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Progress Toward a World Without Violence Against Women and Girls

Originally posted to the White House Blog

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 announced unprecedented 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.

Photo of the Week: Secretary Clinton visits Malawi

Secretary Clinton With the Lumbadzi Milk Bulking Group in Malawi Dairy farmer Margaret Chinkwende explains her work to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Martin Banda of USAID in Lilongwe, Malawi, August 5, 2012. Photo Credit: State Department

Secretary of State Clinton visits farmers at Malawi’s Lumbadzi Milk Bulking Group. Dressed in locally produced “chitenge”, she joined the farmers in a dance to celebrate successful growth in the dairy sector. Chitenge are highly valued cultural depictions of special events in Malawi.

During her visit, the Secretary noted that with U.S. support, Malawi’s dairy sector has grown, with milk production up 500 percent, and announced ongoing commitment to support agriculture in Malawi. Through Feed the Future, President Obama’s global hunger and food security initiative, the U.S. is supporting growth in the agricultural sector to help reduce poverty and undernutrition.

Read more about Secretary Clinton’s visit to Malawi.

USAID in the News

Weekly Briefing (7/30/2012 – 8/3/2012)

July 31: In a Huffington Post blog entry, Josh Harris of International Medical Corps UK discussed a collaborative project with USAID in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the organizations are using soccer to teach teen girls lessons about peace and change attitudes on violence. In a region at the center of one of Africa’s most brutal conflicts, girls are at particular risk for sexual and gender-based violence, and the soccer camps are an opportunity to build community and reach a wide audience with information about women’s rights and resources.

August 2: The Gadling travel blog featured an interview with USAID Foreign Service Officer David Thompson. In the interview, Thompson discussed his career in the Foreign Service and what it’s like to live in eight countries in 15 years, including Albania, Honduras, and Afghanistan. “It’s an incredible life,” he said of his career with USAID. “If you’re going to be in international development, being with AID is a home. … I’m constantly learning and that’s really exciting.”

August 2: The Hartford Guardian ran an article about the Global Diaspora Forum, which took place in Washington, D.C., on July 25 and 26. The forum, hosted by USAID and the State Department, convened more than 500 U.S. residents representing 50 countries, creating an environment for engagement and collaboration among diaspora groups. The event brought together leaders of diaspora communities, U.S. government officials, and private-sector stakeholders, among many others, with a focus on increasing diaspora philanthropy, volunteerism, and entrepreneurship.

Major League Soccer Envoys Bring Olympic-size Excitement to Camp in Eastern Ethiopia

Aug. 12 is International Youth Day, and this year’s theme is “Building a Better World by Partnering with Youth.” As an intern with USAID’s Outreach Program in Ethiopia, I recently spent a week working with 560 young people between ages 13 and 20 doing just that. I helped the U.S. Embassy’s Cultural Affairs Team run a weeklong soccer camp co-sponsored by Sports United and featuring two sports envoys from Major League Soccer: Tony Sanneh and Kate Markgraf.

The State Department’s sports diplomacy program sends American athletes around the world to transcend differences by engaging people with a shared passion for a sport. Forty-four percent of Ethiopia’s population is under the age of 15, so youth development is an integral part of Ethiopia’s development. When asked why he does sports diplomacy, Sanneh, a retired Los Angeles Galaxy player, said, “If kids can learn to stand in line, learn the rules of the game, it translates to the classroom and society.”

Growing up in the United States, I went to summer camp with that American notion of “roughing it.” At this camp however, the participants, coaches and volunteers came from Harar, Dire Dawa and Jijiga, areas of eastern Ethiopia that are susceptible to ethnic and religious tensions. Three hundred and fifty campers were Muslim, and 210 were Christian.

As world attention turns to the London 2012 Summer Olympics, Ethiopian girls were coached and inspired on a daily basis by Markgraf, a three-time Olympian with two gold medals and one silver.  Markgraf remarked on her experience at the camp, saying, “The great thing about soccer is that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what color you are, what gender you are, it brings us all together.”

After the soccer clinics, the Embassy’s cultural attaché, Jason Martin, and staff led daily discussions on social values, peer pressure, American history and good environmental practices. At night the kids would compete as much as they did on the field during the day, dancing to popular Ethiopian music.

On the last day, I asked a girl from Harar named Leyman Jirb Mume if she had had fun, and she said: “I am so happy that I was able to come to this camp and make friends from Jijiga and Dire Dawa. I would never have been able to do that without this program; it makes me so happy.”

