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Obama Can Help the World's Women

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More than six decades ago on Dec. 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in Paris, codifying the fundamental rights and freedoms inherently bestowed upon all peoples. As we reflect on this milestone, the very same day we celebrate the affirmation of American leadership in a troubled world as U.S. President Barack Obama is presented with the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

In accepting the Nobel, Obama must spearhead a bold and unprecedented initiative aimed at one of the most pervasive human rights violations of the 21st century: violence against women and girls worldwide.

Penetrating every stage of life, violence against women and girls is a cancer that has incessantly killed lives and livelihoods around the world. Whether forced marriage, rape as a weapon of war, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, or intimate partner violence, this epidemic effects all corners of the Earth.

Globally, at least one out of every three women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Addressing this alarming statistic, President Obama has appointed Melanne Verveer as the first Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, while U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has vowed to make women's empowerment in political, economic and social spheres a top foreign policy priority. We must demand more.

For decades, in the name of stability, the United States has turned a blind eye and placed strategic diplomatic ties with repressive regimes over the human cost of these relations. Today, we realize that the plight of women and girls is intimately tied to stability.

In testifying before the Senate, Verveer recently stated that, "around the world, the places that are the most dangerous for women also pose the greatest threats to international peace and security. The correlation is clear: where women are oppressed, governance is weak and terrorists are more likely to take hold."

Now, Obama must instruct America's national security community to integrate this insight into their ongoing analyses.

Around the world, women are a force for moderation; consequently, whether dealing with Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia or Saudi Arabia, violence against women and girls is now intimately tied to the security of the United States. Therefore, Obama has both the evidence and momentum to enact sweeping reforms to the way in which America conducts its business abroad -- not only redefining the climate of international relations, but also redefining the very relations themselves.

The United States must be courageous in defending its moral principles and tie the issue of violence against women and girls to diplomatic engagements, economic ties, and military aid -- linking such relations to prevention, including education and economic opportunities, the protection of victims, and the prosecution of those who perpetrate these crimes.

America has an obligation to exercise its full range of incentives and punishments to end this global atrocity by engaging the world in ways that encourage, and sometimes force, positive reform.

In addition, Obama must proactively engage the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women.

In 2008, the fund awarded nearly $19 million U.S. for initiatives in developing countries, while receiving grant requests amounting to $525 million.

The gap between these amounts is not merely the lack of finances, but it is the countless number of abuses, exploitations, and acts of violence against women and girls that could have been prevented and will now go unpunished.

The Obama administration has a unique opportunity to reignite the torch of multilateralism. Investing the hundreds of millions required each year to meet the Trust Fund's demand will rebuild trust and goodwill with the United Nations, contribute to the national security priorities of the United States, and demonstrate America's moral leadership towards ending a defining human rights struggle of our time.

Leading the world into an era free of violence against women and girls is no simple task; however, America has the resources, reach and resilience to set in motion the very process that can do just that.

The world is watching, the clock is ticking, and the women and girls of the world are waiting. We must put an end to these unspeakable crimes.

This op-ed was originally published on Dec. 10th in print of the Ottawa Citizen.

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