risk of GBV.
“Women and girls,” said Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator Bekkering, “should be safe from the threat of violence in their homes, in their communities, and they should have access to education and health care – and opportunities to live up to their full economic potential.”