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Remarks by Ambassador Peterson: Launch of One Stop Centers – Mbabane Government Hospital
March 10, 2020

Honorable Minister of Justice,
Honorable Minister of Health,
UNICEF Representative
All protocols observed

It is an honor to be with you today to launch the new One Stop Centers—a critically important resource for survivors of gender-based violence, or GBV, to find help, counseling, and comfort during a time of extreme distress. Today, I am proud to be here with you to celebrate a rare moment of triumph in the fight against gender-based violence and violence against children.

Unfortunately, violence remains rampant in communities, in families, in work places and on the streets. Everyone, all of us, including boys and men, may be at risk of gender-based violence at one point or another in our lives; however, most vulnerable are girls and women, and special needs groups such as those living with disabilities.  The statistics are startling: 1 in 5 Swazi women will experience some form of GBV in their lifetimes.

Eswatini, just like its neighbors in the region, has a long way to go on the road to seeing a genuine reduction in the incidences of GBV.  Indeed, the media and courts seem to be facing an ever-increasing flood of new incidents, especially since the promulgation of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act.  This may seem disheartening, but it is not surprising.  International research shows us that when a nation gets serious about tackling GBV, more cases are reported, not less. This is because survivors feel more confident that they will be heard, respected and helped, and are thus more willing to report an incident, rather than hide in shame and pain.  This is the value of a resource like the One Stop Center.

The vision of the One Stop Center is a continuation of the work of the first version of this concept at the Magistrate’s court. Through committed, compassionate and professional staff, the centers will provide a safe environment where those who have been violated or those at risk of abuse can receive advice and support, medical help, counselling and legal support, all under one roof, without fearing stigma and secondary trauma.

Just over 6 years ago my predecessor, Makila James, lauded the government of the Kingdom of Eswatini for establishing the country’s first One Stop Center at the Magistrate’s Court. That was at the launch of “Version 1”. Its establishment was supported by UNICEF with resources from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or PEPFAR.  Today it is my pleasure to witness not only the roll out of the One Stop Center initiative to Manzini and Lubombo, but also the relocation of the first center to the hospital grounds in Mbabane where services are available 24 hours, and where serious medical injuries can be treated on site. The U.S. Government is proud to have helped the establishment of all three centers with PEPFAR resources at the three hospitals in Mbabane, Manzini, and Siteki.

The PEPFAR program continues to assist the country in its efforts to prevent and mitigate the epidemic of violence, as violence and HIV feed off each other. Our implementers support clinicians in public health facilities across the country to ensure survivors of abuse receive a full package of post-violence services, including Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) no later than 72 hours after rape to ensure the victim does not get infected with HIV.  Through family and community support in our Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) program, PEPFAR partners collaborate with the Department of Social Welfare and law enforcement agencies to ensure that cases of abuse are identified and receive support and are brought to justice.

Eswatini has come a long way in the fight against GBV, and I laud you all for that.  Yet, we can go further with the political will and dedication we see today in the country and in this room.  First, we need to make sure that everyone knows how to find the new One Stop Centers!  This is vitally important.  Talk about it on the radio, in schools, in churches, in your speeches.  We must train first responders to proactively recommend this center to survivors.  We must spread the word about this resource.  Second, we should find a way to prioritize or fast-track domestic violence in the courts, to help survivors heal and get over their trauma.  Third, we must make sure survivors are safe in their communities once they have reported abuse.  We have too many cases where the alleged perpetrators harass, threaten and even rape survivors.  Survivors and supporters – including police and medical personnel – need to understand the protection orders that are spelled out in the SODV Act and put these valuable tools to work. Eswatini also needs a system or a place where survivors facing threats in their homes and communities can seek refuge and be cared for, like a temporary place of safety where social workers can support them until a longer term solution is found or the perpetrator is sentenced.  Finally, we must encourage and empower nurses and doctors to inquire as to whether injuries are caused by abuse and domestic violence, so they are able to provide comprehensive services and refer survivors for additional non-clinical support.

I want to thank the Ministries of Justice and Health for their leadership in this initiative. I also want to recognize UNICEF and our PEPFAR implementing partners for using U.S. Government resources strategically to support the violence response.  Last, but not least, I would like to express sincere appreciation to the staff of the One Stop Center for their dedicated service at the old site, and for their future commitment to this new one.

I appeal to the ministries and leaders in this room to continue your commitment to ending gender-based violence in Eswatini.  This One Stop Center, providing comfort and a place of healing for survivors to rediscover dignity and hope, is an important step along that road.