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.
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.
Today, at the Pre-G20 Side Event: “Growing Economies Through Women’s Entrepreneurship,” co-hosted by the United States and the OECD, the US Treasury Department and the IFC, implementing partner to the G20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI), previewed the report “Strengthening Access to Finance for Women SMEs in Developing Countries,” (to be released in at the G20 Summit in Cannes on November 4) and USAID announced a new initiative to expand women’s leadership in the small and medium enterprise sector. The report and USAID initiative are significant for both laying out the challenges and identifying possible approaches to reducing gender gaps.
Caren Grown is a Senior Gender Advisor at USAID. Photo credit: Caren Grown/USAID
First, across countries, data show a gender gap in venture creation and business ownership, especially as firm size increases. It is difficult to draw solid conclusions, since the evidence base on women owned businesses is limited. Yet, based on existing data, the IFC reports that small and medium enterprises with full or partial female ownership represent 31 to 38 percent of formal firms in this sector. Women’s entrepreneurship is highly concentrated among smaller firms: they represent between 32-39 percent of the very smallest firms, 30-36 percent of small SMEs and 17-21 percent of medium sized companies.[i]
Filmmaker and philanthropist Abigail Disney Photo Credit: Oprah Magazine
On Tuesday, October 25th, the U.S. Institute of Peace, in collaboration with USAID, the Institute for Inclusive Security, and Vital Voices will host a discussion with Ambassador Swanee Hunt and USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg on the best ways to ensure a direct role for women in peace-building efforts worldwide. In addition, film producer Abigail Disney and film director Pamela Hogan will present their PBS documentary film, I Came to Testify, that describes how a group of 16 women from Bosnia, victims of the war’s systematic rapes, broke through political and societal silence by stepping onto the witness stand at an international tribunal.
We asked Abigail Disney to answer a few questions about why it’s critical for women to play a vital role in peace building around the world.
What is the goal of the Women, War & Peace series? What do you hope audiences take away from watching it?
We hope audiences will gain a nuanced, expansive understanding of women’s capacity to influence change and decision-making on the local, national, and global level. Moreover, we strive to show audiences what it means to be a peacebuilder. The women we follow are the embodiment of the idea that peace is a process, not an event—a verb, not a noun. The Indian diplomat Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit—the first woman President of the UN General Assembly—said that “the more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.” It’s our aim to show those who are sweating for peace. And it’s our goal to illustrate the ways in which women are already doing—and are poised to continue doing—this crucial work.
This is a guest blog from Wayne C. Tanaka, Esq, Legal Consultant at the Pacific Survivor Center and Dr. Nicole Littenberg, Medical Director at the Pacific Survivor Center. Views are not of USAID.
As global awareness about human trafficking grows, haunting images start to emerge in anti-trafficking campaign ads, documentaries, websites, and popular media portrayals. Understandably, we begin identifying trafficking with a narrative of chains, armed thugs, and helpless victims held under purely physical duress. Almost unconsciously, we see the issue as “bad guys” who must be punished, “good guys” who deliver such punishment, and helpless victims who need to be “rescued”. But human trafficking is not so simple; the phenomenon itself is as complex as it is pervasive, and once we start making innocent but simple assumptions that compartmentalize the phenomenon, the more likely that we will miss critical facts, dismiss relevant ideas, and stop asking the important questions.
For example, in the recent Aloun Farms labor trafficking case, Mike and Alec Sou’s defense attorneys emphasized that their alleged victims could have simply climbed a fence to “freedom” if they chose to. This approach spoke to a popularized narrative about human trafficking – one that requires physical restraints and violence for a “real” trafficking situation to exist. Those who work to address trafficking know that psychological coercion, socioeconomic and cultural exploitation, and legal vulnerabilities are very real tools used by traffickers to control their victims. But these ideas do not fit well into the narrative evoked by the defense. It’s a good legal strategy, which reflects weaknesses in the sensationalized trafficking narrative.
Another strategy employed by the defense attorneys was to play into a narrative popularized by anti-immigrant advocates. By repeatedly emphasizing the “entitlements” awarded to certified victims of trafficking, the attorneys appeared to suggest the farm workers were “illegal aliens” who were attempting to obtain green cards by framing their boss.
In this era of slow growth, high unemployment, and fiscal woes, investing in women is an economic imperative. Fortunately, this recognition has taken hold in several quarters.
Caren Grown is a Senior Gender Advisor at USAID. Photo credit: Caren Grown/USAID
At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit on Women and the Economy last week, Secretary Clinton argued that “by increasing women’s participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity, we can bring about a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies. Because when everyone has a chance to participate in the economic life of a nation, we can all be richer.” APEC adopted a Declaration that, for the first time, affirmed each member economy’s commitment to improving women’s access to capital and markets, building their capacities and skills, and supporting the rise of women leaders in the public and private sectors.