For my part, I learned what “roughing it” really means. In addition to braving the scorching heat, many at this camp were very poor, but that didn’t dampen their enthusiastic participation: Some boys and girls even played in flip-flops or barefoot. Markgraf marveled at the level of excitement over soccer balls donated by USAID, saying:  “I think my most memorable experience has been seeing the excitement of the kids when they come off the bus and they each have a soccer ball to play with. We take that for granted in the U.S., but [here] it is something to have an inflated ball that is brand new; that excitement is something I have never seen.”

Timor-Leste Administers Own Elections

On July 7, I went to the polls—along with my fellow citizens of Timor-Leste—to participate in a notable election:  not only did we elect a new parliament for the second time in our young country’s history, but we also voted in general elections that for the first time were managed and run entirely by Timorese institutions. As was widely anticipated, the elections were peaceful and the turnout was high, at about 75 percent.

My country’s independent conduct of free and fair elections demonstrated our government’s commitment to further consolidating our still-young, but vibrant democracy. I am proud that Timor-Leste was able to achieve this milestone just 10 years after the restoration of its independence.

As a Foreign Service National working with USAID, I am also proud about what this election demonstrates about USAID’s efforts to promote sustainability and local ownership in our programs. For the past 10 years, USAID has laid the groundwork for this day by supporting Timor-Leste in developing robust democratic institutions and processes. That work paid off on July 7.

Several Timorese institutions deserve credit for the successful Election Day—namely, the National Electoral Commission and the Technical Secretarial for Elections Administration, which administered the electoral processes. The National Police maintained security and tranquility not only on Election Day, but also during the periods before and after the election.

Although the elections were administered without international assistance, the Timorese government and public did welcome international observers. USAID funded a team of 20 international observers who covered every district throughout the country. Through the International Republican Institute (IRI), we also provided training to 1,700 domestic observers—members of a local non-governmental organization, the Observatorio da Igreja Para Os Assuntos Socials (OIPAS)—who were successfully deployed to every polling station across the country.

Before the election, USAID funded civic and voter education activities that familiarized voters with the elections procedures and processes and helped them to better understand the different platforms and programs proposed by the parties and coalitions competing in the election. And three weeks before the election, USAID deployed a separate team of observers to assess the pre-election atmosphere.

Timor-Leste’s successful elections are indeed a feather in the cap of my country. They are also a great example of what happens when USAID’s development programs work as they should, by strengthening the ability of local actors to carry out important work on their own for the long term.

Video of the Week: Abby Wambach named USAID Development Champion

Today we announced that U.S. Olympic soccer star Abby Wambach will serve as the agency’s first-ever Development Champion. In this role, Wambach will raise awareness of the work USAID is undertaking to improve the lives of young women and girls through sport around the world.

Watch this video for a special message from Abby recorded before she left to London to compete as part of the U.S. Women’s Olympic Soccer Team.

Learn more about USAID’s work using sport for development.

Thinking Across Borders in Southeast Asia

Earlier this month, I traveled to Cambodia to join Secretary Clinton at the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Ministerial meetings where we launched “LMI 2020” – a deepening of the United States’ commitment to  Southeast Asia through a set of new activities aimed at strengthening regional coordination on development challenges facing the Lower Mekong region. 

“LMI 2020” seeks to advance knowledge and understanding of the environmental and health implications of economic and infrastructure development along the Mekong River, one of the most bio-diverse fresh-water ecosystems on the planet, as well as to strengthen the capacity and coordination of government, civil society and academic/research institutions in the region on these issues.  These new assistance programs support the LMI pillars of environment, education, health and connectivity which are co-chaired respectively by Viet Nam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.  But one of the most exciting outcomes was the formal welcome of Burma as a full participant in the Lower Mekong Initiative and the adoption of a fifth pillar on Agriculture and Food Security that Burma will co-chair.

The Lower Mekong Initiative was launched in 2009 as a framework for addressing the transnational challenges posed by infrastructure development along the Mekong River and a way to share information and analysis and to improve coordination amongst the countries in the region as well as donors.  Hence a parallel effort, bringing together the “Friends of the Lower Mekong” (FLM) around the table with the Mekong countries, has also become a critical way of aligning programs and policies.  I was struck by how far our partnerships under the LMI framework have progressed in the three years since it was launched. LMI partners now regularly discuss challenges with each other, at the highest political levels as well as in technical working group meetings, on issues such as the impact of proposed hydropower projects on the main stem of the Mekong River, or the need to coordinate to fight emerging pandemic threats.

After several days of productive meetings in Phnom Penh surrounding the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial meetings, I then traveled to Siem Reap  to participate in  the Lower Mekong Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy Dialogue, which USAID co-hosted along with the State Department and the Royal Government of Cambodia’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs to highlight the role of women in the fostering sustainable development in the Mekong region. Secretary Clinton gave an inspiring speech on women’s rights as workers and the need to ensure opportunities for all girls and women. USAID has committed to support women leaders in the region to build a network to address critical transnational issues, such as environmental resources management.  Listening to the dynamic and vibrant women participants at the conference, it was clear to me that the potential in the region to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth could not be achieved without the full and active participation of women.

