Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
July 1, 2021
Thank you so much to UN Women and the Government of France for your leadership, and for the invitation to speak on this important topic.
In January, two displaced Ethiopian sisters went back to their village to try to find some food and check on their home. They were captured by Eritrean soldiers and taken to a military camp. The older sister – a mother of two and just 27-years-old – was gang raped – repeatedly. Fifteen soldiers raped her over the course of eight hours. They forced her to watch as they raped her younger sister, too. The woman recalls her perpetrators laughing while they permanently damaged her pelvis and her spine. She realized she could no longer walk. Her injuries were too severe. But she crawled out of the camp. She was discovered on a road and taken for medical treatment. She has since received threats for reporting the attack. And she still doesn’t know what has happened to her sister.
The extreme violence this woman reportedly experienced is heartbreaking. Most maddening of all, it is common. In Ethiopia right now, soldiers are raping women, en masse. In Xinjiang, women are forced into detention and subject to sexual violence. In Burma, the same military leaders responsible for a campaign of sexual violence in Rakhine state have seized power in a coup, putting women and girls across the country at even graver risk. And in Belarus, sexual violence is being perpetrated against female protestors who are bravely raising their voices for democracy.
Here’s the terrible truth: Gender-based violence is a growing global calamity. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization told us one in every three women will experience physical and sexual violence in her lifetime. One in three. This violence has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Financial desperation and social isolation have led to alarming spikes in rates of gender-based violence, especially intimate partner violence and violence against girls. The United Nations calls this “the shadow pandemic.” Because like the COVID-19 pandemic, gender-based violence knows no borders – and no country can stop it alone. And like the COVID-19 pandemic, not all of us face this challenge equally.
Marginalized groups are at even greater risk. Transgender women, indigenous women, and women and girls of color experience higher rates of gender-based violence. Women in humanitarian crisis areas caused by conflict and climate change face acute risks too. And women and girls with disabilities experience gender-based violence ten times more than their non-disabled counterparts.
This violence is meant to silence. And it is meant to prevent women from taking leadership roles – in our communities, in the economy, in the peace process, in the political process, and across all forms of power. So our goals are simple: stop the violence, promote human rights, and empower women and girls. Because we know women make the world more peaceful. Because we know women drive the economy. Because we know women strengthen democracy. And because no one should experience what that young Ethiopian mother did. No one.
For our part, the Biden-Harris Administration has made this a top priority. To name just a few of our commitments: We are requesting a historic investment of $1 billion to support Violence Against Women Act programs. Through our newly established White House Gender Policy Council, we’re thrilled to create the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan to end gender-based violence. And our Department of Defense is taking immediate action to address the urgent problem of sexual violence in our military. Globally, we’re updating our existing policy frameworks, crafting a strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, and escalating our commitment to address this scourge in humanitarian contexts.
Fortunately, this vital forum – and the concrete commitments by governments, civil society, and the private sector made here – will help hold us all accountable for years to come. Together, let’s bring this shadow pandemic out of the shadows. And let’s tackle this emergency with the urgency it demands. Now is the time to create a safer world for our women, for our girls, and for us all. There is not a moment to lose.