State Dep't Spending $10M to Prevent 'Gender-Based Violence' in War Zones

Susan Jones | September 24, 2013 | 5:50am EDT
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Displaced women and children in Darfur, Sudan. (AP File Photo)

( - With all that's going on in the world, the U.S. State Department has a new priority: The department is spending $10 million to launch a new U.S. initiative to "prevent and respond to gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies worldwide."

Secretary of State John Kerry announced the "Safe from the Start" initiative in a news release on Monday.

He emphasized that "in the face of conflict, we should strive to protect women and girls from sexual assault and other violence." (Although the State Department news release mentions "women and girls," a State Department report says that "boys and men can also experience gender-based violence, as can sexual and gender minorities." See definitions below.)

The State Department says the initial $10-million funding will allow the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other humanitarian groups to hire specialized staff, launch new programs, and "develop innovative methods" to protect women and girls at the onset of emergencies around the world. Those innovative methods may be discussed in more detail at a State Department roundtable on Tuesday.

Here's another excerpt from the news release: "The United States will coordinate with other donors and stakeholders to develop a framework for action and accountability to ensure efforts to address gender-based violence are routinely prioritized as a life-saving intervention along with other vital humanitarian assistance."

The "Safe from the Start" initiative builds on the framework established by the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally. It will be led by the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and the U.S. Agency for International Development Bureau of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance.

The State Department will offer more details at a roundtable discussion on Tuesday. At that gathering, State Department officials will urge nongovernmental and international bodies to make specific commitments to the cause.

For the record, the aforementioned U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally defines gender and gender-based violence as follows:

Gender is the socially defined set of roles, rights, responsibilities, entitlements, and obligations of females and males in societies. The social definitions of what it means to be female or male vary among cultures and change over time. Gender identity is an individual’s internal, personal sense of being male or female. For transgender people, their birth-assigned sex and their own internal sense of gender identity do not match.

Gender-based violence is:

Violence that is directed at an individual based on his or her biological sex, gender identity, or perceived adherence to socially defined norms of masculinity and femininity. It includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse; threats; coercion; arbitrary deprivation of liberty; and economic deprivation, whether occurring in public or private life.

Women and girls are the most at risk and most affected by gender-based violence. Consequently, the terms “violence against women” and “gender-based violence” are often used interchangeably. However, boys and men can also experience gender-based violence, as can sexual and gender minorities. Regardless of the target, gender-based violence is rooted in structural inequalities between men and women and is characterized by the use and abuse of physical, emotional, or financial power and control.

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