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Director’s Message for December 2012
December 27, 2012 Posted by

This month, we celebrated two important and globally recognized awareness days: World AIDS Day, observed on December 1st, and Human Rights Day, observed on December 10th.

In the Proclamation that President Obama issued to commemorate World AIDS Day 2012, he highlighted the Administration’s pledge to prevent the spread of AIDS, to rid our nation of the stigma that people with HIV/AIDS often encounter, and, ultimately, to end this destructive epidemic. The President’s commitment to address HIV/AIDS among the most vulnerable populations led to the creation of the White House Working Group on the Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence Against Women and Girls, and Gender-related Health Disparities. The intersection of HIV/AIDS and violence against women is a priority that is of great concern to OVW, and I am honored to participate in this White House Working Group with the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women and the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.

At the end of 2010, it was estimated that out of the 34 million adults worldwide living with HIV and AIDS, half were women. This epidemic has had a unique impact on women. Women are at greater risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV, and in the U.S., women of color, particularly African-American women, have been especially affected. Women of color represent the majority of new HIV/AIDS cases among women, and are the majority of women living with this disease. We know that nearly 1 in 4 women report being subjected to severe physical violence by an intimate partner, nearly 1 in 5 women in the U.S. have been raped at some time in their lives, and that rape increases vulnerability to contracting HIV.

World AIDS Day helped to shine a spotlight on the fact that the intersection of gender-based violence and gender-related health disparities cannot be ignored when addressing the public health threat of HIV/AIDS. These are complex issues and OVW staff recognizes the need to reach out to and engage a wide variety of communities, especially traditionally underserved communities, in order to address these issues. As we move forward with the commitment, leadership, and full support of this Administration, coupled with organizations working on violence against women issues partnering with HIV/AIDS service organizations, I believe we will better understand and be better positioned to address the intersections, overlaps, and impacts of HIV/AIDS and violence against women. It is clear that we have started to address these issues, but there is much more that needs to be done.

For Human Rights Day, President Obama issued a powerful proclamation that reinforced the rights and dignity of all people worldwide. This year, Human Rights Day shined a spotlight on the rights of all people — women, youth, minorities, persons with disabilities, the LGBT community, indigenous people, the poor and marginalized — and asserted the need to make their voices heard in public life and political decision-making. At OVW, we recognize our responsibility to reach out to and engage all communities and are working to ensure that our initiatives and grant programs speak to this commitment.

Immediately following Human Rights Day, I participated in the UN-Women Stakeholders’ Forum at the United Nations headquarters entitled “Preventing and Eliminating Violence Against Women.” The Stakeholders’ Forum was a precursor to the 57th United Nations Convention on the Status of Women which will take place in March 2013. I spoke about the need to ensure leadership, coordination, and to meet resource challenges to end violence against women. My remarks focused on the significant strides our nation has made in developing effective community responses to violence against women. A core lesson from our efforts is that individual communities, guided by the voices of victims, must come together to develop specific coordinated responses that work for that particular community and for the diverse groups that make up the community. While individual community responses will necessarily differ, a successful response will include two core elements. First, attitudes, practices and policies that condone violence and blame victims should be replaced with (1) an appropriate criminal justice response that holds offenders accountable, (2) provision of services to victims, and (3) public education. Second, victims need holistic services to encourage and provide psychological, physical, spiritual, and economic healing.

The fundamental goal of our work at OVW is to support communities in meeting the needs of all victims. In order to meet this goal, we must identify the vast array of needs and develop tailored approaches to ensure the safety of all survivors. We know that employing tools and developing resources for the criminal justice system and providing culturally-appropriate community-based services strengthens a community. World AIDS Day and Human Rights Day remind us that if we want to succeed in these efforts, we need to listen to and learn from the diverse and traditionally underrepresented voices of all of our constituents.