Today, we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. Over the next two weeks, U.S. embassies and missions around the world will all be working to raise awareness of the irreparable harm caused by gender-based violence.
This issue is seared into me. As a young prosecutor, I saw women and young girls whose lives and families were ripped apart by violence. I will never forget seeing women in dark glasses and long-sleeved shirts worn to cover up the black eyes and bruises of abuse. I couldn’t help but think about them as my two daughters went out into the world. As a Senator, working with Joe Biden and Cathy Russell, long before any of us were in the Administration, I helped pass the Violence Against Women Act.
In recent years, I’ve seen firsthand how much work remains to be done all across the globe, not just here at home. I saw it as a Senator, and I’ve seen it even more as Secretary. On my latest visit to Africa, while in Kinshasa, I toured a fistula clinic at St. Joseph’s Hospital. I spoke with doctors and activists alike who have devoted their life’s work to healing the scars left by sexual violence. And I listened to young women tell heartbreaking stories of their pain and ongoing recovery from the physical and emotional wounds left by their brutal assaults. These women were brave; they were extraordinarily strong. I came away inspired by their determination to make sure that no woman goes through the same ordeal as they did ever again.
Simply put, we must all do more to end violence against women in all its forms, wherever and whenever it occurs, and it starts by acknowledging it. There can be no conspiracy of silence.
The sad truth is that one in three women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. This violence knows no class, religious, or racial boundaries. And it comes at a terrible cost – not only for the woman or girl, but for families, communities, and entire countries. Preventing it is the only way to achieve a future of peace, stability, and prosperity.
Over the past year, the United States has worked to up our game battling gender-based violence across the globe. Through our Gender-based Violence Emergency Response and Protection Initiative, we help meet the immediate security needs of survivors. The Safe from the Start initiative is sending experts into the field to prevent gender-based violence in conflict zones and regions devastated by natural disasters. We are also working to address the scourge of early and forced marriage, most recently launching a program in Benin. And I’m proud to continually support our partnership with Together for Girls to collect data on the consequences of sexual violence against children and provide a foundation to mobilize responses to new outbreaks of violence.
We will not turn away in the face of evil and brutality. We stand up, and we reaffirm that all forms of gender-based violence will be not be tolerated. Not now, not ever.