Ambassador Verveer on Gender-based Violence

July 25, 2012

MS. GIBSON: I’d love to hear from you about what the State Department is doing with respect to gender-based violence, specifically.

AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Let me first of all say I have never seen a more extraordinary profile of from pain to power as Mandisa represents. So thank you so much for making that transition and saving so many other girls in the process. This is a really difficult topic, because it is a global pandemic. It is one that extracts a tremendous toll. You saw one example of it. And when it comes to HIV/AIDS, the risk of HIV for women is three times greater for those who have been subjected to sexual gender-based violence. And we have to do a better job, in my view, of connecting this issue, which is sometimes siloed, sometimes isolated, sometimes pushed to the side from the bigger discussions that we have. And I’m glad we’re discussing it tonight for that reason, because it’s a very serious public health issue along with all of the other negative consequences that we see from it.

Adolescent girls are extremely vulnerable, and just as listening to Mandisa now, I remember several years ago being with a group of young women from different countries in Africa who had come together, and they discussed how vulnerable they are every waking moment of their lives and even when they’re not awake – in school, at home, walking from place to place and what they have to do to protect themselves and to be safe and really to conquer this evil that is all around them. And I think the kinds of interventions that can be made to help adolescents to ward that off is critically important. Thanks to Dr. Goosby’s great leadership, he has seen the connection all too often between the HIV infection and gender-based violence and we have a program together focused on small grants made available to NGOs who are doing extraordinary work in the context of prevention, care, and treatment.

There’s another program that some of you heard about, know about, that has engaged private partners and Gary Cohen is here from BD, as well as CDC, and you’ll hear more about it – called Together for Girls, which, again, does intensive work on the ground serving the magnitude of the problem. And you might think, well, that’s a waste of time. Well, it’s not. Because once that exercise is demonstrated to leaders, they can do nothing but begin to address a problem that many of them have frankly ignored.

Shortly, the White House will announce a strategy, a global strategy, to deal with violence against women and girls that will focus on prevention, protection, as well as accountability, the need to prosecute what happens in these instances. But I would just make a plea – and I look at this extraordinary audience of people, all of whom could be on this stage tonight, because many of you have made just a Herculean effort in this regard.

And I was struck again – I was just in East Asia last week – and I had first had a meeting with a wonderful group in Cambodia – Somaly Mam’s work that she does to help victims of trafficking and other violence. And so many of the adolescent that she was dealing with who now have safe harbor, who have, changing their lives, were being able to live, were HIV, are HIV infected. And just listening to what they have gone through was very searing.

And then I had a discussion with a group of extraordinary health practitioners, all in the field of HIV/AIDS, and nobody, for the longest time, discussed gender-based violence – sexual violence, which is so connected to what everybody here is trying to deal with in one way or another. So I think this is a very important connection that’s being made here today.

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