By: KAITLYN RABACH, iLive2Lead Intern
(Editor’s note: Kaitlyn Rabach, iLive2Lead intern, sat down with Ambassador Catherine Russell of the Office of Global Women’s Issues.)
Catherine Russell, Ambassador of the Office of Global Women’s Issues at the United States State Department, said it is “clear to me, and to many, that if women aren’t safe in their own homes and communities, it is hard from them to do anything else”.
Now in her second year at the State Department, Russell has made combating gender-based violence a priority of her office. She said her team has invested a lot of effort in trying to make sure women are not violently intimidated against being participants in their communities and societies at-large.
“[If women do not feel safe] it is hard for them to participate in civic life, it is hard for them to participate in political life,” Russell said. “We see a good example today (Saturday, April 4) where Afghans are going to the polls, and we worked hard to try to make sure they have access, particularly women, that they have access to the polls and that they are not intimidated through violence to stay away from the polls.”
There is a lot of data that shows economies suffer when women do not fully participate, Russell said.
“You can imagine if – even in your own family situation – a woman is brutalized in a family, it is hard for her to do anything else. It is hard for her to participate in the economic situation,” Russell said, “ … I think that addressing the problem of gender-based violence is critical, not just to families, not just to women, but to communities and economies as a whole.”
Russell said her office has been working to combat this violence in two ways: first, by trying to address issues of intimate partner violence, and second, by dealing with violence in conflict.
“We all hear the horrendous stories that come up about violence with conflict. They are just sometimes hard to even imagine, the things that happen to women in those situations, and sometimes to men, and certainly to children,” Russell said. “This is really just devastating. And we are trying to really think about ways to address the impunity that people feel that they can act with in those situations.”
Many interests lie under the “rubric of gender-based violence”, Russell said.
“If we can always try to look for opportunities to keep women involved, either as peacekeepers, as peace negotiators, looking for ways to even avoid the conflicts from the outset, those are all things that we are very interested in the office, and this is all under the rubric of gender-based violence,” Russell said.
One challenge area, for Russell, is when individuals are not seen for their own integrity, but are rather tied to the accomplishments of others.
“I think it is always important in every issue to try to look at individuals as individuals and not make any assumptions,” Russell said. ”This comes up in a lot of areas, and certainly, gender-norms is one of them. You know, I have a lot of concerns about issues … where women are somehow attached to men’s honor.
“I have a lot of concerns about things like that. I think women and every human being should be treated as their own person. The integrity of a human being is important and essential enough, that it shouldn’t have anything else attached to it.”
There are moments when negative forces at play upset the Ambassador, but she said she is inspired by the work of people, particularly, young people, who fight to combat such violence.
“I meet young women and young men, and older people too, but I am always really inspired by the young people who are willing to just put everything on the line for what they believe in,” Russell said, “And I think that if we can continue to educate people, and we are doing that, … I just think over time we will have a real impact in this area.”
Although she said she is not an expert on human nature, Russell said she would guess horrible things, like conflicts where dreadful things happen, will always come up.
“But, if we just continue to increase the number of people who are educated, increase economic opportunities so people can invest in their communities, I think that we will continue to make progress, and that is what keeps me going everyday,” Russell said.