Zero. Tolerance.

Refugee girl in Congo. AP Photo/Jerome Delay


If you can’t feel safe in your own home, where do you go? For many women, their local women’s shelter not only provides that safe space, but it’s one of the only places where women are able to talk openly about their right to live a life free from violence, rape and harassment.

In the early eighties, the Global Fund for Women made grants to organizations providing such a space. They were pioneers in exposing domestic violence as a community problem, dragging the issue out of the home and into public space. In fact, nearly every request we received dealt with the persistent and impenetrable problem of violence. “We could have become the Global Fund for Prevention of Violence,” reflects Anne Firth Murray.

Those years of support made it possible for women to have tough conversations about the root causes of violence. Women realized that violence did not start and stop in the home; it was a consequence of something deeper. Restricting a woman’s ability to make choices about her own body, silencing her political voice, and trapping her in low-wage domestic jobs are all examples of structural violence. As our partners became more sophisticated in their analysis of violence, so did our support. We began investing in women’s organizing in places of violent conflict and political unrest, spaces most funders wouldn’t dare venture.

Whether it’s a man hitting his wife because she doesn’t get dinner on the table on time or a government bombing another country in order to maintain power, violence is used as a strategy at every level of society to maintain or gain power. Anne Firth Murray \\ Global Fund for Women Founding President

After investing over $20 million to 1,500 women’s organizations, we’ve seen enormous progress in our efforts to end gender-based violence. Whether it was the first domestic violence hotline by the Maple Women’s Psychological Counseling Center in China, or the first safe haven from Colombian paramilitaries in the City of Women, Global Fund has been there. We’ve helped build a strong and resilient women’s movement that has erected shelters, provided medical care and legal counseling for survivors, and advocated for anti-violence legislation. According to research conducted in 2013, grantees receiving Global Fund support succeeded in passing anti-violence laws in 25 countries. Over 1 billion women and girls are protected under those laws today.

Yet, despite major legal protections, gender- based violence remains rampant. In fact, there is growing backlash against women’s human rights and gender equality, from outlandish anti-abortion laws to unspeakable violence committed against women and girls, like the 2012 brutal gang rape and murder of a college student on a bus in Delhi, India. The one silver lining to that case: it sparked mass protests by thousands of women, men and transgendered individuals who took to the streets to express their outrage against such horrific acts of violence and the failure of authorities to protect women.

Women who openly defend their own rights and speak out against human rights abuses are under increasing threat from their governments and religious fundamentalists. Despite great risk to their own safety, including having to live with bodyguards, women human rights defenders such as Mónica Roa of Women’s Link Worldwide has championed judicial reform in Colombia, an overwhelmingly Catholic country, by pushing courts to honor and protect a woman’s right to safe and free abortions and healthcare.

In our quarter century of supporting women’s groups working to stop violence against women, we’ve learned that it takes more than building a health clinic or a school to achieve meaningful impact. Many of our grantee partners provide critical services and engage in advocacy or public education, including forming non-traditional alliances to challenge public acceptance of domestic violence. In Afghanistan, for example, the Afghan Women Welfare Department launched a dialogue with leaders of the Shinwari tribe to outlaw a practice of using girls to end feuds between men. If a man has committed a serious crime against another, he can offer his sister or daughter to the victim as “restitution.” In 2011, Shinwari elders came together and pledged to outlaw this violent practice.

Violence against women happens everywhere and requires every country working in concert to stop it. It’s no coincidence that we’ve focused most of our grantmaking in this area.

AP Photo/Jerome Delay