Violence against women and girls is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights in the world. The United Nations estimates one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. No country is immune. The United States struggles with the issue of gender-based violence (GBV). In Botswana, a country rightly known for its history of peace and commitment to the rule of law, women and girls are also victims of violence at alarming rates.
This month the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, reported during a three-year period between 2012 and 2014, there were more than 6,000 cases of rape against women and girls – that is more than five every day. During the same period, 235 women were murdered and nearly 1,600 cases of defilement against girls under the age of 16 were reported. According to the Botswana Gender-based Violence Indicators Study published in March 2012, 67% of women in Botswana experienced some form of gender violence. These numbers only reflect cases where the victim was brave enough to report the crime to police. Studies suggest many cases of GBV go unreported.
These numbers are not just statistics – they represent our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends.
GBV not only affects the health, dignity and security of women and girls; it threatens entire societies by fueling cycles of violence and inhibiting economic growth. A recent World Bank study showed violence against women has significant economic costs. These include health-care costs, lost income for women, decreased productivity and negative impacts across generations.
This violence is neither inevitable nor cultural acceptable. Working together we can bridge the difference between despair and hope in the life of a person who has experienced violence due to their sex or gender or been the victim of human trafficking.
Each year on November 25th, the world commemorates the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. For the following 16 days until December 10, which marks International Human Rights Day, people around the world will raise public awareness on an issue that crosses all social, economic and national boundaries. The theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign is: “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All.”
The United States has made responding to GBV a domestic and foreign policy priority. Our U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers are once again embarking on a Purple Ribbon Campaign during our 16 days of activism. Volunteers in villages across Botswana are distributing 25,000 purple ribbons with information cards about GBV. Wearing a purple ribbon is a personal pledge to never commit, support or keep quiet about violence against women or children. Volunteers will also help organize community-led workshops that create a safe place for men and women to discuss relationship violence.
I am also excited about the visibility campaign being launched today by our partner Stepping Stones International. It is a national campaign designed to raise awareness about GBV and child sexual abuse, spark conversation and empower people with the language to challenge negative social behavior. SSI has produced pocket-sized Red Cards that detail information and tips on preventing GBV, and promote positive peer pressure to make GBV and sexual harassment socially unacceptable.
Specific to this year’s theme the Government of Botswana has acknowledged this problem at the highest levels. We are proud to work with the Ministry of Education and Skills Development to train teachers on GBV, review sexual harassment policies and design standard operating procedures for addressing GBV in a school setting.
For our U.S. Mission, the 16 Days Campaign is part of our continued 365 days of activities to end GBV. We will continue to engage with communities through our various partners such as Kagisano Women’s Shelter which provides safety, sanity and shelter for women who are abused. Kagisano has facilities in Gaborone and Maun, and also expanded its services into nine districts. These facilities have also designed deliberate activities to attract men to seek services, which include couples counselling and family therapy, and increased knowledge of the shelter through radio and television shows. Post-GBV services included counseling, shelter, legal aid, art therapy for young survivors and active referrals for HIV/AIDS testing and other services.
How can we take action in our own lives to end gender-based violence? Assist survivors by listening, believing, and supporting. Educate men and boys to respect women and girls. Eliminate the culture of silence.
Ultimately, GBV will only end when our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends are fully valued and fully able to participate in our society. And when we stand up and no longer tolerate the intolerable.