For more information, see the fact sheets on LMIthe Asia Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative (APSEI) and more at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/index.htm

Latest Issue of USAID Newsletter

USAID logo and Impact Newsletter header

This week’s Impact newsletter features coverage of USAID participation in the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., the 2012 Global Diaspora Forum, the response to famine in the Horn of Africa, and a link to the latest issue of FrontLines.  You can also see recent media coverage in the USAID in the News section.

Stay connected with USAID by signing up for the Impact Newsletter.

Mexican Diaspora Leader Gives Back Green

The Impact Blog interviewed Luis Aguirre-Torres, CEO of GreenMomentum and recipient of the White House’s Champion of Change award. He partners with USAID in his homeland of Mexico to help foster green companies. 

You have been extremely successful in helping companies become green, why is it important for you to give back to your native country of Mexico?

After several years of living abroad, I found myself in a position to give back to the country that gave me an education and inspired me to continue moving forward. I have a personal believe that the future is something we work towards and not something that simply one day magically appears. Before I always imagined a better future than what the present turned out to be; today, I understand that the future will only be different if we take an active role in making it happen. What better place to reinvent the future than my country of origin.

What is the Cleantech Challenge and how did it come about?

The Cleantech Challenge was originally conceived as a green business plan competition. However, today it has become an open forum for investors, entrepreneurs, government and development agencies to share ideas on how to develop clean technology, how to finance it and how to accelerate its implementation. It was first conceptualized after a conversation with the Director of the UNEP a few years ago, when he challenged me and my team to do something different that could impact the Mexican economy. A few weeks later, the Cleantech Challenge was born.

What would a surge in green companies in Latin America mean for the region?

We are currently seeing a surge in green companies in Mexico. This has been echoed by other countries like Colombia, Chile and Argentina, among others. For all these countries, it represents an opportunity to become part of the world’s new green economy. As it has happened in other countries, it could also lead to a surge in investment opportunities and the development of new government policies. This could accelerate economic growth through the creation of new business and job opportunities, having therefore a direct impact on the competitiveness of the region as a whole.

Do you think Latin America faces unique challenges regarding greenhouse gas emissions compared to the rest of the world?

Latin America faces a series of challenges regarding climate change. It has to develop new and more reliable mechanisms for financing the implementation of adaptation and mitigation programs. Specifically, it has to find a way of fighting climate change without negatively impacting economic growth and increasing the region’s competitiveness.

The White House just honored you with a Champion of Change award, what does this mean for you?

This has been a great experience. I feel humbled and forever grateful to those who from the beginning believed in this project. The recognition from the White House means the world to us, not only because it validates our efforts during the past four years, but also because it has allowed us to share it with the American people and the rest of the world. It has inspired me to continue working and to work towards newer and bigger things.

To read more, visit the White House’s Champions of Change webpage.

Ask the Expert: Administrator Shah on the AIDS fight

Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 8,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.

Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 8,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.

Originally published at Global Pulse, by John Donnelly and Charles M. Sennott.

Q: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced this week that the administration would be put together a blueprint in five months for an “AIDS-free generation.” She first announced this vision eight months ago. Why does it take 13 months to put together a plan?

A: Let’s start with the goal. We were all very committed to create an AIDS-free generation. … We want to take a very honest and rigorous approach. We know it will require resources. We know it requires a great deal of local knowledge and development insights to say which communities are transmitting the most, how are we going to reach them, how do you reach people who are not as symptomatic? And what are the implementation strategies that are going to allow us to target and maximize outcomes against this goal?

We are trying to step through that in a very rigorous way. We are not holding anything up by doing that analysis. We’re embarking on an aggressive scale up of treatment, of prevention, of country ownership, of investing in country systems, even as we craft a blueprint that completely guides this country and our global partners for sometime in the immediate future.

Q: Is there a need for a blueprint, and is there wisdom in waiting for the results from the HIV combination prevention trials, which will test different approaches to reduce infections all at once?

A: The HIV combination prevention trial in Tanzania is particularly important because that’s probably the largest scale among them. It’s going to add a great deal of knowledge and data. But the reality is the pathway that defines success is going to look different based on the unique characteristics of the pandemic in countries and in communities. We need to do those trials and learn from them. We also are moving ahead with the aggressive presumption that combination prevention, including treatment as prevention, can be an effective strategy to get to an AIDS-free generation.

