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Op-Ed: US’s continued commitment to addressing Gender Based Violence in Ethiopia

16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence starts on 25 November and ends on 10 December (Photo:USAID)

By Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta and
Ambassador Ervin Massinga

Addis Abeba – This month marks the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, starting with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25, and culminating with Human Rights Day on December 10.  

These two markers symbolize what we know to be true: achieving gender equality is not possible without addressing gender-based violence, a human rights abuse that holds back women and girls in all their diversity from fully and safely participating in social, economic, and political life.  Ultimately, gender-based violence harms all of us, regardless of who experiences it, and prevents our communities from reaching their full potential.

What does it mean for us to put anti-violence values into practice each day, in all aspects of our lives?  What does it look like for a government, civil society, business, and every part of society to say that enough is enough – we will no longer tolerate gender-based violence?

These are questions we should all be asking ourselves in our homes, our communities, and our countries. Gender-based violence continues unabated in every region of the world, at all levels of society. The United States is committed to addressing this vast and complex problem that limits the ability of survivors of gender-based violence to fully enjoy their rights in the United States and around the world.  

We recognize the critical linkages between gender equality—including prevention and response to gender-based violence—and democracy, national security, economic security, climate change, global public health, and human rights.  This is why, over the last two years, the United States has prioritized development and implementation of the U.S. National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality and updated the U.S. Strategy to Prevent & Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally and U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security.

Research shows that countries with higher rates of gender-based violence suffer more frequently from conflict, instability, lack of adherence to the rule of law, low educational attainment, economic underdevelopment, and health crises, among other challenges.

Human rights organizations report that Ethiopia continues to suffer from ongoing conflict-related sexual violence and gender-based violence, including sexual assault, harassment, and female-genital mutilation.  There have been reports of conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated by combatants throughout the country, while others continue to experience gender-based violence and harassment in areas without active conflict.  

It is widely understood that women and girls in Ethiopia face difficulties in reporting gender-based violence due to widespread social stigma, lack of medical facilities, or inconsistent prosecution outcomes by law enforcement.  Women and girls form the majority of the domestic labor workforce, often leaving them without legal protections and increasing their risk of gender-based violence, as domestic labor is not considered a form of work under Labor Proclamation 1156/2019.  Men and boys will likely never report any gender-based violence due to extreme social stigma and other reasons listed.

Research shows that countries with higher rates of gender-based violence suffer more frequently from conflict, instability, lack of adherence to the rule of law, low educational attainment, economic underdevelopment, and health crises, among other challenges. Addressing and preventing gender-based violence creates more peaceful and stable societies.

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The United States government in Ethiopia is supporting a range of programming to address gender-based violence.  With the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief funding, over eight thousand Ethiopians have received GBV clinical care, including GBV screening, linkage to post violence clinical care like screening for STIs and HIV, and treatment for positive HIV patients.  

Through Population Refugee and Migration support, hundreds of refugees in Ethiopia have received GBV and sexual and reproductive health care support throughout the country. USAID supported Local Implementation Partners (LIPs) organized a GBV prevention campaign in selected high-burden schools by using Mini media and post GBV prevention messages, conducted an awareness-raising campaign in the schools for Coaching Boys into Men (CBIM) program (collect and distribute GBV-related messages), and helped organize experience-sharing events to help LIPs learn their best practices for GBV program implementation and case conferencing from one another.

It’s crucial that in our collective efforts we understand the full gender-based violence continuum – where, when, and how it occurs – and take steps to ensure access to life-saving services for all survivors.  Prevention of gender-based violence also requires that we promote justice and accountability for these acts and establish an enabling environment – rather than a limiting one – for all survivors of gender-based violence to thrive.

This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a milestone document affirming that every human being is born free and equal in dignity and rights, and that these rights exist without distinction of any kind.  We could not agree more, and we call upon the Government of Ethiopia, civil society, private sector companies, and individuals alike to join us in helping create such a world – for the sake of our communities today and tomorrow.  

Let us act urgently to scale up what we know works to prevent gender-based violence; to promote gender equality; strengthen laws and end impunity; to use survivor-centered, trauma-informed, evidence-based approaches to our policy and programmatic work, locally and globally; and to always keep survivors front and center in everything we do.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta is Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. State Department. Ambassador Ervin Massinga is the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia. 

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