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Leveraging Momentum in the Movement to End Violence Against Girls and Women

March 14, 2013

(Jennifer Buffett is the president and co-chair of the NoVo Foundation, an organization that seeks to empower girls and women worldwide and to end the violence and exploitation against them. )

Headshot_jennifer_buffettWhen girls are empowered, they can transform communities and the world. But for too many girls, domestic and sexual violence stands in their way.

Countless advocates have worked tirelessly for decades to end violence against girls and women. Thanks to their work, we have made progress: Attitudes have shifted. Resources have been allocated. Systems have started to change. And yet, rates of violence remain staggeringly high -- violence that makes the headlines, like the gang rapes in India and Steubenville, Ohio, as well as everyday rapes and beatings that are so commonplace in our culture they are not even considered news.

What will it take to create lasting change -- to create a world where women and girls are safe and respected and can reach their amazing potential? We believe it will take bold action. And change is certainly afoot.

There has been incredible momentum building over the last two months around ending violence against girls and women. On February 14, One Billion Rising (an initiative led by V-Day) mobilized millions of women and men around the world in the largest global action in history to end violence against girls and women. On former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's penultimate day in the office, President Barack Obama signed a memorandum that institutionalizes an ambassador-at-large to run the Office of Global Women's Issues, ensuring that girls and women have a place on our national agenda.

During the first week of March, as the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status on Women explored the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, President Obama signed the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act. This version of VAWA, which among other things ensures critical funding for programs that support victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, education, and training for the judges and lawyers who prosecute these crimes, now guarantees that the LGBTQ, Native American, and immigrant communities also will find protection under the law. The bill also includes the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, a law designed to prevent trafficking, aid victims, and hold traffickers accountable in court.

While big gains are being realized on the national and international stage, innovative organizations are changing the attitudes and behaviors of hundreds of thousands of Americans in their own communities. A Long Walk Home, an organization that uses art therapy and the visual and performing arts to end violence against girls and women, has educated more than a hundred thousand survivors and their supporters to build safe communities and end gender violence in just a few years. A CALL TO MEN is working to engage men, who have the primarily responsibility for preventing domestic and sexual violence, in the solution. The organization goes where men are, from community centers and college campuses to football fields and boardrooms, and provides education, tools, and strategies to help them change their attitudes and behaviors. Over ten years, A CALL TO MEN has reached more than a hundred thousand people, including thirty thousand young men in high school and college and 90 percent of the teams in the National Football League.

While these incredible sparks of innovation are happening in pockets across America, groups tend to operate in silos, and culture-shifting campaigns like these are disconnected from one another. At the NoVo Foundation, we started the Move to End Violence program, a ten-year operational program to identify visionary leaders who are doing innovative social change work in isolation and bring them together to strengthen the movement to end domestic and sexual violence in the United States. Through their work, we will achieve a movement made up of powerful organizations working toward a shared vision for ending violence against girls and women.

Two years into our commitment, we could not be more pleased with the direction of this work. We are transforming leaders and ensuring they have the resources and capacity to lead the way in ending violence against girls and women. We are bringing together organizations that once saw one another as competitors and now see themselves as invaluable partners. We are helping these advocates adopt a more sustainable, impactful way of doing this work. And the leaders in this program and their allies are beginning to envision a new way of moving forward together.

Right now, leaders in the field are hosting "movement conversations" all across the country, engaging their allies in discussions around a bold vision for ending violence against girls and women and the actions needed to make that vision a reality. The field is on the precipice of becoming a powerful movement for social change in which talented leaders working in concert can leverage the power of their organizations to achieve bold impact.

It is clear the time is now. Years of hard work by many have set the stage for a series of policy wins, a new level of consciousness, a growing group of transformed leaders, and a public ready for change. We must collectively leverage this momentum. We need to invest in the advocacy and social change agenda that these innovative leaders are creating -- and work together as funders to put resources behind these efforts to create lasting change.

-- Jennifer Buffett

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