At the United Nations General Assembly this week, the U.S. Government is hosting an event that recognizes women’s paid and unpaid roles in food security – from planting crops, to caring for livestock, to processing and storing food, to preparing meals for family consumption. Women farmers are up to 30 percent less productive than male farmers, not because they work less, but because they have less access to fertilizer, tools, training, and especially land. And they have much less time to farm because they do most of the household work. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization calculates that closing the resource gap could increase the yields of female farmers by 20 to 30 percent, which could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5–4 percent and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 150 million.
In many societies, maintaining family and personal honor is integral to upholding cultural norms. The burden of upholding such honor codes weighs more heavily on women and girls. In countries such as Iraq, programs designed to combat human trafficking must address severe cultural stigmas about honor in conjunction with protection and prosecution efforts.
Female victims of sex trafficking are often detained and charged with prostitution. They generally spend six months incarcerated before their cases are heard. Photo Credit: Kamaran Najm/ Metrography
Vian* was 14-years old when her neighbor Ahmed, an 18-year old police officer, persuaded her to have a relationship with him by promising to marry her. Their relationship only lasted a short period before Ahmed ended things, threatening Vian that he would kill her if she told anyone about them. When Vian’s father became suspicious, he beat her and demanded to know if she was in a relationship. Fearing for her safety, because the relationship, if discovered, would damage her family’s honor, Vian asked for Ahmed’s help in running away. Ahmed tried to take Vian to Iran, but she escaped by taxi to another city to look for her friend’s house. The taxi driver drove her to a brothel where Vian was forced into prostitution. Several months later the police arrested and detained her and charged her with engaging in prostitution. Once in jail, Vian learned she was pregnant.
Iraqi women and girls are expected to uphold the honor of the family and tribe by adhering to rigid sexual and social norms. Though not an exhaustive list of reasons, common breaches of these norms include perceived or real actions such as premarital sex, adultery, divorce or exercising freedom of choice in selecting a marriage partner. Honor related violence is widely viewed by Iraqi society and the law as justified when it’s in response to what is deemed immoral behavior. Retribution takes the form of ‘honor’ killings, forced marriage – including to rapists, – and severe restrictions on the mobility of women and girls.
Last Friday, Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg joined Dr. Katherine Hicks, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Forces at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) for its “Women and War” symposium on peace and security in the second decade of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. Jointly hosted by USIP and the Peace Research Institute-Oslo (PRIO), the event also marked the release of the book Women & War: Power and Protection in the 21st Century.
The edited volume is a trans-Atlantic collaborative effort to highlight innovative approaches toward ensuring greater participation of women at the negotiating table, and the ways in which women will make a difference in the security arena over the next decade. In 2000, the United States supported the adoption of UNSCR 1325 as a call to action for governments around the world to increase women’s participation in matters of international security and strengthen their protection in times of conflict. As part of President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s commitment to develop a National Action Plan that outlines U.S. support for women as key enablers of peace and stability in countries affected by conflict, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg talked about his contribution to the book and highlighted a few aspects of the progress USAID is making in developing that plan.
As an Agency, USAID is combining initiatives and programs with actions that institutionalize a gender perspective into the way we do business. We’re incorporating programmatic as well as administrative goals that are Specific, Measurable, Additive, fully Resourced, Time-bound, Evidence-Based and Responsive (SMARTER). In addition to comprehensively addressing the key objective areas outlined by UNSCR 1325– including participation, prevention, protection, and relief and recovery, we’re implementing Agency policies, training, and personnel policies that allow us to respond more effectively to the needs of women and girls in conflict-affected countries. “It’s about monitoring and evaluation, accountability and measurement. It’s not just measuring the inputs and outputs, but the outcomes” stated Steinberg.
DA Steinberg further discussed how gender equality and women’s empowerment is critical to achieve our development and humanitarian assistance objectives. In conflict and crisis situations, it is a challenging but vital imperative to work toward protection and power for women and girls—protection from sexual violence and gender-based violence, that harms individuals, families, and entire communities, and empowerment, that promotes women’s participation at the negotiating table and in rebuilding conflict-affected communities. “It’s not just a question about bringing more women to the table, but how we make that process work more effectively.” He stressed a critical shift in how we evaluate our own staff to value inclusive leadership – “drawing in others agencies and government but also reaching out to all the communities out there – most prominently the 50% of the population who is normally excluded from the development dialogue.”
In a speech at Ahfad University for Women in Omdurman, Sudan, on April 9, USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg announced a new USAID global grant initiative to increase women’s participation in peace processes. Grants of up to $2 million each, totaling up to $14 million, may be made available for projects that support UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which calls for women’s involvement in all aspects of peace and security, recognizing their leadership in peacemaking, and ending sexual violence in conflict.
“We all know that when social order breaks down, it is women who suffer most,” said Steinberg, who visited the university during a three-day visit to northern and southern Sudan. “But we have to reject the vision of women as victims. Women are not victims. Women are the key to building just and lasting peace, stable and prosperous economies, and vibrant civil societies.”
The new program provides funding for female negotiators and mediators to fully participate in peace processes, taking into account their potential need for assistance with child care, transportation, accommodations, and security.
Steinberg said USAID will continue to assist people throughout Sudan, as the largest country in Africa prepares to divide into two nations July 9, following the overwhelming vote of southern Sudanese in January to secede and form an independent country.
