Video Remarks on Call to Action on Protecting Women and Girls in Emergencies

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
November 13, 2013

Good afternoon.  I really do wish I could be there with you in person, because I have enormous respect for - and interest in - the work that’s bringing all of you together in London today.  We all know that the Call to Action on Protecting Women and Girls in Emergencies is important and long overdue:  We feel it with greater urgency every time we read the horror stories of human trafficking, rape in refugee camps – the list goes on and on.  So it’s clear that Secretary of State Greening is bringing this effort to the forefront at a time when the world needs that kind of leadership.  I’m also especially aware of my friend William Hague’s pioneering leadership in preventing sexual violence in conflict.  We are all grateful for the UK’s galvanizing of support on these issues.

Addressing gender-based violence is something that’s mattered deeply to me throughout my career.  When I was a prosecutor outside Boston in the 1970s, I was working to put people behind bars for rape and sexual assault when some people argued that rape couldn’t be proven in the court of law.  When I was in the Senate, I fought alongside then-Senator Joe Biden to support the Violence Against Women Act, and I later introduced and helped move through committee the International Violence Against Women Act.

Today, as Secretary of State, these issues are just as important to me.  And they’re also important to President Obama. Empowering women and girls has been at the center of his foreign policy agenda from Day One.  Like me, President Obama has two daughters and an extraordinary wife, so he knows as well as anyone that supporting women and girls is the right thing to do.  But we also know it’s the smart thing to do.  When women and girls are able to live free from the threat of violence, when they are empowered to realize their aspirations and move their communities forward – their societies benefit exponentially.

We’ve made tremendous progress in recent years – in the U.S. and internationally – but it’s still true that, in too many places, women and girls face horrific abuse, rape, and sexual assault.  And as we’ve seen recently in places like Syria and Mali, when emergencies strike and chaos erupts, the risks they face only increase.

That’s why the Call to Action is so important.  In times of emergency, protection against gender-based violence should be a critical part of international humanitarian aid.

It’s also why the State Department and USAID are proud to support our new Safe from the Start initiative.  This program will support international organizations like UNHCR and ICRC in their efforts to protect women and girls from the very start of an emergency.

I’m pleased to announce that the United States will lead the Call to Action in 2014. We look forward to continuing our work with all of you to anticipate violence, to prevent attacks, to care for survivors, and to ensure our outrage is matched by our action.  Thank you very much for your leadership, hard work, and commitment on these issues.  God bless.