How can civil society address gender-based violence when law enforcement is lacking?
How do you develop a strategy to reach young people before they fall into behaviors that enable gender-based violence?
How do you deal with the personal and societal repercussions of sexual violence?
These are some of the questions the participants of the third annual Mujeres Adelante (Women Moving Forward) delegation asked Assistant Secretary Evan Ryan during their meeting on Wednesday, August 20, at the Department of State in Washington, DC. Mujeres Adelante is a unique public-private partnership between the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues and the Seattle International Foundation (SIF). Since its launch in 2012, this exchange program has connected emerging women leaders who are actively working in civil society and in their communities to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in their respective countries.
These women are doing their part, from improving services in health clinics and shelters for domestic violence survivors to making a difference in community development organizations with youth and local leaders. Through their efforts, they are striving to address the root causes of gender-based violence. As advocates trying to change attitudes in their communities, they came to the United States through the International Visitor Leadership Program to network and learn best practices so they can do even more.
“You’re the best of the best when it comes to working on gender-based violence,” Assistant Secretary Ryan told the 16 women from Central America and the Dominican Republic who were selected by U.S. embassies in the Western Hemisphere. “Gender-based violence is a crime and it’s not acceptable.”
The discussion focused on progress against gender-based violence in the United States over the last two decades, as well as the challenges that remain in both the United States and Central America in preventing and responding to gender-based violence. In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act became law, four years after then-Senator Joe Biden initially sponsored the legislation. Since then, rates of domestic violence in the United States have fallen by over 50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The White House spearheaded the 1is2Many Campaign this year to renew the call to action against sexual assault, especially on college campuses. Despite these many efforts, there is still much work left to do, in the United States and elsewhere.
According to a 2011 study, El Salvador has the highest rate of femicide in the world. Guatemala is close behind at third, and Honduras follows at sixth. As Nicole Santamaria, a Mujeres Adelante delegate from El Salvador shared, “In our countries, it is estimated that a woman is killed every 36 hours. What we are working towards is a world where all women can live with security, and in peace.”
Nicole works in El Salvador as an art therapist for survivors of domestic violence, transgender women, people with disabilities, individuals with HIV/AIDS, and youth. “This program has helped me to share experiences about the work that we carry out back home, not only amongst the delegates from other neighboring countries, but also with the organizations we have met here in the United States. This program has helped me to see that the issue of violence is a global issue, not just a problem in our countries. Violence is a health concern and a societal problem that affects all of humanity. So we are here to create alliances in the Central American and Caribbean regions, but also here in the [United States] to stand up against violence throughout the world,” shared Nicole.
The civil society leaders of Mujeres Adelante know all too well how difficult it can be to make progress on gender-based violence. Their knowledge and commitment are the reason the State Department and the Seattle International Foundation (SIF) identified them to participate in this unique program and continue to be an active part of the regional network once they return home.
“Our Foundation is committed to addressing gender-based violence in the region by supporting local leaders who are best-equipped to carry out this important and urgent work, on the ground,” said Mauricio Vivero, CEO of the Seattle International Foundation. SIF has partnered with the State Department to implement Mujeres Adelante since its inception in 2012. After this third delegation, there will be 40 alumnae of this program from eight countries: Belize, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica.
“This is a successful example of a public-private partnership where collaborating has allowed us to reach these leaders and create a regional network to address gender-based violence,” shared Mauricio Vivero of SIF.
The IVLP delegation began in Washington, DC and Santa Fe, New Mexico for the first half of the Mujeres Adelante program. These emerging leaders then traveled to Seattle where SIF organized a series of trainings to enhance their personal leadership, skills, and networks. SIF also organized field site visits with local leaders and institutions working to address gender-based violence with a variety of populations such as young people, Asian Pacific Islanders, Latinos, LGBTQ individuals, and immigrants.
Assistant Secretary Ryan called on the Mujeres Adelante delegation to continue to be vocal about their work on gender-based violence. She added, “The voices of women are powerful. The more those voices echo, the more those voices are heard, the more progress you’ll see.”
To learn more about this program, please watch this video.