Consider the plight of a woman who has been raped, cast out of her home and community due to stigma, and forced to fend for herself and her dependent children in an environment of ongoing insecurity. This woman will confront greater threats and be forced to take greater risks because the basic needs of her family are not being met.
In an historic effort to reverse this vicious cycle of violence, exploitation and poverty, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015. At the heart of this framework is a commitment to human rights, non-discrimination and a promise to leave no one behind. This Agenda, unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that preceded it, includes a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls (SDG 5), as well as gender equality targets pertinent to other goals. The inclusion of the goal on gender equality, particularly its target 5.2, gives renewed impetus to ending all forms of violence against women and girls "in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation". This target reflects global recognition that eliminating violence against women and girls is key to achieving gender equality and women's empowerment, which in turn are essential conditions for sustainable development.
With the advent of the 2030 Agenda, we are better poised than ever before to tackle the gender-based discrimination that is the root cause and invisible driver of sexual violence in times of war and peace. It is the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence that leaves women and girls furthest behind in terms of development, locking them in situations of poverty and vulnerability that persist across generations. If we are to achieve the SDGs and eliminate gender-based violence by 2030, it will be critical to economically empower women and foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies.
My work as United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has taken me to many war-torn corners of the globe, where I have met countless courageous and resilient women. In many of these contexts, especially in agricultural societies, women are the backbone of the informal economy. When war erupts, and the threat of rape at gunpoint becomes a pervasive terror, women are unable to safely access fields, marketplaces and water points. Girls are unable to safely attend school. To...