Q: Regarding male circumcision, you’ve had some problems in creating demand, such as what you’ve seen in Swaziland. What approach do you use now?

A: We need to apply more local insight, partnership with local institutions, better understanding of local behaviors and cultural preferences in how we scale up male circumcision programs. It is a medical intervention that has lots of data to substantiate its efficacy, but it is also a very personal and very significant cultural statement that we even in the United States in parts of our country debate and struggle with.

The big lesson learned is to take a little bit of time to be consultative with local partners who really know and are from the cultures in which we hope to scale up access to the intervention. I think we are working in the context of an aggressive scale up of male circumcision.

Q: The closing of the Global Health Initiative office ended the original dream of moving GHI to USAID. Are you disappointed that the dream didn’t materialize?

A: I kind of focus on what works and what doesn’t work, and what’s necessary to achieve our goals at a particular time. Our administration has set three critical health goals for our work: an AIDS-free generation; child survival call to action and eliminating preventable childhood death; and the virtual elimination or significant reduction of mothers who die in childbirth.

But what we learned in order to achieve them, we can’t have the current situation, where the US is keeping its funding constant in a tough global economy, but others are doing a little bit less. We know we need to have more focus and a more integrated approach. In the call to action we bring together malaria, preventing infections from mother to child, nutrition during the first 1000 days, GAVI and other immunization, and therapy for pneumonia and diarrhea. Let’s think of these as a combination approach to achieve the results of saving 5.5 million kids.

I know from my conversations with the president and the secretary that that’s their expectation — we are delivering on that. So, you know, the organizational structuring of it evolved in order to take on these goals and to address these challenges that were in our midst. Remember, GHI was launched before funding challenges existed both for US and abroad, and I think this is responsive to the reality of what’s needed.

Q: But GHI was perceived as the signature global health program of the Obama administration.

A: Just because we don’t have a Global Health Initiative coordinator at the State Department anymore doesn’t mean we don’t have a Global Health Initiative. We believe this structural approach will be more effective in delivering the kind of integration across services that we think is at the crux of getting health outcomes for the same resources, which is what GHI is about. It is true: We had a structure, we didn’t think it was the right structure to deal with the challenges going forward. We made changes to that, but we are absolutely committed to the GHI, to the goals we’ve established and to the concept of integrating service delivery to drive better results.

Q: At a panel at the Kaiser Family Foundation, Mike McCurry called on the Obama administration to articulate one clear global health goal – not three or five. But one. What do you think of that?

A: Mike was dead right. We got to this point by focusing on immunization, focusing on getting malaria bed nets to kids, focusing on HIV/AIDS. We still need to do that. But going forward, as Mike suggested, we need integrating concepts, concepts that people can be inspired by, that are operational and real, but that bring things together so that we are not competing with each other and instead grow enthusiasm for the overall effort.

That’s what the call to action for childhood survival was all about. You see 80 countries show up in the Washington meeting, co-hosted by India, Ethiopia and the United States. Fifty-six countries signed a pledge to eliminate preventable childhood deaths. Probably 20 some have already published scorecards to demonstrate how they are going to measure that. The US agencies and others have all agree to highlight the annual rate of reduction in childhood deaths as an operational metric to focus on across all of our grants. That’s the kind of coming together around something big, inspiring, and very genuinely country driven that I think will define success in the next decade for global health.

Q: Why did the call to action work then?

A: I don’t know the analysis, I just know the answer to the question. It’s somehow the energy is coming from the countries. We had a mid-level delegation from Yemen come to the Washington meeting, and they were so inspired that when they got back, when I got to Yemen the next week, the president of Yemen and deputy health minister both approached me and said, ‘We want to be part of this call to action. We looked to our statistics, we feel we can do better.’ When that happens, and that’s the demand signal we’re getting, that to me is what this should all be about, as opposed to our trying to construct something that then we ask others to respond.

Q: The phrase ‘turning point’ is used a lot when it comes to the AIDS epidemic. Do you use that phrase, and if so, why is it a turning point?

A: Well, the pandemic, the turning point, my understanding, the way I use it, is to refer to a specific moment when the number of global new infections is lower than the number of people added to treatment. Every year after that, you are reducing the number of people with the disease. We are not there. We are still in situation where the aggregate number of people with the disease is growing, so the turning point is a very important concept because once you hit that point you are on the decline and you can legitimately say we’re working statistically downhill toward zero. But the drivers of the turning point are what’s critical. That’s where you see that expanding prevention in a focused way that reaches the most transmitting populations is critical to achieving the turning point. And expanding efforts that effectively reduce risky behaviors so that you don’t have another turning point, and go back up again, are all critical to solve AIDS over the long term. So I think it’s a very viable concept.

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