16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence

Date: December 08, 2017
Remarks as prepared

Distinguished Guests, Assalam o Alaikum,

It is wonderful to join all of you and the millions of people worldwide who are taking part in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.  2016 marks this campaign’s 25th year.  These 16 days start on the International Day to End Violence Against Women.  They end on Human Rights Day.  They bring global attention to violence and broad-ranging discrimination against women and girls, which so many of you in this room work so hard to end.

The 16 Days of Activism explicitly links women’s rights to human rights.  Preventing and responding to gender-based violence is a cornerstone of the U.S. Government’s commitment to advancing human rights and promoting gender equality and the enablement of women and girls.  Because peace and prosperity depend on protecting and advancing the rights of women and girls around the world, this effort is of global — not just local — significance.

Increasing gender equality leads to stronger societies and reduced conflict.  When women and men are equally enabled as political and social actors, governments become more representative and effective.  Like any society, Pakistan will gain in prosperity, dynamism, and resilience as its women gain equal status and treatment, and an equal role, with men.

“From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World:  Make Education Safe for All,” is the theme of this year’s campaign.  Education is — of course — crucial to raising income levels, improving living standards and quality of life, and reducing health and safety risks.

Unfortunately, for many girls and women around the world, including many in Pakistan, safe, reliable access to education is out of reach.  In recent years, girls’ education in Pakistan has been especially vulnerable.  In Swat Valley during the early 2000s, for example, militants destroyed more than 250 schools, most them girls’ schools.

However, more recently, the Government of Pakistan has made tremendous progress in driving militancy out of Pakistan and restoring normalcy to that valley and elsewhere.  Our two governments have worked side-by-side to help these communities rebuild their lives and their schools.  It was great to see 100 girls’ schools reopened in Swat earlier this year – reconstructed with help from USAID.

Still, two-thirds of out-of-school youth in Pakistan are girls.  Such structural discrimination hurts girls and women and Pakistan as a nation.  And it is self-perpetuating.

Globally, girls with secondary schooling are less likely to become child brides.  Women with greater levels of education are more likely to find jobs, own and operate farms or businesses, and earn greater income.  Countries that invest well in girls’ education have lower maternal and infant deaths, lower rates of HIV and AIDS, and better childhood nutrition.  The facts speak for themselves:  the more educated a society’s women, the better off the society.

Despite the overwhelming evidence in support of high quality education for all, access to education is often constrained by political, economic, and cultural factors — factors which have historically disadvantaged women, girls, and other groups suffering discrimination.

The Government of Pakistan deserves respect and appreciation for making girls’ education a key component of its national development strategy.  Over a year ago, President Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif launched a new partnership under the Let Girls Learn initiative to further adolescent girls’ education in Pakistan.

In the coming years, we will invest 7.3 billion rupees to support the government’s aim to increase the number of female teachers and make certain that girls’ schools have boundary walls and other facilities to ensure girls’ safety and access to school.  These investments will help enable more than 200,000 adolescent girls across Pakistan to get the education they deserve, benefitting everyone in their communities.

These efforts are just one aspect of the campaign against gender-based violence and equality.  Gender-based violence is pervasive, and America is committed to being a part of the global effort to prevent it.  As Catherine Russell, the American Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, so rightly stated, “Advancing the status of women and girls worldwide is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.”

As today’s event reminds us, there are many partners with a shared commitment to gender equality and ending the cycle of violence that affects too many women and girls in Pakistan and elsewhere.

We have heard and seen performances from a diverse group today.  Each of you have found your own way to contribute: through advocacy; creating opportunities for women’s education; using theater to help identify discrimination; and by setting an example for other young women whose dreams also deserve to come true.

Congratulations!  Thank you for your commitment to this campaign, to ending gender-based violence, and helping create a safer, better future for girls in Pakistan.