International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the 16 Days Campaign Against Gender-Based Violence

Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Video Statement
Washington, DC
November 21, 2011

As prepared for delivery

I’d like to talk to you today about a crisis that threatens all of us - one that no nation in the world is immune from.

In 1981, the United Nations first declared November 25 an international day to commemorate efforts to stop violence against women. In 1991, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University first called for a global campaign of "16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence" – the days between November 25 and International Human Rights Day on December 10. We mark these dates as bookends to remember that violence against women and girls is a horrific violation of human rights.

As then-First Lady Clinton said in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing: "women’s rights are human’s rights and human’s rights are women’s rights." And she went on to address a list of violations of women's rights, from domestic violence and human trafficking for sexual exploitation, to rape as a tactic of war, to female genital mutilation and dowry burning and more. And she said that each of these was a violation of human rights: not something marginal to human rights, not separate from human rights, but a violation of human rights. The conference sparked a movement around the world and the Platform for action that was adopted – an ambitious blueprint to protect women's rights and advance progress for women – is still our unfinished agenda. More and more people everywhere are working to combat gender-based violence, for it is a global scourge. Today, thousands of organizations and tens of thousands of individuals – women and men – in 156 countries have organized events around the 16 Days Campaign to redouble efforts to end violence against women wherever it takes place. This is our common cause.

Gender-based violence is a global pandemic that cuts across all borders. This is not just a women’s problem. Gender-based violence affects all of us – women and girls, men and boys.Last year for the 16 days, we focused on the theme of what boys and men can do to address and prevent violence against women and girls. Their role is critical; their efforts continue to be essential if we are to stop this violence.

This year we are are focusing on the terrible economic consequences of violence against women. It is not only a human rights or moral challenge – although it fundamentally is that, it also creates negative economic consequences and undermines productivity. It is a public health issue It is also a law enforcement issue – a matter of justice.

Violence against women and girls leaves all of our communities poorer. Businesses close, incomes shrink, families go hungry, and children grow up internalizing behavior that perpetuates the cycle of violence.

Try to consider the costs that injury and abuse incurs in medical and legal services. Try to calculate the costs of lost household productivity and reduced income when a woman can’t work because she is confined to a hospital bed. The effects of such costs are even greater in the many households in which a woman is the chief or sole breadwinner.

Many women work in “the informal economy,” maybe selling market goods or earning a living as domestic workers. As a result the costs are often hidden, even in plain sight, but the costs have a terrible toll.

Judicial, health and security services are all affected, and the violence is like a cancer eating at social and economic development. So just as every segment of society is affected by violence against women, every segment of society has an obligation to help stop it.

Strengthening the prevention and response to this crisis is of vital importance to the interests and overall foreign policy of the United States. As Secretary Clinton has declared – time and again, in all corners of the world – women drive economic growth. Women’s education is linked to increased national income and improved health. And women are essential agents of change in peace-building and conflict resolution. When women and girls aren’t protected, their ability to participate fully in the development of society is adversely affected.

Prevention, protection and prosecution are essential and we must add a fourth "P" as well: combating gender-based violence must be a priority.

Although investing resources in the prevention and prosecution of acts of aggression against women may cost money upfront, it pays enormous dividends in the long run. The U.S. adopted a Violence Against Women Act which strengthens efforts to stop these crimes, supports protection and prevention efforts and has been estimated to save more than $16 billion since enactment in 1994 in costs that stem from violence against women and girls.

Our work is far from done. We must end the impunity that too often leaves the most egregious perpetrators unaccountable for their crimes. Violence against women and girls is a crime, not something private or cultural. We must redress the the low status of women and girls around the world that renders them undervalued and vulnerable. We must support the inclusion of men and boys in addressing and preventing violence and changing gender attitudes, increase accountability and commitment by community and government leaders on this issue, as well as highlight and promote effective programs that are already successfully at work.

I am inspired by the efforts by so many women and men around the globe. As we recognize these 16 days, we must also remember to be vigilant for all 365 days of the year. Our embassies will be active partners in this effort. Some of you will be demonstrating to bring public attention to the need to end this violence; others will be working with different stakeholders, some will share their experiences on panel discussions – no effort is too small.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the 16 Days Campaign Against Gender-Based Violence offer an opportunity to renew the commitment to free women and girls from the nightmare of violence, whether the abuse occurs in the home behind closed doors, or in the open fields of armed conflict. Governments have an obligation to implement and enforce laws. No country can progress by leaving half its people behind. So thank you for all you have done and thank you for continuing our mission to ensure that no woman or girl has to live in fear. The consequences are simply too great for us to not act. Thank you very much.