By Jerry P. Lanier
Violence against women touches Uganda just as it does every other nation. Gender-based violence is a global pandemic that cuts across all borders – ethnic, racial, class, religious, and educational level. It can threaten women and girls at any point in their life cycle – from female feticide, to inadequate access to education, healthcare and nutrition, to child marriage, sex trafficking, so-called “honor” killings, dowry – related murder, domestic violence, rape, and the neglect and ostracism of widows. Here in Uganda, 68% of women have experienced some kind of violence at the hands of their husband or partner. This is a real problem that needs to be addressed in order to build a more prosperous and stable future for everyone.
This year, as we once again take up the “16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence,” commencing on November 25 with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ending December 10 with International Human Rights Day, the international community must offer up more than words to answer the call to free women from violence. We must stand up to the impunity that too often leaves the most egregious perpetrators unaccountable for their crimes. We must redress the poor status of women and girls around the world which renders them undervalued and vulnerable. Further, we must support the inclusion of men and boys in addressing and preventing violence and changing gender attitudes, as well as acknowledging that males can also be victimized because of their gender.
Lastly, we must highlight and promote effective programs that are already successfully at work.
These 16 Days are a sobering reminder that gender- based violence has profound socio-economic consequences for all of society. It not only undermines the possibility of gender equality, it negatively affects women’s healthcare, education, and political and economic participation. The violent targeting of women is also used as a tactic of war, as was witnessed in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo in July, where rebel groups brutally raped 200 women and girls over the course of four days, just twenty miles from a UN peacekeepers’ base. When used in situations of conflict, sexual violence and rape often fuel the conflict and ravage entire communities, destroying the very fabric of society.
This year, the 16 Days Campaign comes on the heels of the 10th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, thus affording the international community an opportunity to bolster efforts to treat women not merely as victims of violence, but rather as agents of peace and reconciliation. The U.S. is taking the lead to reaffirm the goals set forth in this historic resolution; but more than that, the U.S. is putting forth specific actions countries can take to ensure women are at the table during peace negotiations. The only way to achieve our goals – to reduce the number of conflicts around the world, to eliminate rape as a weapon of war, to combat the culture of impunity for sexual violence, and to build sustainable peace – is to draw on the full contributions of both women and men in every aspect of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building.
The United States is also working with Uganda and other countries to define gender-based violence not as solely a woman’s issue, but one of international human rights and security. We are taking action on the ground, training peacekeepers on gender-based violence awareness and prevention activities, working with NGOs to ensure men’s engagement in preventing violence against women, and partnering with religious leaders of all faiths to incorporate these messages into their outreach. The economic empowerment of women is also integral to any sustainable approach to eradicating violence against women, as studies show that women who control their own resources are less vulnerable to being victimized because of their gender.
The Government of Uganda is doing more. Its recent National Development Plan gives more priority to Gender-Based Violence than previous versions and acknowledges that “domestic violence is recognized as a problem and actions are being taken to reduce it.” The United States of America stands behind Uganda’s commitment to reduce gender-based violence.
These 16 Days offer an opportunity to renew the commitment to freeing women from the nightmare of violence, whether the abuse occurs in the home behind closed doors, or in the open fields of armed conflict. Countries cannot progress when half of their population is marginalized and mistreated, and subjected to discrimination. When women are accorded their rights and equal opportunities in education, healthcare, employment, and political participation, they lift up their families, their communities, and their nations – and act as agents of change. As Secretary Clinton recently noted, “Investing in the potential of the world’s women and girls is one of the surest ways to achieve global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for women – and men – the world over.”
Jerry P. Lanier is the U.S. Ambassador to Uganda