Remarks at the Launch of the Gender-Based Violence Emergency Response and Protection Initiative

William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 20, 2014

Good afternoon. Thank you, Uzra, for those kind words, and for your extraordinary service. I am honored to join so many remarkable people from so many corners of the globe for today’s launch of the Gender-Based Violence Emergency Response and Protection Initiative.

I want to thank Vital Voices and the Avon Foundation for Women, two terrific institutions for which I have great respect, for their support for this initiative. There are a lot of people with impressive titles here today, but only one of them is both a Global Ambassador and a musical Duchess. Thank you, Fergie, for joining us and for everything you’ve done to raise awareness about the issue that brings us all together today.

Everyone in this room is familiar with the horrific statistics about gender-based violence. One in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. In some countries, it’s double that rate. In any given year, more than a hundred million girls and tens of millions of boys under the age of 18 experience forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence. Today, there are more than 60 million child brides in the world. These numbers and these acts – from rape to domestic violence to early forced marriage to so-called “honor killings” – should shock the conscience of all people, from all walks of life, in all parts of our world.

As Russia’s intervention in Crimea, the Syrian civil war, and the conflict in the Central African Republic capture the headlines and the public’s attention, some may ask why gender-based violence – a deplorable act, but one that has been with us since time immemorial – deserves high-level attention.

All of you know as well as I do that the answer to that question is as simple as it is compelling. Gender-based violence – wherever and whenever it takes place, here at home or around the world – is an inexcusable crime and an affront to dignity and human rights. It robs people, disproportionately women and girls, of their potential and threatens their mental, physical, and reproductive health. It denies economic opportunity and undermines economic growth. And it imperils the safety and stability of communities and countries.

Advancing gender equality is therefore not only the right thing to do – it is the smart thing to do.

That is exactly why we’ve pressed ahead with two important strategies – the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, and the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally. At their core, both documents state unequivocally that sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation should never be a basis for discrimination – and they should never be a basis for acts of violence. And both documents lay out concrete steps to translate those convictions into actions.

We are working with our international partners to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies from Syria to South Sudan. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we are developing and operating early warning systems that alert authorities when violence – including gender-based violence – is about to break. Mindful that men and boys should be part of the solution, we are working with imams in Afghanistan and community leaders in Iraq to raise awareness on women’s rights. And across the globe, we are helping guarantee that laws are enforced – police, judges, and prosecutors are sensitized and trained, and survivors can safely and confidentially report crimes.

The Gender-Based Violence Emergency and Protection Initiative we are launching today builds on, and complements, these efforts. It has three clear objectives.

First, to provide immediate assistance to individuals facing extreme acts of gender-based violence. Working through local partners, we will be able to provide funding for medical expenses, emergency shelter, psychosocial support, and legal assistance to survivors, so that they are able not only to recover but to prosper.

Second, to provide targeted training and advocacy support to the courageous men and women working to put an end to gender-based violence. We all know that reform and attitude change can only come from within societies. Those willing to take the risk to stand-up and raise their voices deserve our support.

Third, to develop a robust regional and international network of service providers and activists in 11 countries across six geographic hubs. From Mexico to Mali and Tajikistan to Thailand, these networks will share data, lessons learned, and best practices, coordinate emergency responses, and work together on shared advocacy efforts.

To make a lasting impact, we need to match the scope of this challenge with the intensity of our response. It will require each and every one of us to stay focused, to continue to marry words with deeds, and to never be content with cheering from the sidelines when we can join the global effort to end the epidemic of gender-based violence once and for all.

Thank you very much.