Carla Koppell serves as Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at USAID

Today we launch our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

One young rape survivor in a camp for the internally displaced in Goma, a city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is one of the strongest people I have met since joining USAID as Senior Coordinator. She survived a vicious gang rape while collecting fuelwood in the surrounding forest. She only saw a doctor after receiving contributions to pay for treatment from fellow impoverished camp residents. She survives by selling dung briquettes—though she earns less than she did from fuelwood— because she is too afraid for her safety to go back to the forest for wood. She is still recovering.

Yet, she came to tell her painful story to me and other strangers. Why? Because she hopes that by talking with us, others might be kept safe. She is a victim and leader at the same time; she represents and speaks for millions of women and girls around the world who face abuse, discrimination and violence when they are beaten, married as children, circumcised, attacked with acid, or sold like cattle.

This week we launch the 16 Days of Activism for the Elimination of Gender Violence, which runs from November 25 to December 10. We must use this time to recognize the magnitude of the challenge. In the DRC, for example, a 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health estimates that some 1,150 women are raped every day. And one USAID-supported study found that Bangladesh sacrifices over 2 percent of GDP annually as a result of gender-based violence (GBV). The health care and legal costs, lost income and lost productivity are enormous. Yet even as we contemplate the numbers, we must not forget the individuals, the victims of violence, as well as the incredible male and female leaders—some of whom are survivors—that lead the campaign to end the epidemic.

USAID has greatly increased our focus to combating gender-based violence. This need is front and center in the Agency’s new Gender Equality and Female Empowerment policy (PDF). Additionally this past summer, the United States released its first ever Strategy for Preventing and Responding to Gender-Based Violence Globally (PDF), which incorporates action plans for our Agency as well as the State Department. USAID followed-up with a vision for ending child marriage and meeting the needs of married youth. At the same time, the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and accompanying USAID implementation plan include a more extensive focus on sexual violence in situations of state fragility triggered by conflict, humanitarian disaster, or political transition. USAID now truly has a comprehensive strategic vision and frame for addressing the many forms of GBV around the world.

While I am proud of the commitment implicit in the new policy frame, I am even more gratified to see expanded efforts on the ground. For example, a new commitment to combat child marriage was announced by our mission in Bangladesh in October; our mission in Pakistan incorporates GBV prevention efforts into education programs; our programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo have ramped up their focus on GBV prevention as part of several sector efforts; and in Afghanistan, USAID is focused on consolidating gains for women’s rights and opportunity. These efforts are emblematic of how our commitment to end gender violence is translating into action.

As our policies and strategies gain traction and implementation gains speed, we recognize a collective responsibility to ensure our mission translates into results around the world. I recognize a personal obligation to make sure that one woman’s story in the DRC was not told in vain.