Violence Against Women: Global Costs and Consequences

Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Oral Testimony Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Washington, DC
October 1, 2009

Written Testimony

I am honored to appear before you this afternoon, for this groundbreaking hearing in full Committee, to address one of the most serious global challenges of our time: violence against women. It is also a pleasure to be with my colleague, Ambassador Rapp, who is a distinguished prosecutor of war crimes.

I request that my submitted written testimony be entered into the record, and I will summarize from it.

Senators, the momentum is building for us to be able to make a clear and concrete difference in the lives of women and girls who are affected by gender-based violence or who are at risk of violence. We have before us a new opportunity to intensify our efforts and to make effective progress against this global pandemic.

Violence against women cannot be relegated to the margins of foreign policy. It cannot be treated solely as a “women’s issue,” as something that can wait until “more pressing” issues are solved. The scale and the scope of the problem make it simultaneously one of the largest and most entrenched humanitarian and development issues before us.

It is also a security issue. When women are attacked as part of a deliberate and coordinated strategy, as they are in Sudan, the DRC, and Burma, and as they have been elsewhere around the world, the glue that holds together communities dissolves. Large populations become not only displaced, but destabilized. Around the world, the places that are the most dangerous for women also pose the greatest threats to international peace and security. The correlation is clear: where women are oppressed, governance is weak and extremism is more likely to take hold. As the Secretary has said, you cannot have vibrant civil societies if half the population is left behind. Women’s participation is a prerequisite for good governance, for rule of law, and for economic prosperity – and gender-based violence and the ever-present threat of violence prevents women’s participation in these sectors of society.

The violence against women and girls that we’re currently seeing is a global pandemic and a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions. It affects girls and women at every point in their life, from sex-selective abortion, which has culled as many as 100 million girls, to withholding adequate nutrition, to FGM, child marriage, rape as a weapon of war, human trafficking, so-called “honor” killings, dowry -related murder, and so much more. This violence cannot be explained away as “cultural;” it is criminal. It is every nation’s problem and it is the cause of mass destruction around the globe. We need a response that is commensurate with the seriousness of the crimes.

Violence against women not only destroys the lives of individual girls and women, families, and communities, but also robs the world of the talent it urgently needs. There is a powerful connection between violence against women and the unending cycle of women in poverty. Women who are abused or who fear violence are unable to realize their full potential and contribute to their countries’ development. There are enormous economic costs that come with violence against women. In the United States alone, an estimated loss of $1.8 billion in productivity and earnings is associated with gender based-violence on an annual basis. These types of losses are repeated around the world.

Ending violence against women is a prerequisite for their social, economic, and political participation and progress.

Preventing violence against women isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do. Multiple studies from economists, corporations, institutes and foundations have demonstrated again and again that women are key drivers of economic growth and that investing in women yields enormous dividends. We know from these studies that women reinvest up to 90 percent of their income in their families and communities. And yet none of these benefits is possible if women are not free from violence.

The global and entrenched nature of gender-based violence presents enormous challenges. And yet, we know that progress is possible. In the four months since the hearing chaired by Senators Boxer and Feingold on gender-based violence in the DRC and Sudan, we’ve been making a concerted effort toward addressing some of the most urgent aspects of the crisis in the DRC. In August, Secretary Clinton traveled to Goma and announced $17 million in funding to assist survivors of sexual and gender based violence in the eastern provinces of the DRC. The money includes training for health care workers in complex fistula repair, the provision of medical care, counseling, economic assistance, and legal support to women living in North and South Kivu, and other areas. The USG is also dedicating an additional $3 million to recruiting additional police officers, particularly women, and to training them to recognize the protection needs of women and girls and to investigate sexual violence. Since the Secretary’s trip, we have sent several assessment teams from USAID, AFRICOM, and our Technology Office. During her visit, the Secretary raised a number of serious issues with the DRC President, ranging from conflict minerals to the need for accountability, and she demanded that top military commanders who have been implicated in rape be charged and prosecuted. She underscored the critical need to address impunity.

I traveled to Afghanistan in June to reiterate our support and commitment to women’s rights in that country. Peace, stability, and a better life for the Afghan people cannot and will not occur without the active involvement of women.

During this trip, Ambassador Eikenberry and I announced the start of the Ambassador’s small grants program to support women in Afghanistan. The three-year, $26.3 million program will provide technical assistance and small grants to women-focused Afghan NGOs in accordance with the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan. The program will offer flexible, rapid response grants to NGOs that address the needs of Afghan women in the areas of education, health, skills training, counseling on family issues, and public advocacy. We also have been pleased to see the adoption of the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law by decree, and we hope it will be implemented and vigorously enforced. Violence against women continues as a very serious problem in Afghanistan – we’ve raised the need to take action with their government and supported programs ranging from training for women police officers to shelters to judicial training, and more.

We’ve carried this kind of regional momentum forward at this year’s United Nations meetings, working within the Security Council to generate more international political will to address violence against women.

Just yesterday, Secretary Clinton spoke on behalf of UN Security Council Resolution 1888, which was sponsored by the United States and focuses on sexual violence in armed conflict, and which the Council then unanimously adopted. The resolution requests, among other provisions, that the Secretary-General appoint a Special Representative to lead, coordinate, and advocate for efforts to end sexual violence in armed conflict. It also requests that the Secretary-General identify and deploy a team of experts to conflict situations where sexual violence is likely to occur, in order to help governments strengthen the rule of law, improve accountability, and end impunity.

Taken together, these bilateral and multilateral efforts represent significant and encouraging progress since May. However, they are only a beginning.

In my written testimony, I describe a number of components that must be present as we develop a comprehensive global strategy to prevent and combat violence against women. We need to understand that violence is not only a very serious women’s issue, but also one of international human rights and national security. We must ensure that men are active participants in the effort to prevent and combat violence. And we must ensure that girls have access to the same education as boys, and they are safe as they travel to and from school and while they learn.

Education is the only tool we have that can reliably change entrenched attitudes. Mukhtar Mai had been brutally gang-raped in a horrific case that garnered headlines around the world. She was expected to kill herself for the shame that was brought on her and her family. Instead, she mustered the courage to take her case to court. She used the money from a small settlement to build two schools: one for boys, and one for girls, in which she herself enrolled. She said nothing would ever change in her village unless there was education.

Education for girls and boys is fundamental.

We need to draw our lessons from those before us who have tried to put an end to violence. From them, we know what hasn’t worked – and we know what does. We must put our focus on prevention, including on education and economic opportunities, on the protection of victims, and on the prosecution of those who perpetrate these crimes.

It is time that violence against women became a concern for us all.