Video Message for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the 16 Days Campaign

Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Washington, DC
November 18, 2010

(As prepared remarks)

In support of the International Day For the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) on November 25 and in observance of the accompanying 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) encourages sustained efforts to prevent and address gender-based violence around the world.


As Secretary Clinton has stated, "women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights." Gender-based violence is not solely a women’s issue – it is a development, humanitarian, and security issue that affects us all. The challenges cannot be confronted by women alone. NGOs and civil society actors, for example, are working to prevent and address gender-based violence by engaging men and boys.


Examples of Innovative Programs that address Violence Against Women


India: The Independent Commission for People’s Rights and Development
The Independent Commission for People’s Rights and Development is one important program supported by the USAID-funded Garima project to mobilize hundreds of men and boys from low income/rural communities in Rajasthan and Karnataka to address the problem of violence against women through street plays and performances.  While in India last November, I first became acquainted with this program and had the opportunity to watch male members of the Rajasthan community perform a powerful street play that addressed the negative impact of child sex selection, domestic violence, child marriage, and sexual harassment in their community.


What struck me about the performance was its ability to explain, in such a compelling way, why behavior like this is not proper or moral. The message of the performance resonated throughout the community, from women and girls, to men and boys, to the young and old, and to individuals who were unable to read or understand in more formal ways. The performances had the ability to change the ideas and beliefs that perpetuate violence against women; it spread awareness in the community and turned boys and men into champions for the cause.  In India, another program is working with boys in schools to provide a curriculum on improper behavior, including violence against women and girls.


Senegal: Tostan
Another program that works with grassroots-level advocates and community leaders at the village level is Tostan, a West-African NGO headquartered in Senegal, that has successfully partnered with male and female community leaders to provide education regarding the harmful effects of female genital cutting, among other issues. Tostan’s methodology, which centers on respect and places villagers in charge of decisions, has been extremely effective. By helping to foster the collective abandonment of female genital cutting, Tostan's programs allow community members to share the knowledge they gain with their neighbors, friends, and family members. The successful methods of Tostan are a lesson without borders and should be introduced elsewhere, especially given the fact that two to three million girls and women are subjected to female genital cutting each year, and millions more continue to suffer from its detrimental effects. It has been introduced in other countries beyond Senegal with great success and it's community awareness and participation model is a proven practice that can be adopted even more broadly.



Brazil: ProMundo and the Maria de Penha Conference
On the other side of the globe, in Brazil, a number of NGOs are using innovative channels to promote gender equality and end violence against women. Promundo, for example, engages young men and women in critical reflections on gender norms and attitudes. This important work has led to positive changes, from improved partner relationships to decreased incidents of sexual harassment and violence against women.



In Afghanistan, some religious leaders incorporate sermons about the need to combat violence against women in their Friday prayer services. They can be strong persuasive voices in their communities about raising awareness on the need to stand up against gender-based violence.



S/GWI Programs to address Violence Against Women


The United States is working bilaterally and multilaterally to define gender-based violence not as solely a woman’s issue, but one of international human rights. We are taking action on the ground, training peacekeepers on gender-based violence awareness and prevention activities, working with NGOs to ensure men’s engagement in preventing violence against women, and partnering with religious leaders of all faiths to incorporate these messages into their outreach. The economic empowerment of women is also integral to any sustainable approach to eradicating violence against women, as studies show that women who control their own resources are less vulnerable to being targeted because of their gender.


These 16 Days offer an opportunity to renew the commitment to freeing women from violence, whether the abuse occurs in the home behind closed doors, or in the open fields of armed conflict. Countries cannot progress when half their populations are marginalized and mistreated, and subjected to discrimination. When women are accorded their rights and afforded equal opportunities in education, healthcare, employment, and political participation, they lift up their families, their communities, and their nations – and act as agents of change. As Secretary Clinton recently noted, "Investing in the potential of the world’s women and girls is one of the surest ways to achieve global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for women – and men – the world over." Thank you for all you are doing in support of ending violence against women.