Advocates Turn Horrific Events Into Successful Call for Action

Pushing the Elephant logo

In every corner of our world, women and children are beaten, raped and in other ways abused each day. Rates of rape and sexual assault often spike during times of conflict or crisis, like the current situations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Haiti, Libya and Yemen.  PBS stations around the country aired Pushing the Elephant, which tells the story of how Rose Mapendo survived brutal violence in war-torn DRC. In conjunction with the documentary, groups working to stop this violence cited Mapendo’s story in their call for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to appoint a senior level person responsible for addressing gender-based violence (GBV) and the needs of women and girls.

No strategy currently exists to shape the United States’ formal response to GBV. Appointing a USAID Senior Gender Advisor to oversee and coordinate the agency’s GBV and women’s empowerment activities was a key component of the proposed International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA). Activists are now calling on the Obama Administration to take the lead and make such an appointment. In a letter to President Obama, they urged:

“We need a high level advocate at USAID to oversee and coordinate the agency’s activities on GBV and women’s empowerment. Please appoint a Senior Gender Advisor at USAID immediately to work directly with the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, at the Department of State to create a comprehensive strategy for reducing gender-based violence and fund implementation. A U.S. strategy to combat gender-based violence must include a concerted effort from USAID’s various bureaus as development and women’s elevated status in society goes hand-in-hand with reducing the prevalence of violence.”

Following the Pushing the Elephant premiere on PBS’ Independent Lens, Futures Without Violence (formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund), Jewish Women International (JWI) and Arts Engine hosted a conference call for allies and supporters to discuss the needed policy changes – like reintroducing I-VAWA – and how to prevent and end this violence. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Pushing the Elephant filmmaker Elizabeth Mandel and Futures Without Violence Director of Public Policy and Advocacy Kiersten Stewart presented on the conference call. JWI Executive Director Loribeth Weinstein moderated. Some 150 activists from across the country participated, echoing the need for President Obama to appoint the USAID senior position.

More information, including a screening guide.