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U.S. Works To Curb Violence Against Women In Conflict Zones

Op-Ed Contributor

Published on 12 July 2014

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by Lauren Monsen


Washington, D.C.

Internally Displaced People In The Democratic Republic Of The Congo
Internally Displaced People In The Democratic Republic Of The Congo

The United States is committed to reducing gender-based violence in conflict zones around the world. To help when assaults on girls or women occur during conflicts, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is training community health workers to respond quickly.

“It’s important that survivors get care within the first 72 hours of an incident,” said Courtney Blake, leader of a gender-protection team at USAID.

Efforts to address gender-based violence in disaster zones have been underway for years — USAID has supported programs since 2006 — and those efforts got a boost in September 2013 when Secretary of State John Kerry announced an initiative called Safe from the Start. Women and girls must be protected from sexual assault and other violence, Kerry said, and he underscored that message at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, held in June 2014 in London.

With initial State Department funding of $10 million, Safe from the Start allows the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations to hire specialized staff and develop programs and methods to protect women and girls. “In the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of our partners has two teams of experts who are able to respond quickly when conflict erupts and people are forced to leave their homes and communities,” Blake said. These experts provide immediate medical care and counseling for survivors of violence or abuse.

Survivors receive psychosocial support, including individual or group counseling, as well as emergency contraceptives and HIV treatment if necessary. Children may work with art therapy experts or participate in sports and games, according to Blake.

To enhance safety in refugee camps, “simple things such as where bathing or water facilities are placed can really make a difference to women and girls,” she said. Preventing assault can sometimes be a matter of improving the design of camps so that women and girls aren’t forced to leave secure areas to gather water or firewood or to use sanitation facilities built in close proximity to those used by men.

In Syria, displaced women, accustomed to privacy, were uncomfortable going to public restrooms, so USAID’s partners built a multipurpose center where restrooms are combined with laundry facilities. Such small adjustments are not directly connected to violence prevention, but they allow women and girls to hold on to their dignity, according to Blake.

“Despite tough circumstances and the complexity of these issues, it is possible to make a difference,” she said.



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Posted 2014-07-12 13:52:00