By Ambassador Ross Wilson
Dr. Tina Dooley-Jones, Mission Director, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Embassy Kabul
Last week concluded the 2020 Global 16 Days of Activism, the global call to action to end gender-based violence (GBV). As we reflect on this campaign, we are startled to see that GBV continues around the world, surviving under the guise of gender norms and hiding behind walls of silence. Globally, an estimated one in three women will experience GBV in her lifetime. In Afghanistan, a 2015 Demographic and Health Survey found that 87 percent of Afghan women experience at least one form of physical, sexual, or psychological violence, and 62 percent experience at least two forms of GBV.
And yet, as the 16 days ended, we were uplifted and heartened by the cumulative activities, actions, and campaigns of our partners – ministries of the Afghan government, non-governmental organizations, the international community, and others – who are working tirelessly to end this abuse.
Supported by the United States through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Musharikat women’s civil society organization completed a series of activities as part of its 16-day campaign titled “ending gender-based violence (GBV) for peaceful families and a peaceful Afghanistan.” The nationwide campaign included billboards, community gatherings, televised panel discussions, radio roundtables, and school-based training to promote gender equality, women’s rights, women’s roles in the peace process, and examination of the harmful impacts of child and forced marriages. Activists also organized a karate tournament and volleyball matches in select provinces that accentuated the rights of girls to play sports, pursue recreational activities, and contribute to the social fabric of society. We are proud of these education campaigns and activities that demonstrate the devastating nature of GBV on families and society – and showcase better ways forward for Afghan women, but know that the United States must do more here and around the world.
Many nations, including Afghanistan, have passed laws to create the legal framework to address GBV. USAID is working with its partners to improve the implementation of this country’s GBV legislation, increase accountability, and address impunity. Its assistance trains Afghan judges, police, and prosecutors to better respond to and prosecute GBV. USAID also teaches health workers to recognize, treat, and report cases of GBV.
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics & Law Enforcement (INL) augments these efforts. From 2017 to 2020, more than 700 justice-sector officials and civil society figures received INL-funded training on Afghanistan’s landmark Elimination of Violence Against Women Law so that Afghan women receive justice under the law. Since 2017, INL justice programs trained 550 prosecutors here on combating gender-based violence. In 2019 alone, 12,500 Afghan women and their children were safer from gender-based violence with help from INL-supported legal, psychological, vocational, and protection initiatives.
The United States believes investing in women and girls will promote peace, security, and prosperity around the world. We invest in the training and mentoring of women entrepreneurs, so they not only lift up their own families but also help the Afghan economy grow. From 2015 to 2018, for example, USAID’s women’s empowerment program reached more than 75,000 women, providing leadership skills, business development services, civil service training, hands-on job experience, and civil society advocacy training that we believe will help them contribute more fully to their country’s peace and prosperity. Today, thanks to this support, more than 3.5 million girls are enrolled in school, and over 3 million girls are enrolled in community-based education classes. Over the last decade, moreover, our Embassy’s Public Affairs Section supported university education in this country and abroad through scholarships to hundreds of young Afghan women.
We invest in the education of girls so that they can escape forced early marriage and rape, break the cycle of poverty, and develop into community leaders and engaged citizens. But at the same time, we must remember that it’s not just women and girls who too often bear the brunt of GBV. Men and boys are also victims and often suffer hidden away from public view. This is particularly true for the sexual exploitation of children.
As we reflect on the impact of this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign, we raise our voices calling for the elimination of GBV and shining a light on this abuse. If lending our voices, sharing our outrage, and reaffirming our commitment to eliminate GBV will change someone’s mind and behavior, bring more people into the discussion, and stop one more GBV-related crime, then we will have helped this country take a crucial step forward toward eliminating GBV. We also wonder how can Afghan society reap the benefits of peace, if individuals, simply because of their gender, continue to suffer violent acts, the very worst of which result in death? Peace requires the absence of violence, a vacuum where any form of violence cannot take root, across all levels of society—and that begins with each of us. True peace for all Afghans cannot be achieved unless violence is rooted out and eliminated.
We would like to extend an invitation to all Afghanistan to join us in working to end all forms of GBV in this country. Working together, Afghans can take a crucial step forward toward eliminating GBV. Turning that step into hundreds, thousands, and millions of steps throughout the world is incumbent on all of us.
Follow the U.S. Embassy’s activities by visiting our website at https://af.usembassy.gov/ and Facebook (http://facebook.com/kabulusembassy). Visit www.usaid afghanistan.gov, or http://facebook.com/usaidafghanistan to learn how the USAID is training judges, police, and prosecutors to better respond to and prosecute cases of gender-based violence and health workers to recognize, treat, and report cases.