USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Women

Mobilizing the U.S. Government to Protect and Empower Women and Girls

In October 2010, I was honored to be at the UN Security Council meeting where Secretary of State Clinton announced that the United States would prepare its own National Action Plan to implement commitments on Women, Peace and Security.   Having served on the UN Civil Society Advisory Group on Resolution 1325 and as an adviser to UNIFEM’s executive director, I saw this as an historic step in mobilizing the U.S. government’s efforts to protect and empower women and girls in the context of armed conflict.

Over the past year, I’ve been pleased to work with colleagues at the White House, State, Defense and other agencies – along with our civil society friends in the U.S. and in conflict-affected countries – to identify the concrete and measurable actions incorporated in the National Action Plan announced by the President today.

From experience in Angola, South Africa, Haiti, Central African Republic and beyond, I know first-hand the importance of empowering women to be catalysts for positive change in armed conflict and displacement scenarios, and ensuring their participation in peace negotiations and post conflict reconstruction and governance.

In particular, the systematic exclusion of women from the negotiation of peace agreements and implementing bodies is a principal reason why so many of these agreements ultimately fail and countries return to conflict.  Unless women are present, issues like accountability for past abuses, psycho-social support for victims of violence, restoration of health and educational systems, reintegration of displaced persons and refugees, and trafficking in persons are often inadequately addressed.     When the momentum for political reconciliation or military disengagement starts to wane, women who have viewed such peace processes as only for the benefit of the armed combatants have little incentive to press the parties to see these processes through to the end.

At USAID, we’ve already taken key steps to address these problems.  Every USAID project proposal must have a “gender impact statement”; we have a tough new anti-trafficking code for ourselves and our development partners; gender is incorporated as a cross–cutting priority for all our initiatives in food security, global health, climate change, democracy and governance, economic growth and humanitarian relief; and we have funded the participation of women in peace processes and reconstruction conferences around the world.  We also brought on a senior coordinator for gender equality and women’s empowerment – the remarkable Carla Koppell – who is working with Caren Grown, Sarah Mendelson and others to insist that gender is in our agency’s DNA.

I view these steps as the down payment on an “IOU” we owe to women faced with conflict around the world.  We look forward to working with host governments, civil society groups, partners, friends, and, most importantly, local women on the ground.  It is their wisdom and expertise we must rely on to succeed.  The guiding vision must be, “Nothing about them without them.”

Women Peace Builders – Conducting Foreign Policy Differently

It is with enormous pride that I witnessed the release of the first-ever United States National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. Publication of the plan serves as valuable recognition and acknowledgement of a critical new step in U.S. foreign policy, one that strives to hear, honor and amplify the female voices for peace in societies around the world.

Earlier this month, the Nobel committee recognized three women leaders by awarding them the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize— Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni activist Tawakul Karman. It was a watershed moment and an important message signaling that women have earned the right to be heard. At the same time, we must appreciate that those three women represent thousands of women and girls worldwide working non-violently to end war.

Many of these women have been striving anonymously to prevent and resolve war, and to reweave and rebuild communities torn by conflict. Included among them are the women of Afghanistan and Iraq who have advocated, protested, pushed and rallied to preserve and advance their rights despite violence and personal threats. Also to be recognized are the women of Cote d’Ivoire, who gave their lives for the cause of peace. And we must remember the historic contributions of women in Bosnia, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Northern Ireland, Sudan and myriad other countries in every corner of the world who have all struggled to return peace and prosperity to their societies and communities.

As I reflect on these women leaders, I recall my recent travels to Afghanistan as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, where I had the opportunity to speak with many of these exceptional women. In Afghanistan, the incredibly brave female members of the High Peace Council I met were striking in their determination to give women a voice in negotiations with insurgents. In the DRC, women victims of heinous sexual violence emphasized the need to tell their stories so that others would not suffer. In Rwanda, members of the White Ribbon Alliance reflected on their continuing efforts to help that nation recover from genocide.

Today is dedicated to the incredible women peace builders I have had the honor to work with for the last decade. We celebrate your contributions and look forward to working with you in the years to come!

For Mi Abuelita: Reflections on Child Marriage as a Form of Gender-Based Violence

Unequal gender norms limit a girl’s ability to make decisions that affect her social, economic, and physical wellbeing.  As the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence ends on International Human Rights Day, I’d like to reflect on a form of gender-based violence that is often overlooked: child marriage.  For more than 58 million women around the world, their disempowerment begins with this harmful cultural practice.

