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March 31, 2014

ABA ROLI Joins Gender-Based Violence Emergency Response and Protection Initiative

March 2014

When 15-year old Aysha escaped the perils of the Syrian civil war leaving a lifetime behind, she breathed a sigh of relief. For the first time in months she was able to sleep through the night without a fear of being maimed, tortured, or used as a human shield in the fighting. Perhaps she dreamt of going back to school. Perhaps she simply wanted to enjoy a few more years of childhood. Instead, right when she was beginning to feel safe again, she was brutally gang-raped and left to die in a country where she thought she had found refuge. Thousands of miles away, Neema, an African toddler girl, endured unspeakable horrors of child rape around the same time Aysha was attacked.

During the event marking the launch of the initiative, Fergie, a singer, performer, and Avon Foundation Global Ambassador, emphasized the need to ensure that laws achieve their promise to protect victims of violence and secure justice for them. 

Not a day goes by without multiple accounts of gruesome acts of sexual and gender-based violence committed by state and non-state actors around the globe. According to a 2013 global review of available data, 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence. In some parts of the world, for example in rural Ethiopia, the prevalence of intimate partner violence alone has exceeded 70 percent. More than 64 million girls are child brides and approximately 140 million girls and women have suffered female genital mutilation. Because there has been very little research into the rape of men, it's not possible to say with any certainty how common it is, although a rare 2010 survey found that 22% of men and 30% of women in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo reported conflict-related sexual violence.

To address this global pandemic, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has joined forces with Vital Voices Global Partnership, Instituto Promundo and International Organization for Migration to implement Gender-Based Violence Emergency Response and Protection Initiative (GBV Initiative). Funded by the U.S. Department of State's, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and the Avon Foundation for Women, this first-of-its-kind, global program is dedicated to assisting survivors of extreme forms of gender-based violence around the world. The initiative offers emergency assistance to women, girls, men, and boys facing extreme acts of violence, including harmful traditional practices. It also provides advocacy support and technical assistance to those working to eliminate gender-based violence and protect victims, including civil society organizations, service providers and justice system actors.

“The GBV Initiative will make a real difference in the lives of survivors of gender-based violence and individuals under credible threat of imminent attack,” says Paulina Rudnicka, who coordinates ABA ROLI’s Women’s Rights Thematic Area. “While the initiative is not designed to provide holistic services for survivors, it offers short-term emergency funding to cover their medical expenses, psychosocial support, emergency shelter or other safe accommodation, relocation expenses, livelihood and dependent support, and legal assistance. By addressing survivors’ urgent needs, this funding mechanism will not only save people’s lives, but will also set survivors on a path to full recovery.” This was exactly the premise behind providing urgent financial support to Aysha and Neema, the GBV Initiative’s first beneficiaries.

“Gender-based violence is a global epidemic and an affront to humanity,” said Uzra Zeya, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, announcing the launch of the GBV Initiative at an event hosted by the U.S. Department of State on March 20, 2014. The event gathered women leaders, experts and women’s rights advocates from around the world, including Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns, CEO of Avon Products Sheri McCoy, President and CEO of Vital Voices Alyse Nelson, and Maria Koulouris, ABA ROLI’s Africa director whose team leads a prominent program addressing sexual and gender-based violence used as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fergie, a singer, performer, and Avon Foundation Global Ambassador, was also in attendance, bringing celebrity power to increase the GBV Initiative’s public reach. In her remarks, she emphasized the need to ensure that laws achieve their promise to protect victims of violence and secure justice for them. Echoing this sentiment, Cindy Dyer, vice president for human rights at vital voices stressed that the GBV Initiative “will provide victims of gender-based violence not only with the critical services they need, but also with the justice they deserve.”

ABA ROLI’s role in the GBV Initiative will revolve around the provision of technical assistance and advocacy support to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence. ABA ROLI will also produce a minimum standards protocol for the global GBV response network.

For more information about the GBV Initiative or how to apply for assistance, please contact [email protected].

To protect the survivors’ privacy and confidentiality, their names in the story have been altered.