Human rights advocates and international women’s organizations late last week welcomed the introduction of the bipartisan International Violence Against Women Act, or I-VAWA. Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) were joined by Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and William Delahunt (D-MA) as they voiced their commitment to halting rape, domestic abuse, and brutality for girls and women worldwide. According to the United Nations, 6 out of 10 women, or 1 billion people, will experience abuse or sexual brutality in their lifetimes.
Originally crafted by Vice President Joe Biden (then Senator Biden) and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), then Chairman, now Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I-VAWA encourages U.S. aid programs to target organizations operating around the globe that emphasize education and economic involvement for women. By giving women the tools they need to better care for their families and for themselves, entire societies will benefit from an increased knowledge base and improved health. The bill also demands that the U.S. government devise a response to mass violence against women within three months (perhaps with the Democratic Republic of Congo in mind).
The speakers drew upon examples from Afghanistan to emphasize the key role women play in decreasing insurgency and dampening extremism. The speakers also linked the level of social and gender equality to the prevalence of rape, crime, and terrorism. As Senator Kerry said, quoting Secretary Clinton, “A society that values all members is more likely to value life.”
Two women’s rights activists were also among those speaking, contributing stirring stories from their own experience fighting sexual violence. According to them, the success of I-VAWA would be a strong symbol of solidarity.
I-VAWA currently commands the support of only a quarter of the Senate and far less of the House, dozens of votes below the 118 mark required to keep the bill alive and moving forward. In the closing remarks of the presentation, Representative Schakowsky appealed to the efforts of advocacy organizations to give the International Violence Against Women Act the exposure and public interest it needs to become law and begin making an impact.
What might be the first step? If the gender ratio in the hearing’s female-dominated audience (about 10 to 1) was any indication of wider public support, we’ve found our first challenge. The placard attached to the podium – “Strengthening national security by ending violence against women and girls” – is a start, but ultimately success tackling global violence against women will require a realization that it isn’t ‘just’ a women’s issue but a men’s issue too.
Photo: Woman in a clinic, eastern Congo