Op-Ed – The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Imagine three women anywhere in the world: a celebrity, a friend, a family member.  Research suggests that one of these three women will be the victim of gender-based violence at some point during her lifetime.  Violence against women is a global epidemic, and every one of us, whether we are aware of it or not, knows a woman or girl who has suffered from such violence.

Gender based violence comes in many forms, from intimate partner violence, rape, and sexual assault to early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.  Worldwide, one in three women will be physically or sexually abused in her lifetime and one in five will experience rape or attempted rape.  Over 120,000,000 girls have been forced into unwanted sexual activity in their lives.  The United Nations reports that violence against women causes more death and disability for women and girls between the ages of 15 and 44 than do cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.

Neither the United States nor The Bahamas is immune to this problem.  In the United States, statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicate that 11,766 American women died as the result of intimate partner violence between 2001 and 2012 – almost double the 6,488 American servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan and Iraq during that same period of time.  In The Bahamas, more than 1,200 cases of domestic violence are reported annually, and across the Caribbean, domestic violence accounts for an astonishing 25 percent of all murders.

Gender-based violence is not just a problem for women and girls.  It destroys families and communities, hurts economic growth, and threatens security by fueling continuing cycles of violence and conflict.  The World Bank calculates that the average country loses as much as 10 percent of its annual economic productivity because of domestic violence.  Just imagine the cost to a family when a woman cannot go to work because she has been injured or the cost to an entire economy when a women entrepreneur stops working because she has been targeted.  There also are the costs of medical treatment for victims, law enforcement responses to attacks, divorce proceedings, and lower grades in school, resulting in worse employment opportunities for children exposed to domestic violence.

Gender-based violence is everyone’s problem, and eliminating it will require the concerted efforts of us all, from the international community to civil society, and the thousands of unsung heroes who work to stop violence against women and girls in their own communities.  This call to action has led the United States, The Bahamas, and countries around the world to recognize November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  This date also marks the start of the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, a campaign that calls on each of us – men and women, boys and girls, government officials and community leaders – to help stop gender-based violence.

The United States is committed to being part of this global effort against gender-based violence.  Around the world, we support projects to raise awareness and education; provide safe spaces and other services for survivors; and mobilize religious communities, business owners, and community leaders to end this pernicious evil in all its many forms.  In The Bahamas, we are working with partners such as the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Ministry of National Security, and the Ministry of Education to build the networks and trust needed to prevent violence against women and girls.

Each of us also has the power as individuals to take action against gender-based violence.  Support survivors by listening to them and believing in them.  Educate men and boys to support women and girls and to stand up against violence.  In the words of U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, “think about the needs of women and girls with every program you create, with every policy you craft, and with every project you undertake.”

Everyone benefits when women and girls are healthy and safe, and can contribute their labor, leadership, and creativity to the national good.  There is a lot of work that remains to be done, but together we can eliminate gender-based violence, building stronger communities for us all.