The United Nations Development Fund for Women estimates that one out of every three women will be beaten, raped or otherwise abused during her lifetime.
The United States today took steps towards implementing an international approach to stemming these and other kinds of violence against women around the world.
In an act of bipartisanship, the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) was introduced today by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), John Kerry (D-MA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representatives Bill Delahunt (D-MA) and Ted Poe (R-TX).
Amnesty International, one of the key drafters of the bill, says that I-VAWA,
"…would for the first time make the epidemic of violence
against women worldwide a priority of the United States government and
integrate prevention strategies across
foreign policy and assistance programs."
Along with Amnesty International, Women Thrive Worldwide and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, helped to develop the legislation.
Esta Soler, president of the Family Violence Prevention Fund, in response to the bill said,
"Much of the support in Congress to address violence against women emanages from high-profile emergencies like the crises in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s a commendable impulse to respond to emergencies, but violence against women is an emergency every day. We need a response that is sustained and durable enough to address not only today’s emergencies, but those that lie ahead."
According to Amnesty International, I-VAWA would,
"…expand the government’s ability to prevent violence against women caught in conflict, support non-governmental organizations that are combating violence on the ground, and put the United States unequivocally on the record with countries around the world in saying that ending violence against women and girls is a national priority.
I-VAWA will support innovative programs that have been shown to effectively reduce acts of violence. These include programs that create economic and educational opportunities for women, challenge public attitudes that permit violence, improve health services for suvivors and bring perpetrators of violence to justice."
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Co-Chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus talks specifically about the ways in which I-VAWA would help the women of Afghanistan who have "bourn the brunt of years of warfare" (brought on by the United States so it is only fitting that we figure out a way to address the impact on the women of that country). Schakowsky said,
"This is a crucial year for Afghanistan, and the country’s future success will depend, in large part, on its women…they will also form the underpinning of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan. No woman should have to live her life in fear of attack. I am proud to support this important legislation."
Violence against women, of course, has many root causes but one thing is clear: if we are to make deep and lasting change it will be necessary to not simply involve males but to tailor gender-specific programs. In the U.S., violence prevention advocate Jackson Katz calls violence against women a men’s issue, in fact. He cites the fact that in the U.S. (and of course globally) men primarily fill the positions of power. This power imbalance is a critical element of violence against women.
"Our culture is producing violent men, and violence
against women has become institutionalized. We need to take a step back
and examine the institutionalized polices drafted by men that
perpetuate the problem."
Jackson also notes that, in fact, males are intimately involved with the females who are abused, which makes it a men’s issue as well:
estimated that 18 million women, children, and men have been sexually
abused in the U.S.," Katz said. "Think about all the men who love these
people and have been personally and profoundly affected by knowing that
their loved ones have been a victim of sexual violence. So don’t tell
me these are not men’s issues."
Will I-VAWA address another central necessity in regards to violence against women: sexual and reproductive health services? Sexual violence in the form of rape and other sexual assault robs women of their ability to protect themselves from both sexually transmitted infection and pregnancy. The integration of violence prevention programs with HIV/AIDS and other STI prevention and treatment programs as well as pregnancy prevention is critical to any successful violence prevention efforts. From access to emergency contraception for rape and sexual assault victims to addressing how substantially rape increases womens’ and girls’ risk of HIV to investing in the development of woman-controlled contraceptive methods and universal access to female condoms. And it’s not only about prevention. Women’s health advocates remind us that it’s just as critical to invest in health care provider training including counseling. As Neelanjana Mukhia writes on RH Reality Check,
Won’t Wait campaign has been calling for scaled up training of health care
providers, particularly providers of HIV voluntary counseling, testing and
treatment, to recognize and respond to signs of violence. HIV voluntary counseling
and testing, and treatment interventions must include protocols, systems and
services to respond to violence against women and girls.
I-VAWA has been introduced into Congress in the past (in 2007 by Vice President Biden who has been a stalwart advocate) but, as Alex Dibranco at Change.org asks, "Who doesn’t support ending violence against women across the world?"