For the past 15 years, I’ve worked in the field of gender and international development. During that time, my work has focused on the relations between women’s empowerment, gender dynamics, and reproductive health.  My motivation for focusing on these links is not only professional; it is indeed very personal. My Peruvian grandmother was married when she was 16 years old. She was pregnant 14 times (10 children; 2 miscarriages; 1 stillbirth; and 1 infant death). My mother was her oldest child; I was her first grandchild.

I adored mi abuelita and greatly admired her strength; she became a widow at age 42 when her youngest child was 3 years old, took over the family photography business, and became the matriarch and axis of the family. But she suffered from poor health for many years, and passed away when I was 16.

Growing up, I heard many stories about her married life. Her husband was at least 15 years older; he had a daughter almost her age from an earlier relationship, which caused countless family conflicts over economic resources. I never knew my grandfather, but I knew that he drank a lot, was unfaithful, and often abusive—not physically, but in emotional and economic ways. When my grandmother tried to separate from him, he refused to give her any child support, which led to her infant’s death from malnutrition.

The sense of injustice I felt listening to these stories transferred over to my dedication to these issues; the more I learned about these intersections, the more I understood that my grandmother’s story is not a unique story. Gender-based violence, in all its forms, is a global phenomenon.

At USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health, we address the relations between gender and reproductive health, including child marriage, through programs that aim to empower girls/women, constructively engage boys/men as partners, and promote gender equality in a variety of cultural contexts. And I am proud to be part of these efforts.

November 29th was my grandmother’s birthday, and I honor her memory by continuing to work to change the gender realities that propel so many girls into child marriage.  I hope to continue to help raise global awareness about the ways in which child marriage is a violation of girls’ rights to social, economic, and reproductive empowerment, health, and well-being.

Combating Human Trafficking

As part of USAID’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence we wanted to share with you some information on an issue that the Congressional Women’s Caucus has been working on diligently to end across the globe: human trafficking.

According to Department of State estimates, roughly 800,000 people are trafficked across borders each year. If trafficking within countries is included in the total world figures, official U.S. estimates indicate that some 2 to 4 million people are trafficked annually.  On June 14, 2010, the State Department issued its 10th annual report on human trafficking.  We were pleased that members of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues got to sit down with Luis CdeBaca, the Ambassador-at-Large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons for the State Department, to discuss this report and the status of U.S. anti-trafficking efforts.

Part of this discussion included the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which combats sex trafficking and labor trafficking across the globe by increasing the penalties for traffickers and providing assistance for victims.   It is vital that we continue to revise this measure, ensuring the State Department has the authority needed to combat trafficking.

This reauthorization would increase monitoring on child labor within the United States.  It would also focus our assistance on the most vulnerable populations abroad, looking at post-conflict situations and humanitarian emergencies for those in need.  As this measure moves through the legislative process, the Women’s Caucus will provide input to strengthen our country’s ability to combat trafficking.  The victimization of women, children and exploited workers cannot be tolerated and Congress should continue to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

Addressing Sexual Violence in Conflicts and Disasters

Sexual violence often increases in conflict and disaster situations, typically exposing women and girls to increased threats of rape and assault, exploitation, and abuse. This happens because of population displacement, the absence of police, and the disruption of the normal social networks that protect women and girls. Therefore, when USAID provides humanitarian assistance, such as food, relief commodities, water, and shelter, to people who have been affected by disasters, we also work to reduce risks for sexual violence and to provide support for women and girls who have experienced violence.

I have seen the importance of this program response first hand. In June I traveled to Cote d’Ivoire with four of my colleagues to assess the humanitarian situation following the fighting that occurred there earlier in the year. We visited communities in the west and the north of the country, and also some of the neighborhoods around Abidjan where the fighting was most intense. We met women, children, and men who had fled their homes in the villages, many of them witnessing and experiencing violence themselves.

Although women do not tend to speak openly about sexual violence in Cote d’Ivoire due to fears about being stigmatized or feeling shame about what has happened to them, it was clear that many women and girls had suffered from sexual violence during the conflict. Humanitarian organizations, such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), conducted rapid surveys in the areas most affected by the conflict, finding high rates of sexual violence – and especially gang rape – between January and May of this year. However, because of the involvement of the police in the conflict, women and girls were afraid to contact the police and did not report rapes or seek support services.

