Human Rights Commissioners ask how the U.S. can end Violence Against Women.

April 28, 2010

Humaira Shahid speaking at I-VAWA introduction event. (c) Alex RobinsonEarlier this month, I attended the Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on Violence Against Women.  This hearing and the witnesses’ testimonies demonstrated the immediate need for passage of the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA), a bill that was introduced in February in both the House and the Senate.  In a great showing of solidarity, the room was filled past “standing room only;” people were even sitting on the floor!
Demonstrating their bipartisan support, I-VAWA champions Congressmen Delahunt (D-MA) and Poe (R-TX) testified and spoke of their support for the bill’s passage.  Congressman Delahunt referred to domestic violence against women legislation, and noted its great impact.  “I daresay making violence against women a priority and a component in our foreign policy…over time… we will see the kind of results we’ve seen here elsewhere.”  Congressman Poe addressed the issue of the United States taking on this large leadership role in ending violence against women globally.  “The U.S. should be the leader on human rights around the world; it’s what we do in this country.”  Quoting his granny – and the philosophy of grandmothers worldwide – Poe continued, “You never hurt somebody you claim to love.”  The women being abused, raped, and murdered across the globe could easily be our mothers, grandmothers, daughters, and sisters here in the U.S.

The esteemed panel of witnesses was made up of  Ambassador-at-Large for the Office of War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp, Lydia Mungherera, founder of Mama’s Club in Uganda and Board Member of Global Aids Alliance, Humaira Shahid, a former journalist and parliamentarian from Pakistan, Gary Barker from the International Center for Research on Women who spoke about the value of engaging men and boys in the struggle to against violence and Retired Major-General Patrick Cammaert, a former UN Force Commander.

Both Ambassador Rapp and Major-General Cammaert focused on the issue of war crimes, and demanded that those who commit them are held accountable.  Ambassador Rapp stated that senior commanders need to end impunity among their own troops.  “No one is exempt from prosecution- no matter the rank.”  These perpetrators “destroy the fabric of the community,” Cammaert added later.  Not only do these gross human rights abuses “create instability in the region,” but they are also a “breeding ground for terrorism.”

Humaira Shahid echoed the threat that violence against women in other countries has on U.S. national security.  She asserted that “women are the key agents of counterinsurgency.”  Empowering women is the key to take them “from the passive to an active role” so that they may better fulfill the role of peacebuilders in society, a sentiment that Congressional Human Rights Commissioner Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) echoed enthusiastically.

The statements by Members of Congress, the witnesses’ testimonies and the questions raised all highlighted the pressing need for a comprehensive U.S. response to the global pandemic of violence against women.  Up to 70% of women in certain countries are subjected to violence in their lifetime.  As Congressman Poe pointed out, “70% is a staggering statistic… the U.S. cannot turn a blind eye to other countries.”  The list of Congressional cosponsors supporting the bill is growing.  The total number of cosponsors in the House of Representatives is more than double that during the 110th Congress.  We must take advantage of this momentum and secure even more support for this important legislation by urging Members of Congress to join in solidarity with those already cosponsoring!  This act will reduce violence against women and allow them to take their places in society as pivotal roles in the fight against terror and injustice worldwide.

Lauren Bishop contributed to this post.