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Op-Ed: Let's End the Cycle of Violence

Violence against women and girls touches Samoa just as it does other nations. Gender-based violence is a global pandemic that cuts across all borders - ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, and religion. It can threaten women and girls at any point in their life- from female feticide and inadequate access to education and nutrition to child marriage, incest, and so-called "honor" killings.

It can take the form of dowry -related murder or domestic violence, rape (including spousal rape), sexual exploitation and abuse, trafficking in persons, or the neglect and ostracism of widows. One in three women around the world will experience some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime. In some countries that number is as high as 70 percent.

This year, we once again mark "16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence." It is clear that the international community must offer up more than words to answer the call to free women and girls from violence. Whether it happens behind closed doors or as a public tactic of intimidation, whether down the street or on distant shores, violence against women and girls damages us all - men and women alike.

We must stand up to the impunity that too often leaves the egregious perpetrators unaccountable for their crimes. We must redress the low status of women and girls around the world that renders them undervalued and vulnerable. Further, we must support the inclusion of men and boys in addressing and preventing violence and changing gender attitudes. We must increase accountability and commitment by community and government leaders on this issue, and we must highlight and promote effective programs that are already successfully at work.

These 16 Days are a sobering reminder that gender-based violence cannot be treated as solely a women's issue - it is a profound challenge for the entire world. Gender-based violence is not just an affront to human rights and dignity - it adversely impacts the welfare of our communities. When women and girls are abused, businesses close, incomes shrink, families go hungry, and children grow up internalizing behavior that perpetuates the cycle of violence. There is no end to the economic and detrimental social and health costs that come along with this brutality.

This damage is passed on to the rest of the community as judicial, health and security services are strained. Violence effectively acts as a cancer on societies, causing enormous upheaval in the progress of social and economic development. Physical violence vastly increases women's risk for a range of serious conditions, including reproductive health problems, miscarriages, and sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV. There are also strong linkages to maternal mortality, as well as poor child health, and morbidity.

The Government of Samoa through the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development has initiated various awareness programs such as the Gender Based Violence Project and the Mothers and Daughters Project. In civil society there have been tremendous contributions from NGO groups such as Samoa Victims Support Group, Mapusaga o Aiga, Pan Pacific South East Asian Women Association (PPSEAWA) of Samoa, and Faataua le Ola to name a few. These groups have worked tirelessly to bring to light gender violence issues and to help educate the public, prevent abuse, and break the cycle of violence.

These 16 days offer an opportunity to renew the commitment to free women and girls from the nightmare of violence. Countries cannot progress when half their populations are marginalized and mistreated, and subjected to discrimination. When women and girls are accorded their rights and afforded equal opportunities in education, healthcare, employment, and political participation, they lift up their families, their communities, and their nations - and act as agents of change.

As Secretary Hilary Clinton recently noted, "Investing in the potential of the world's women and girls is one of the surest ways to achieve global economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for women - and men - the world over."

Let's make the investment. Let's end the cycle of violence, not just for these 16 days but for our future.



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