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    Continuing Hope: USU faculty, staff raise awareness of gender-based violence



    Story by Ian Neligh 

    Uniformed Services University

    Staff and faculty of the Uniformed Services University (USU) recently traveled to countries in the Caribbean, and Central and South America to help raise awareness of gender-based violence and health inequities.

    Since 2007, the U.S. Naval Southern Command has regularly sponsored Continuing Promise, an annual humanitarian mission which has treated more than 582,000 people. The mission provides several lines of effort for partner countries, including medical, dental, optometry and subject matter expert exchanges.

    This is all done while working alongside local medical personnel to increase readiness, strengthen partnerships, and enhance the responses to public health disasters and humanitarian crises.

    The most recent deployment aboard the USNS Comfort ran from Oct. 19 to Dec. 22, and it was the first time a distinct line of effort focused on inequities in public health impacting women’s ability to fully participate in institutions and processes that foster peace and security.

    The effort, called the Women, Peace, and Security Initiative (WPS), was spearheaded by USU certified women's health practitioner Navy Capt. Carolyn Currie. The initiative helped to address and give a platform to discussions on gender-based violence, healthcare challenges and women’s empowerment.

    Currie says WPS was woven throughout Continuing Promise since its start, but this most recent mission was the first time it became its own unique line of effort.

    “We did workshops, we did health fairs, we did symposiums, and we talked a lot about gender-based violence and we did some interactive training,” says Currie. "…It was very well received, in most places we had more people join us than we anticipated, it was very popular.”

    Currie says when women are fully involved in their communities, in their governments, institutions and agencies, research shows a country’s reliability and security also increases.

    “So the whole premise is: if you can ensure that women have equity in their communities then you are probably going to increase the stability in a country,” Currie says, adding as an example gender-based violence not only affects women, but their children, extended families and the entire community.

    “It’s also about the reproductive health system, it’s having access to women’s health which enables women to be fully functional in the workforce and in education and being participatory in all facets of the community,” says Currie.

    Currie spent time in each country months before the mission to do a pre-deployment survey determining what the needs were, scouting the locations and planning.

    “My role really was to lead that line of effort (for the WPS portion) and I provided the advance team,” Currie says. “I went into each country early and kind of ‘set the battlefield,’ got everything ready for the execution of all the activities for WPS and when the ship arrived in the country, I actually worked to execute the mission as well.”

    USU Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics associate professor Dr. Lynn Lawry and Joshua Kumpf, curriculum manager for USU’s Center for Global Health Engagement and an employee with the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, also took part in the Continuing Promise mission.

    Lawry creates and teaches innovative courses that include exercises and activities to introduce and discuss topics like preventing gender-based violence and prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.

    In Lawry’s 29 years of experience in the humanitarian aid community, she has worked in conflict settings such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur, Mali, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, and Kenya.

    “I was asked (by Currie) and it was a great opportunity to be part of implementing the workshops in efforts to raise awareness to gender-based violence and how it impacts women, peace and security,” Lawry says.

    Lawry stressed it is not just a women’s issue, adding girls, men and boys are all at risk.

    “We cannot ignore gender-based violence that happens among other genders, especially sexual and gender minorities where the risk is 200 to 400 percent higher than cis genders (man/woman),” Lawry says. “The countries we worked with have started these conversations.”

    Currie says the reaction from the various countries to WPS was extremely positive.

    “They loved it,” Currie says. “And of course, for the women who were involved, you’re preaching to the choir.”

    According to Currie, what they often did was provide a platform for local women to have a voice.

    “It wasn’t the U.S. coming in and saying ‘this is what you need to do’. It was us providing those symposia. Because a lot of times it was just, [Dr.] Lawry and I, giving them the space, the time, the venue and the support. All we had to do was say, ‘OK, you want a symposium? Let’s do that.’”

    Currie adds several of the countries asked for topics on vulnerable populations to include the LGBTQ+ community.

    During one portion of WPS, Currie says they would often bring representatives of the foreign militaries, including men, women, officer and enlisted, onto the Comfort and talk about inequities in healthcare, especially in the military and how that affected readiness.

    “What was really interesting is – over and over – in every single country our issues were the same,” Currie says. “It is not something that is unique to the United States, it is something that militaries struggle with across the board. It doesn’t matter what country you’re in, (issues are common) like, pregnancy and pregnancy policy and how that affects women’s ability to progress in their career and become competitive with men.”

    One event attendee wrote, “I am going to apply what I learned among women groups. We will teach them to be aware of all people in our environment or surroundings, promote the culture of reporting violent acts and let women know that we are not alone.”

    Currie said she is proud of the fact that they were able to bring people together to talk about these issues during the three-month long mission.

    “It was just that ability to get people talking, to create those safe spaces and have their voices be heard,” Currie says. “My hope is that the Women, Peace and Security effort will be something that is continued — and I think the plan is to continue it with subsequent missions.”



    Date Taken: 02.02.2023
    Date Posted: 02.06.2023 09:30
    Story ID: 437891

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