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Source: United States House of Representatives – Representative Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA)

Houlahan Joins UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie And UN Leadership To Call For Prevention Of Gender-Based Violence Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON – Representative Houlahan (D-PA) participated in a candid conversation with Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and Rachel Bowen Pittman, Executive Director of the United Nations Association of the USA (UNA-USA). The conversation focused on their collective efforts to combat gender-based violence around the world.

“I’ve been at these hospitals where the grandmother, the mother and the child all have been raped, all have been assaulted, and none have justice,” says Special Envoy Jolie. “What does that say to them? Does justice or accountability for the crimes against their bodies mean anything to us? Because our lack of action says everything.”

The timely conversation coincides with Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the United States and precedes the 16 Days of Action to End Gender-based Violence, which the UN marks annually in late November and early December.

The panelists emphasize that gender-based violence happens in every country, religion and economic class, and describe the devastating impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on levels of violence against women and efforts to prevent it.

“With COVID, we have been sounding the alarm for a catastrophe that’s been compounded by major mobility and communication restrictions. People can neither escape their abusers nor report what’s happening,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem. “And there are literally millions of schoolgirls who have lost their only place of safety.”

UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, is mandated to protect and uphold the rights of all women and girls worldwide to live free from violence and discrimination. But as Representative Houlahan points out, it has not received funding from the U.S. government for the past four years.

“We, as the United States, have really abdicated our responsibility and the role that we have to play in ending gender-based violence,” said Rep. Houlahan. “And the voice that we have with helping organizations like UNFPA.”

In October 2019, Rep. Houlahan introduced H.R. 4722, the Support UNFPA Funding Act, in the U.S. House of Representatives, which would authorize an annual U.S. contribution to UNFPA, noting UNFPA’s work supports “United States national security and humanitarian efforts by operating in areas where medical infrastructure or services have been destroyed or limited by natural disasters, armed conflict, or other humanitarian emergencies.”

During the conversation, Representative Houlahan expounded on this intersection between humanitarian and national security efforts: “We know that research shows that higher levels of gender equality are associated with lower propensity for conflict, both within a nation and between nations. Data from countries around the world demonstrate that when women are safe first and foremost, and then are included in things like peacekeeping units, police forces and the security sector that security and peace are improved.”

Special Envoy Jolie has been a longtime champion of refugees and women throughout her 20-year service with the UN Refugee Agency. In July of this year, she urged the UN Security Council to increase its investment in the sexual and gender-based violence prevention measures, noting less than 1% of humanitarian aid is dedicated to the issue.

Full footage of the conversation can be found here.

Houlahan is an Air Force veteran, an engineer, a serial entrepreneur, an educator, and a nonprofit leader. She’s in her first term representing Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, which encompasses Chester County and southern Berks County. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the House Small Business Committee.