In Juba, Steinberg visited Juba Port, where thousands of Sudanese have returned from the North to their areas of origin in the South. Since October 30, more than 307,000 Sudanese have returned from northern to southern Sudan and the “Three Areas” along the north-south border (Abyei, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile). Steinberg learned about the challenges returnees face, including scarcity of livelihood opportunities and access to basic services such as water, education, and health care.
One widow with eight children told Steinberg she has no family members living in the south and didn’t know where she and her children would go or who would help them. Staff with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) indicated that returnees in such situations qualify for UNHCR’s vulnerable assistance program that provides help with immediate needs such as transport and emergency shelter. USAID staff in Juba planned to follow up with UNHCR on her case as an example of how returnees are assisted.
After a one-hour prop plane ride from Kathmandu, followed by an 11-hour rocky drive through the stunning hills and valleys of Mid-Western Nepal’s upper hilly region, our team reached Salyan District’s remote and rural villages. We were there to video the successes of the USAID-supported, 50,000-strong Female Community Health Volunteer project. Working in every district of Nepal, these volunteers are often the only health care providers in such remote and isolated villages.
Female Community Health Volunteers of Marke District, Nepal, work to enhance health awareness, improve health standards, and save lives throughout their communities by utilizing the training they’ve received through the USAID-supported Nepal Family Health Program. Photo Credit: Gregg Rappaport/USAID
I’ve spent the last several days traveling with our group comprised of health specialists, program managers, and communicators (Gregg Rapaport, Senior Communications Manager, and Stuti Basnyet, USAID/Nepal) videoing, interviewing, listening and learning. The stories are nothing short of amazing, and the volunteers’ passion to fulfill what they consider a calling to serve their communities has been inspiring.
It’s been humbling to hear the stories of these dedicated volunteers giving care under arduous circumstances and to meet the many villagers seeking care – a health volunteer who recently saved a newborn baby’s life minutes after delivery; another who has committed more than 22 years to serving her community through this project; a group of women who, in the last six months, have counseled more than 85 couples on family planning; a man seeking care for severe knee problems who arrived in the village on a stretcher after traveling nearly two hours, carried high above the heads of his four nephews. These volunteers are changing the behavior of their villages, increasing awareness to improve health standards, and most importantly, saving lives. Of the 500 local children checked for pneumonia in the last six months, 73 were treated with antibiotics, 13 were referred to higher level health care at the district level, and all have made a full recovery.
One woman I spoke with, Laxmi Sharma, a volunteer in Salyan’s Ward 4, said that it’s not a matter of money, but rather a matter of helping her community. “We do this as volunteers,” she explained, “because we can improve the health of our communities.” The women play a crucial role in providing vitamin A supplementation, immunizations, family planning education, safe motherhood interventions, and community-based integrated management of childhood illnesses, particularly in the detection and treatment of pneumonia and diarrhea – Nepal’s top two childhood killers.
With support from USAID and other donors, Nepal is also one of only a handful of countries poised to meet more than one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in health by reducing the number of maternal and child deaths by nearly half in only 10 years! A remarkable achievement alone, that it was realized at the end of the nation’s prolonged 10-year internal conflict makes it even more profound.
Our return trip back through the town of Dang this afternoon was marked by a rather serendipitous event – hundreds of women, men, and children marched in solidarity to celebrate the global 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. One woman I spoke with explained, “Through this (march) forum … we can work to ensure women have equity, empowerment, and are at the center of mainstream politics. If all the women come together, this is something that is achievable, we just need to work at it.”
Around the world today, millions of people will flood the streets in their hometowns to voice their enduring support for the advancement of women and girls as key leaders in the creation of a better world. As new ideas and innovative ways are introduced, USAID/Nepal continues to incorporate these pioneering initiatives in its program design, placing women and girls at the forefront of building the country’s peace and prosperity.
But USAID/Nepal is not only working in the health sector – it is also leading the way in partnership with the Nepalese people to finding solutions to the toughest challenges to driving economic progress, promoting educational opportunities, promoting political stability, sustaining the environment, and feeding the population.
The Education for Income Generation Activity has trained more than 65,000 disadvantaged youth from the Midwestern region—the most conflict affected and one of the poorest regions of Nepal—in basic and business literacy, vocational training and agriculture productivity and enterprise development in the last three years. Of these, 7,900 youth received vocational training with 80% gainfully employed as a result of the training.
Through the Women’s Leadership Academy program, USAID has provided training on the fundamentals of democratic politics and constitution drafting to over 200 elected women parliamentarians and civil servants, providing them with the tools needed to draft the constitution and participate fully in party and parliamentary proceedings.
We know that supporting investment in women and girls can be compelling force multiplier for development and innovation. At the heart of Nepal’s advancement, women will continue to advocate on behalf of their communities, and promote advancements in education, economic growth, politics, climate change, and initiatives to improve access to food. USAID/Nepal will continue to move this agenda forward, and advance this priority by standing in solidarity with by the women and girls of Nepal.