Remarks at Grace Under Fire Film Screening

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
George C. Marshall Conference Center
Washington, DC
June 2, 2010

Thank you, Eric. It is my pleasure to be with all of you today and to have this opportunity to reaffirm the U.S. government’s commitment to empowering women and girls worldwide.

As Eric noted, the program of action the world signed on to at Cairo remains a centerpiece of our foreign policy and foreign assistance programming. The Obama Administration is renewing our commitment to those goals– through programs such as the President’s Global Health Initiative which has women and girls at its core, restored emphasis on U.S.-funded international family planning and maternal health programs, enhanced links between reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts in PEPFAR programs, and through robust leadership in the multilateral arena, including renewed U.S. funding—$55 million in 2010— to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). We are engaging the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and other priority countries to ensure that the health and human rights of women are protected.

We are also devoting increased attention to these issues in emergency settings. Women and children account for more than 75 percent of the estimated 60 million people currently displaced by some form of disaster. At least 25 percent of the world's displaced are of reproductive age, and one in five of those persons are likely to be pregnant. During a humanitarian crisis, access to comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health, is often disrupted. Violence and displacement do not stop women from giving birth, even while on the run, as you will see in the film. At the same time, already frail health systems are disrupted; violence and insecurity increase, and displacement puts women and girls at increased risk of maternal death, reproductive health problems, and gender-based violence.

Ensuring access to reproductive health services in these situations is a life-saving intervention and an investment in the health and stability of an entire community. Sexual and reproductive health care must be included as part of our response planning at the onset of a humanitarian emergency.

The State Department and USAID, in partnership with local governments, multilateral organizations, and NGOs, dedicate special efforts and resources to preventing and responding to gender-based violence in emergencies. We support care for survivors of sexual violence including post-exposure prophylaxis—or PEP—kits to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancies or HIV/AIDS, and psycho-social programming that includes counseling and microfinance initiatives to help women recover and reclaim their lives. We also work with local communities to foster durable support for sexual and reproductive health care, so that women and girls, and their families and communities, have the tools and support they need to live safely, with dignity.

Thank you again for coming, and thank you for your work and interest in these issues. I hope that we all leave here today with a renewed sense of solidarity and dedication to promoting women’s health and rights. With commitment, resources, and coordination, we can have an impact.

Following the screening, USAID’s Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, Susan Reichle will share her perspective on these issues, and Eric will moderate a panel discussion with our distinguished guests.

I hope you find the film and the discussion valuable.