Violence against women and girls negatively affects citizens, societies and governments around the world. Malawi and the United States are no exception.
Gender-based violence is a global pandemic that cuts across ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, and religious lines, and knows no borders. It includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse; threats; coercion; arbitrary deprivation of liberty; and economic deprivation, whether occurring in public or private life.
One in three women around the world will experience some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime.
In Malawi, domestic violence is the most common form of gender-based violence, but other common forms include child sexual abuse; sex trafficking and forced labour; sexual coercion and abuse; neglect; and elder abuse.
Physical violence vastly increases womenâ€™s risk for serious medical conditions â€“ including reproductive health problems, miscarriages and sexually transmitted infections.
Country studies indicate that the risk of HIV among women who have experienced violence may be up to three times higher than among those who have not. Women with disabilities are two to three times more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse than women with no disability.
Gender-based violence extracts significant social cost as well. Studies have shown that the total direct and indirect costs of domestic violence are significant and are a drain on a countryâ€™s economy.
Preventing and prosecuting violence against women pays dividends in the long run. The United Statesâ€™ Violence against Women Act, which strengthened efforts to investigate and prosecute such crimes, is estimated to have saved more than $16 billion since its enactment in 1994.
Violence against women and girls is not just a gender issue, but one encompassing economics, human rights and national security. Every country needs laws that criminalise such acts and those laws must be enforced. As Secretary Clinton has stated, â€œIt is time for all of us to assume our responsibility to go beyond condemning this behaviour, to taking concrete steps to end it, to make it sociably unacceptable, to recognise it is not cultural; it is criminal.â€
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, beginning on November 25, offer us an opportunity to renew our commitment to free women and girls from violence, whether it happens behind closed doors or as a public tactic of intimidation.
Whether it occurs in our own neighbourhood or on distant shores, violence against women and girls damages us all – men and women alike.
We all need to work together â€” the international community, governments, multilateral organisations, and grass-roots-level advocates to address and prevent this violence.
Many nations have passed legislation addressing gender-based violence. The next critical step is to work together to improve implementation of those laws in order to increase accountability and address impunity.
We need increased advocacy and more interaction between policy makers and those who work in the field.
We need to empower girls to speak up for themselves, and educate boys to speak up for their sisters. We must support the inclusion of men, boys and other critical community stakeholders â€“ such as religious leaders â€“ in addressing and preventing violence and changing gender attitudes. We must ultimately overcome the deep-rooted gender inequalities that either tacitly allow or actively promote violent, discriminatory practices.
Countries cannot progress when half their populations are marginalised and mistreated, and subjected to discrimination.
Evidence demonstrates that womenâ€™s empowerment is critical to building stable, democratic societies; to supporting open and accountable governance; to further international peace and security; to growing vibrant market economies; and to addressing pressing health and educational challenges.
When women and girls can live free from violence and are afforded equal opportunities in education, health care, employment and political participation, they lift up their families, their communities and their nations, and act as agents of change.– The author is US Ambassador to Malawi