Violence against women: a moral and economic imperative
This month we marked the 20th anniversary of the United Nation's Fourth World Conference on Women and the landmark Beijing Declaration on women's rights. This declaration provided a comprehensive road map for advancing women's rights, and was eventually adopted by 189 governments, including Jamaica and the United States. But 20 years later, we must all do more to fulfil the commitments we made.
Violence against women is recognised by the international community as a fundamental violation of human rights. No country - not the United States, not Jamaica -has fully addressed these violations. Rape, domestic violence within the family, and molestation of children plague both of our societies, at every social and economic class, ethnicity, race, religion and education level.
Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will be physically or sexually abused in her lifetime, and one in five will experience rape or attempted rape. The Gleaner recently reported that 12 per cent of all visits to Jamaican emergency rooms are because of rape.
Some people see this as a human-rights issue, some as a justice issue, and others as a public-health issue. It is all of those, but this violence also undercuts economic growth and hinders efforts to reduce poverty.
A recent World Bank study showed that violence against women has significant economic costs. These include health-care costs, lost income for women, decreased productivity and negative impacts across generations.
For Jamaica, the direct costs of rape and domestic violence to the health system run in the millions of dollars, but the indirect costs in lost productivity, in the aftermath of a physical or sexual assault, are likely costing Jamaica billions. The World Bank estimated that violence against women costs countries on average around 1.2-3.7% of GDP. For Jamaica, the estimated figure is J$57 billion - more than the Government of Jamaica's expenditures for the health sector in 2014.
We should not need to put a price tag on violence against women for us to take action to stop it. But that price tag may be what finally pushes us to take action.
The United States is proud to have made gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls a cornerstone of our foreign policy. This includes a strong focus on addressing all forms of violence against women.
Here in Jamaica, the US Embassy remains committed to our security and law-enforcement partnership with the people and Government of Jamaica. We are investing millions of dollars to further strengthen the professionalism and capacity of the security services, and to bolster police-community relations. USAID-Jamaica is investing millions in the Fi Wi Jamaica initiative to help deliver much-needed services to the victims of gender-based violence and support victims of human trafficking.
It's been 20 years since then-First Lady Hillary Clinton famously declared, "Human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights," but there is much more to be done. As we celebrate the anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, now is time to seize the momentum.
Preventing violence against women requires us all to work together. We must increase advocacy and public awareness. We must strengthen the partnership across the international community and between governments, civil society, business and faith communities. We must empower women and girls to speak up for themselves, and educate men and boys to speak out for their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters.
Community leaders must strongly denounce this violence and make clear it is never acceptable. We must build a strong legal framework and ensure that the law is enforced impartially so that no one has impunity to commit rape or domestic violence.
The human suffering caused by violence against women presents us with a stark moral call to action, and addressing this violence is also smart economics. So what's the true price tag of gender-based violence? Opportunity. For women, for their families, for the nation.
When women and girls live free from violence and have equal opportunities in education, health care, employment and political participation, they lift up their families, their communities and their nation.
We look forward in the coming months to engaging in a broad national conversation on how our two countries can work together to counter the scourge of violence against women. It's not only the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do.
- Luis G. Moreno has been the US ambassador to Jamaica since January 2015. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.