Dear Mr. President: Make your legacy last by investing in women

Ritu Sharma, co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide. Photo by: personal collection

Dear Mr. President,

Thanks to your leadership, the U.S. government has taken huge strides forward in helping to prevent and end violence against women around the world during your first term.

The U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, released by your executive order in August of 2012, sends a clear message that addressing gender-based violence is a U.S. foreign policy priority. What you’ve done is put a stake in the ground to not only say that our country cares about ending this global epidemic, but also that we’re ready to take concrete steps to do that. Why is this strategy so important and unique?

It’s an inter-agency strategy. There are actually several U.S. agencies working to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally, among them the United States Agency for International Development, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This strategy ensures that these agencies are working together and that their efforts build upon one another, rather than duplicating efforts or missing opportunities.

It’s comprehensive. This strategy requires comprehensive approaches like changing social norms, engaging men and boys, commissioning adequate research to hone in on specific problems, and making sure that in times of a humanitarian crisis or natural disaster, responding to gender-based violence is a key piece of the U.S. response.

It’s multi-sector. What we know from decades of international development research and experience is that violence against women, men, boys and girls intersects with nearly every aspect of their lives. Violence is intrinsically linked to issues such as economic opportunity, food security, health, humanitarian crises, water and sanitation, to name just a few. By making sure that our response covers all of the areas in which women experience violence, we’re more likely to see better results in preventing it from happening in the first place.

It integrates gender-based violence into existing work. While this may seem small, by making sure that addressing gender-based violence becomes a core component of programs that the U.S. is already running, we’re getting a bigger bang for our buck and working to prevent gender-based violence: a win-win.

It leverages U.S. efforts. This strategy builds on best practices so that our aid dollars focus on what we know works and skips what we know doesn’t.

And last but not least, one of the best things about this strategy is that it creates an actual plan for how to address this global crisis. By pushing different departments to coordinate, it ensures that our aid dollars will go much further in reducing poverty and empowering women and men throughout the world.

Mr. President, ending gender-based violence should remain a top priority for your administration. What we’re asking from you is to take a firm position of leadership in holding various government agencies accountable for ensuring that this strategy is implemented correctly and effectively. We’re asking you to keep this a priority at the State Department, which has done a tremendous job of making gender core to their work, so that all diplomatic missions and every aid project run by our government integrates prevention and response to this gross human rights violation into its work.

The strategy presents us with a phenomenal blueprint with which to work with women and girls around the world, who are best equipped to be at the forefront of this battle. Please help make its vision a reality. Millions of women and girls’ health, livelihood and safety depend on it.

This is part of a series of guest opinions by NGO leaders on ways to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective. View the first part of Devex’s interview with Ritu Sharma at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative.

About the author

  • Ritu Sharma

    Ritu Sharma is the president and co-founder of Women Thrive Worldwide. She is a co-convener and principal of the Women, Faith and Development Alliance as well as the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network. Sharma also serves on the board of the U.S. Global Leadership Center, the Pax World Women's Advisory Council, and the Advisory Council of Men and Women as Allies.