Based on these findings, USAID funded humanitarian organizations like the International Rescue Committee to ensure that women and girls who experienced sexual violence could access a range of support services, such as medical care, counseling, and legal aid. Many of these services already existed in Cote d’Ivoire, but they stopped functioning when health clinics were damaged by the conflict and trained service providers fled to other parts of the country. USAID programs worked to re-start these services by training new service providers, restocking health clinics, and raising awareness within communities about the available services. In total, USAID provided more than $2 million for protection activities like these in Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia, where refugees from Cote d’Ivoire fled during the conflict. These funds supported IRC and other organizations to respond to sexual violence and child protection concerns and to offer psychosocial support for affected populations.

Although sexual violence is an ugly consequence of conflict and disasters, by providing safe, sensitive, and appropriate services for survivors, we can help them and their communities to recover and rebuild their lives.

The Price of Eggs

Caren Grown headshot.  Photo: USAID

Gender experts have been advocating for sex-disaggregated data and gender sensitive statistics for more than 25 years. The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action called for “reliable gender statistics to inform policies and programs and to assess progress and gaps.” While progress has been made, notable gaps remain, especially in the area of women’s economic empowerment. It is easier to find the price of eggs in a market in Tanzania or Guatemala than to find the extent of women’s ownership of land, housing and other productive assets relative to men, or women’s hourly wages in a retail store, or  whether a female entrepreneur was able to access debt or equity capital to start her business. You get the picture.

I am hopeful things will change with the new Evidence and Data for Gender Equality Initiative (EDGE), being launched today in Busan, Korea, at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.  This initiative, led by the United Nations Statistics Division and UN Women, will improve the availability and use of statistics that capture gender gaps in economic activity.

EDGE capitalizes on a call to action by Secretary Clinton at the May 2011 OECD Ministerial Session on Gender and Development, and builds on recommendations of the UN International Agency and Expert Group on Gender and Statistics to make the data that is collected on women and men in education, entrepreneurship and the labor market more comparable and useful.

EDGE will include two major activities.  First is the development of an online database for a harmonized set of indicators, including education, employment, and entrepreneurship.   Once the database is up and running, we will have a one stop shop for indicators – across developed and developing countries – on labor force participation rates for individuals ages 15-24 years old, and 15 and above by sex.  We’ll be able to determine the percent distribution of the employed population by sector and sex, the youth unemployment rate by sex, and the percent of firms owned by women.

Second, EDGE will support a set of common, pilot activities in a small number of partner countries to develop protocols and data collection methods for sex-disaggregated data on entrepreneurship and assets, two areas with large data gaps. The pilots will eventually result in routine collection by countries of data that we can use to compute firm entry, growth, and survival rates by sex, or the proportion of the population that owns land and houses by sex, and other measures.

With some political will, resources, and the harnessing of good technical minds, in the next five years we can report globally on how well women are faring relative to men in entrepreneurial activity and labor markets –  alongside the price of eggs.

Can you hear her now? Putting mobile phones in women’s hands

In the late 1970′s one of the major findings on Madison Avenue, (then the world capital of advertising) was that women control over 80% of all consumer purchases in the U.S. This ‘shocking discovery’ changed who and how companies marketed their products. I was just entering the workforce then and thought, ‘ how in the world could this have been such a surprise?’  Had none of them been to a grocery or department store?  Had none of them recognized that the one car family was becoming two and it was women doing the schlepping?

It is happening again. Only this time the stakes are much higher.  Cell phones have flown off the shelves and into the hands of people in the remotest and some of the poorest places on earth.  They are transforming the developing world and bringing incredible opportunities.

Yet, according to a Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and a GSMA study, three hundred million fewer women own them than men in the developing world.  If this gap isn’t closed women will be left out of not only the communication revolution but the opportunity to use the phone to make money, get information they need to stay healthy or to grow better crops, or to seek help. The industry association, GSMA, along with USAID, AUSAID and Visa Inc. said we are not going to let this happen on our watch. Today we are announcing a global public-private partnership to close the gap. And since we know for it to be sustainable without donor dollars, we are working with the mobile operators to build the business case for phone ownership by poor women.

