Eqlima is a young girl from Afghanistan. She lived with an abusive father and stepmother who often beat her. They even set her hair on fire. She escaped to a U.S. State Department-supported women’s shelter. The staff helped move her away from her father and stepmother, and now is helping her move in with her older brother.
Stories like these are all too common. From beatings, to “honor” killings, to sexual violence as a tactic of war, from intimate partner violence to human trafficking-- the forms of gender-based violence are varied, but their scope, and their impact are devastating. Globally, an estimated one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
When women and girls are denied the chance to fully contribute to society because of the violence or fear they face, our entire world suffers. That’s why President Obama has made the treatment of women an essential part of our global vision for democracy and human rights. A key part of that effort is stopping violence against women and girls.
Last December, President Obama released the first ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security and signed an Executive Order directing the Plan’s implementation. This action signaled a key commitment of the Obama Administration: to put gender equality and the advancement of women and girls at the forefront of our foreign policy.
Today, I am proud to announce that the President has taken another important step to prioritize and protect the rights of women and girls. President Obama issued an Executive Order on Preventing and Responding to Violence Against Women and Girls Globally. The Executive Order requires enhanced coordination of the United States’ efforts through the creation of an interagency working group, co-chaired by Secretary of State Clinton and USAID Administrator Shah, designed to leverage our country’s tremendous expertise and capacity to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally as well as establish a coordinated, government-wide approach to address this terrible reality.
The Executive Order directs Federal agencies to implement a new strategy, developed by USAID and the State Department. The four objectives of the strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally are to: (1) increase coordination of gender-based violence prevention and response efforts among United States Government agencies and with other stakeholders; (2) enhance integration of gender-based violence prevention and response efforts into existing United States Government work; (3) improve collection, analysis, and use of data and research to enhance gender-based violence prevention, and response efforts; and (4) enhance and expand United States Government programming that addresses gender-based violence.
The Executive Order also requires that the work is evaluated in line with the Administration’s focus on data collection and research. Recognizing that this is a long-term commitment, the Executive Order directs the interagency working group to update or revise the strategy after three years. You can read more about the Executive Order here.
Our commitment to ending violence against women and girls is both a foreign policy priority and a domestic policy priority. The United States has made tremendous progress on violence against women and girls domestically since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994. Since the passage of the Act, annual rates of domestic violence have dropped by more than 60 percent.
As you all know, the Violence Against Women Act, something that should be above politics, is mired in just that on the Hill. The Senate passed a strong bipartisan bill three months ago. The House should take up the Senate bill so we can get this important bill to the President's desk. Women should not have to wait a day longer. As the Vice President has said, Congress should act now to protect women.
The Obama Administration is doing its part in the effort to end violence against women and girls In 2010, President Obama announcedunprecedented coordination across Federal agencies to continue our progress in reducing violence against women in the United States, and Vice President Biden has led the Administration’s efforts to reach teens and young women who are most at risk of dating violence and sexual assault. Most recently, President Obama and Vice President Biden appeared with star athletes in a public service announcement speaking out against violence and launched our 1 is 2 Many Campaign.
Globally, the President’s commitment is embodied throughout the Administration’s foreign policy efforts, from the President’s National Security Strategy; to the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development; to the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. Ultimately, the President and his administration’s goal is a world free from violence against women and girls.
But we realize that government alone cannot end this problem. That’s why the Executive Order directs agencies to deepen their engagement with a broader set of stakeholders, including civil society, grassroots, and international organizations, all of which are a vital part of the effort to end violence against women and girls.
Today’s Executive Order and new strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally provide a blueprint to guide our next steps in working towards this goal.
Together, we can help protect more women and girls like Eqlima from senseless violence, and give them the opportunity to advance and thrive, living without fear.
Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama.