Congress, You've Been Given Homework: Pass I-VAWA!

November 21, 2013

(Photo Credit: Futures Without Violence).
(Photo Credit: Futures Without Violence).

Yesterday, an overflowing Congressional hearing room sat (and stood) captivated as witnesses described the ongoing struggle to end gender-based violence (GBV) globally to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

While it was exciting to be in a packed hearing room on Capitol Hill with many youth activists, all wearing bright Amnesty “Stop Violence Against Women” stickers, I will be the first to admit that the topic of the hearing wasn’t exactly uplifting. The global epidemic of violence against women is disturbing, astounding, and infuriating. Would there be any good news to report? Any glimmers of hope or progress that has been made?

Yes, but more work remains to be done!

State Department Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell and USAID Chief Strategy Officer Carla Koppell spoke about the many initiatives in both their departments to implement the new U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, the successes they’ve witnessed in this and other programs, and the significant obstacles still to overcome.

Cristina Finch, Managing Director of Amnesty International USA’s Women’s Human Rights Program, testified as part of the NGO panel and shared what Amnesty believes are the ways the U.S. government can make a greater impact to end GBV based upon the international human rights framework, our research from the field and the understanding of just how real the threat of gender-based violence is. You can watch Cristina’s testimony and the full hearing here.

The robust panel of NGO experts also included: our International Rescue Committee colleague, Francisca Vigauld-Walsh, who described the work her organization is doing to make an impact for women whose lives are shattered by violence, and on-the-ground women’s rights defenders Ravi Kant from the organization Shakti Vahini in India and Guerda Constant from Fondasyon Limy√® Lavi in Haiti. Ravi and Guerda explained their efforts to make the right to live free from violence a reality for the women and girls in their communities.

All the examples were profound, the stories moving, and the impacts real. So what was the one message that everyone took away from it all? What was the one thing that was made resoundingly clear by witnesses and Members of Congress alike? That the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) is a part of the solution and must be supported and passed by Congress.

Inspired by the awareness, the Lantos Commission hearing brought to the problem of GBV, the upcoming International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25th) and the corresponding 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Violence, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) announced at the hearing that she will reintroduce the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) in the House of Representatives today!

Amnesty USA's Cristina Finch testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission yesterday (Photo Credit: Mark Petruniak).
Amnesty USA’s Cristina Finch testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission yesterday (Photo Credit: Mark Petruniak).

And reintroduce it she did! Amnesty is so pleased that five Members of Congress joined Rep. Schakowsky as original sponsors of I-VAWA, H.R. 3571, making reintroduction a strong bipartisan effort: Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Richard Hanna (R-NY) and Chris Gibson (R-NY). Please take a moment to thank these Members of Congress.

Amnesty International played a key role in drafting I-VAWA and member activists have pushed for years for its passage. The bill will solidify current U.S. government efforts to prevent and respond to gender-based violence around the world, making this goal a top U.S. diplomatic and foreign assistance priority.

The time to act on I-VAWA is now, it cannot wait another day. We all know why. Gender-based violence devastates the lives of one-in-three women across the globe, but if that wasn’t enough, it also robs women of their ability to access the full spectrum of their human rights. Not only the millions of women who experience one of the many forms of violence, but the countless others who live in fear of it or face its threat on a daily basis. The threat or presence of violence doesn’t just affect the individual. It affects the family, the community, and the security, stability and prosperity of the country.

It was inspiring to hear “I-VAWA” “I-VAWA” “I-VAWA” said so many times throughout the course of yesterday’s hearing. But we need to ensure the message gets through to all Members of Congress.

Will tomorrow be the day a young girl’s life is forever changed by violence? I believe that we have the power to say that it won’t be by taking collective action to put an end to the world’s most rampant human rights violation. This is why the time for Congress to act is now.

Congressional briefings are critical and international days to raise awareness are important, but we can’t stop there. Please keep pushing Congress to stand up and do the right thing. Visit Amnesty’s new I-VAWA page and get all the resources, including a new activist toolkit, you need to take action for I-VAWA.

Lantos Commission Co-Chair Jim McGovern (D-MA) closed yesterday’s hearing by asking witnesses: what can Congress do to make a difference for ending violence against women? You and I know the answer. Urge your Members of Congress to continue to engage on this issue and ask that they proudly say they will take action to make the one-in-three women who will experience violence become none-in-three by supporting I-VAWA. And I believe, if we all do so, the next time a hearing is held on this issue, there will be more good than bad news to report.