Violence against women and girls is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights in the world. The United Nations (UN) estimates that one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. No country is immune.
The United States (US) 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 GBV. 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 and 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 culturally acceptable. Working together, we can bridge the difference between despair and hope in the life of a person who has experienced violence due to his or her sex or gender or who has been the victim of human trafficking.
Each year on November 25, the world commemorates the International Day
The US has made responding to GBV a domestic and foreign policy priority. Our US 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 tolerate violence against women or children. Volunteers will also help organise community-led workshops that create a safe place for men and women to discuss relationship violence.
The Government of Botswana is addressing GBV 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.
How can we take action in our own lives to end GBV? 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 all women are fully valued and fully able to participate in our society. And when we stand up and no longer tolerate the intolerable.
*Earl R. Miller is United States Ambassador to Botswana