Fifteen-year-old “Sabeen” and her family fled war-torn Syria and settled in a neighboring country. As a refugee, she was unable to attend school and had to work to help support her family. While walking home from work one afternoon, Sabeen was kidnapped, beaten, and gang raped by a group of men. The men then dumped her bloodied, naked body and drove away.
Often, survivors of gender-based atrocities are left with little help or hope. Fortunately, that is not how Sabeen’s story ends: a local man found Sabeen and took her to the police station. She and her family are now living in a secure location. Sabeen is receiving medical care and trauma counseling and is recovering a little more each day.
Sabeen is the first recipient of assistance from the Gender-Based Violence Emergency Response and Protection Initiative, a new project that the U.S. Department of State, Avon Foundation for Women, and Vital Voices Global Partnership are launching today at a Washington, D.C. summit. The rapid-response assistance will provide financial support to survivors of extreme forms of gender-based violence for medical, relocation and other related expenses. The funds will also be used to protect women from further abuse and help them begin to recover physically and emotionally.
While differences in culture, laws and resources make each country’s efforts to end gender-based violence unique, one challenge appears universal. Almost all countries have laws on the books that prohibit violence against women, but few of them actually implement those laws. The failure to enforce the laws leaves victims without protection and allows abusers to act with impunity.
That is why, together with the emergency assistance, this new initiative also includes a global gender-based violence training institute to promote a victim centered approach to holding offenders accountable for their crimes. Today, judges, prosecutors, members of law enforcement, elected officials, academics, and representatives from nongovernmental organizations from four countries – India, Mexico, Nepal, and South Africa – are attending the launch of the Institute on Gender-Based Violence: An Initiative of the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Women.
Some of the principles that we learned about prosecuting domestic and sexual violence in the U.S. can be incorporated around the world. For example, we know that victims are more likely to report crimes when police treat them with dignity and respect. Victims are more likely to assist in the prosecution of their abusers when they have access to life saving services such as shelter, protection, and counseling. And most of all, we know that the criminal justice system cannot solve these problems alone - they must collaborate with nongovernmental organizations in order to create a true safety net that protects current victims and prevents future ones.
The institute will enable delegate countries to share their campaigns addressing gender-based violence with leaders from other parts of the world and learn from each other. Judges, lawmakers, and other attendees will return to their countries, tailor programs to the challenges that are unique to their regions and cultures, and train their colleagues. Six and 12 month post-program evaluations will help participants follow through on prosecutions.
Around the world, one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way during her lifetime. Domestic violence is the most common form of violence against women worldwide: almost one-third of women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. Other forms of gender-based violence include human trafficking, sexual assault, including rape as a weapon of war, acid attacks, and harmful traditional practices, such as early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and “honor” killings.
We cannot promise that there will never be another atrocity like the crime Sabeen experienced. We can only promise that we will come to the immediate aid of survivors like her and do everything in our power to protect and support them.
We can only promise that we will help judges, prosecutors, and other decision-makers fully enforce the laws and separate the perpetrators of gender-based violence from the rest of society. If we keep these promises, we will show our daughters – whether they live in the U.S. or the developing world – that they are valued and have every right to pursue their highest aspirations.
Dyer is the vVice president of Human Rights at Vital Voices Global Partnership.