Pass the International Violence Against Women Act
Gender-based violence is a worldwide problem that affects one out of every three women. The violence can be extreme; atrocities such as honor killings, rape, female genital mutilation, severe and persistent domestic abuse, acid burning, and many other types of violence occur every day.
No country is entirely spared in this global assault on human rights. Here in the United states, roughly 300,000 rapes occur every year. In India, in just the past few months the media have reported on a series of cases in which women were raped and then murdered, their bodies found hanging from trees. In multiple countries, women risk rape every time they leave refugee camps to gather firewood and other necessities. At a single camp in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, ten women a day are raped. In Pakistan and other countries where girls seeking an education or a say in whom they marry meet with cultural resistance, they are too frequently disfigured, injured, or blinded in acid attacks. Women in some parts of the World even face murder at the hands of their own relatives if they are thought to have dishonored the family.
This list of egregious abuses aimed at women and girls seems overwhelming, but because gender-based violence is such a sensitive topic, the actual numbers of violent incidents are certainly underreported. The share of women experiencing violence can reach up to 70 percent in some countries.
The International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), currently pending in Congress, has the potential to help women throughout the World who have experienced or are at risk of gender-based violence. If passed, IVAWA would enhance and coordinate existing U.S. programs and make the elimination of violence against women and girls a top foreign policy priority in reality, not just in rhetoric. Because IVAWA deals with existing programs, it will not require any extra funding—a fact missed by many opponents. IVAWA would also convert the provisional position of Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues into a permanent position, and do the same for the associated State Department office. Making both the position and the office statutory and permanent would ensure a long-term commitment to the existing U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally.
The arguments being offered in opposition to IVAWA do not stand up against any thoughtful scrutiny. In addition to the unfounded concerns about funding the bill and the programs associated with it, some critics have warned that the legislation advances an abortion-rights agenda. This is not true. IVAWA has nothing to do with abortion, nor does it discriminate against men and boys as others opponents claim. In short, the bill if passed would make it easier for the U.S. government to help millions of women who are threatened by violence all over the World.
IVAWA was first introduced in the 110th Congress (2007–09) and has been resubmitted to every Congress since. Each time it has been voted down or stalled. This is inexcusable. As long as gender-based violence remains a significant and daily threat, the human rights and democratic participation of slightly more than half of the World’s population are theoretical at best. Women will never truly be free until they are able to live their lives without fear of violence, and no country should be able to call itself free unless it has guaranteed the security of its women citizens. The United states has a role to play in supporting this goal. We, as Americans, should be using our considerable power and influence to help women and girls avoid the horror of gender-based violence. Passing IVAWA is a logical way to start.
Photo Credit: Jeffery Zeldman Flickr