For more information, please visit www.mwomen.org

The Economic Effects of Abuse Against Women

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Bangladesh to visit a USAID-supported project, the Cost of Violence Against Women. As we drove along the crowded streets of Dhaka, I noticed something very peculiar – there were only men everywhere I looked. Once I arrived at the hotel I was greeted by Julia Ahmed, the team leader for this project. Julia is an extremely enthusiastic and positive woman. As a trained medical doctor, she has been working in public health and development for the last decade.

Early the next morning the two of us left Dhaka and headed out to one of the project sites where Julia’s team was conducting a study that measures the economic cost of domestic violence against women. The moral imperative to end violence against women certainly can’t be understated, but for many policy makers, having data that ties this issue to the status of their nation’s economy helps them to make the case and justify the allocation of resources to combat it.

In addition to providing hard data on the economic ripple effects of brutality against women, this project is raising awareness among community members about the harms of domestic violence and helping them to understand the impact it can have on a family’s ability to generate income, save money and provide for children.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tears- How a Seasoned Journalist Became an Activist

Jimmie Briggs is the founder and Executive Director of the Man Up Campaign.

Seven years ago, I was a journalist covering the lives of war-affected children and child soldiers. In April 2004, I found myself in Rwanda for several weeks documenting the commemoration of the tenth genocide anniversary. Moving around the still-recovering central African nation, I visited prisoners who took part in the killing, as well as responders and survivors.

One day, I went to a shelter for war widows and victims of sexual violence. There, I met a young Tutsi woman whose parents had been killed, leaving her to care for two much younger siblings. She told me that she had been gang raped over a period of weeks by Hutu militiamen. She survived but with profound psychosocial trauma, and later discovered she was HIV positive. When we met, her body and mind were wracked from AIDS and she had little time left.. None of her siblings or surviving family knew she had the disease.

I sat with her for several hours to do an interview through a nurse who was providing translation from Kinyarwanda to French. Being with her provoked a reaction in me which I’d never had before, not even after years of covering conflict in places such as Colombia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, or the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the Intifada.

As this brave survivor graphically recounted the days of rape and physical abuse, along with the bitterness she carried from dying in silence, I started to cry. I cried as much from her tragic personal story, but also the surreal occurrence of me seeing my daughter in her face. At the time my daughter was only three years old, nevertheless I saw her image in this young rape victim in Rwanda.

The woman and the nurse were as shocked as I was. After all, I was a combat reporter and thought I had seen or heard every horrifying story in the human experience. I wasn’t afraid of much. The emotional armor was without dents.

Still, I broke down. After all the tragedies I’d seen and heard, hers was the one that really penetrated. I managed to collect myself, but I was never the same.  Afterwards I looked  back over every article, broadcast piece, and essay I’d done to that point and recalled the oppressed, abused, diminished women and girls whom I’d overlooked for the sake of the “bigger” story.

From that moment on, I knew that as a man, a father, and a son, I would never ignore or turn away from the individual wars women fight every single day.

16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence: What Do You Know About Gender Based Violence?

As USAID launches its observance of the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence (November 25th-December 10th), we hope to dispel myths. We want everyone to understand that gender based violence is more than simple physical violence. We want our whole community to appreciate the fact that men are a significant share of the victims. We aspire to create broader understanding that GBV has a significant economic cost in developed and developing countries alike. And we would like everyone to remember that while women are the large majority of the victims of GBV, they also are leading the fight to eliminate this global epidemic. We must all recognize that men and boys, and women and girls will need to work together to eliminate gender-based violence.

Started in 1991 by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is a world-wide campaign to raise awareness about gender-based violence and to encourage others to help eliminate GBV.  Because the first day, November 25, is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the last day, December 10, is International Human Rights Day, the 16 days highlights that gender based violence violates human rights.
This year’s theme— From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!—reminds us that conflict, in all its forms, influences peace and prosperity in the family, in communities, and in societies around the world. It also underlines that gender based violence can often flag instability and be a by-product of broader insecurity.

I encourage you, in Washington, DC and abroad, to take part in the important events planned for the next couple of weeks. Help us raise awareness of GBV and shine a spotlight on what men and women can do to combat GBV.

Visit 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence for more information.

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