Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) and Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced the International Violence Against Women Act, groundbreaking legislation which will, for the first time, integrate the United States' efforts to end gender-based violence into U.S. foreign assistance programs.
"From the trafficking of women in Eastern Europe, to "honor" killings in Jordan, to rape as a brutal weapon of war in Darfur and the Congo, violence against women is everywhere. It's a devastating and persistent truth in every country, in every community, and across every social demographic," said Sen. Biden.
"It is essential for the United States to work with non-governmental organizations and like-minded countries to end domestic violence. No woman, regardless of her income or education level, should live in fear or be made to believe that physical or emotional abuse is acceptable," said Sen. Lugar.
One in three women worldwide will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime, and in some countries, that's true for 70 percent of women. Every day around the globe, women and girls face domestic violence, rape, forced or child marriage, so-called "honor" killings, dowry-related murder, human trafficking, and female genital mutilation. The United Nations estimates that at least 5,000 "honor" killings take place each year around the world and more than 130,000,000 girls and young women worldwide have been subjected to genital mutilation. A 2006 United Nations Report found that at least 102 member states had no specific laws on domestic violence.
"The International Violence Against Women Act marshals together, for the first time, coordinated American resources and leadership to address this global issue. I believe the time is now for the United States to get actively engaged in the fight for women's lives and girls' futures, and we must begin by preventing and responding to the violence they face," added Sen. Biden.
"We cannot expect to reduce poverty and decrease the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS until we have more equitable treatment of women in developing countries. Empowered and educated women are the key to breaking these cycles," said Sen. Lugar.
Not surprisingly, violence against women and girls has a significant impact on the health and development of countries worldwide. Violence breeds poverty. It impedes economic development because it can prevent girls from going to school, or stop women from holding jobs or inheriting property, or shut down access to critical health care for themselves and their children. Efforts to wipe out AIDS and other diseases are compromised when women are beaten for telling their husbands they are infected. Girls are less likely to attend school when they fear being raped by their teachers.
"We've made tremendous progress in reducing violence against women here in the United States since we passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, but we cannot ignore women in other parts of the world - women whose lives are devastated by poverty, political and civic exclusion, disease, and violence. We cannot empower women to become active in civic life and promote peace, prosperity and democracy unless they personally are free from fear of violence. Taking an active stand against global violence against women isn't just moral, it's smart foreign policy," added Sen. Biden.
The International Violence Against Women Act has three main components. Specifically, the legislation:
1. Creates one central Office for Women's Global Initiatives to coordinate the United States' policies, programs and resources that deal with women's issues. Never before has there been one person who reports directly to the Secretary of State on issues related to gender-based violence.
2. Mandates a 5-year comprehensive strategy to fight violence against women in 10 to 20 selected countries and provides a new, dedicated funding stream of $175 million a year to support programs dealing with violence against women in five areas: the criminal and civil justice system, healthcare, girls' access to education and school safety, women's economic empowerment, and public awareness campaigns.
3. Requires training, reporting mechanisms and a system for dealing with women and girls afflicted by violence during humanitarian, conflict and post-conflict operations. As the recent reports from the Congo make tragically clear, in situations of humanitarian crises, conflict and post-conflict operations, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to violence. Reports of refugee women being raped while collecting firewood, soldiers sexually abusing girls in exchange for token food items, or women subjected to unimaginable brutality and torture as a tactic of war are shocking in number and inhumanity. There is a dire need for increased training and reporting requirements for refugee workers to help crack down on these brutal acts of violence. In addition, the bill crafts a new designation of "critical outbreaks" and requires emergency measures when rape is used as a weapon of war or in conflicts where violence against women is sharply escalating with impunity.
"This strategy will be our government's blueprint on how to wisely tackle violence against women and girls," said Sen. Biden. "There were more than 27,000 reported rapes in just one province in the Congo last year. This legislation will give the State Department more tools to protect and treat women brutally attacked in this conflict."
The International Violence Against Women Act was crafted with the input and expertise of over 100 nongovernmental organizations here and abroad working on gender-based violence, human rights, health care, international development and aid. These groups include Amnesty International, CARE, Center for Women's Global Leadership, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Family Violence Prevention Fund, Human Rights Watch, Inter-Agency Gender Working Group (IGWG), International Rescue Committee Jewish Women International, Legal Momentum, Lutheran World Relief, Women's Edge Coalition, and Vital Voices Global Partnership.
"Violence devastates the lives of millions of women and girls and their families worldwide," said Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. "We have seen the terrible consequences of mass rapes in Bosnia, the Congo and elsewhere. We grieve with the mothers in Juárez whose daughters are victims of an ongoing femicide. Violence against women, whether in the home or in armed conflict, destabilizes communities, undermines economic development and breeds poverty and despair."
"We express tremendous praise and gratitude to Senators Biden and Lugar for their outstanding leadership to address violence against women internationally," Mr. Cox continued. "Until now we have seen only sporadic efforts to stop violence in one or more countries. The problem is too widespread and deeply rooted for a scattershot approach. We need a consistent vision to stop violence. This bill sends that message."
"It's time for our nation to do much more to protect women and children worldwide," said Esta Soler, President of the Family Violence Prevention Fund. We commend Senator Biden for his 15 years of leadership in ending violence against women and children in the U.S. and abroad. We intend to put the same energy and resources into enacting the I-VAWA that we put into the (domestic) Violence Against Women Act."
"Working in conflict zones worldwide, we know firsthand that violence against women and girls devastates both the individual and her community," said George Rupp, President of the International Rescue Committee. "We believe firmly that women and girls have the right to lives that are free of sexual and physical abuse, and this legislation can help make that a reality. The International Rescue Committee applauds Senators Biden and Lugar for introducing this important legislation."
"Violence is one of the biggest barriers to women's economic participation. It's hard to work if you are fearing for your life," said Ritu Sharma Fox, Co-Founder and President of the Women's Edge Coalition. "The I-VAWA will ensure that our hard-earned tax dollars are supporting efforts to end this scourge, and that violence does not prevent women from going to work, getting an education and supporting their families."