What I’ll Tell Congress About Violence Against Women

November 19, 2013


On Wednesday I will testify on behalf of Amnesty International USA before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on gender-based violence. I’ll use the opportunity to talk about how gender-based violence affects everyone but also how it disproportionately affects women and girls.

I’ll tell Congress that violence against women takes many forms, including rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, child and forced marriage and acid attacks, to name a few. It’s a global human rights crisis that exacerbates instability and insecurity around the world.

But I’ll stress that it is also an issue that affects individual women intimately. U.N. statistics show that one in three women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime – a shocking number, and in my opinion, a vast underestimation of the true number of women affected. I count myself among those women. As a survivor of gender-based violence myself, I know firsthand the effect this violence can and does have on women’s lives and the lives of those around them.

A life free from violence is a fundamental human right. Yet nearly a billion women around the world will not have that freedom.
Over the last 25 years, violence against women has increasingly been understood and accepted as a human rights issue. Whereas violence was previously dismissed as an unpreventable consequence of war, a cultural norm, or simply a private matter, the international community has acknowledged that women and girls often are targets of abuse because of their gender – whether in conflict, where rape is often used as a weapon of war, in communities and schools, or in the home, where violence occurs within the family. These crimes are now recognized as human rights abuses that cannot be justified by war, culture or tradition, and which governments must prevent, prohibit and punish.

Human rights abuses against women are often complicated by further discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, caste, culture or age. The type and prevalence of violence and discrimination that women experience are often determined by how their gender interacts with these and other factors.

In order to end the violence, the United States must take concrete steps including passing the International Violence against Women Act, which makes ending violence against women and girls a top U.S. diplomatic and foreign assistance priority. The Act would codify and implement the U.S Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. The Act provides a comprehensive framework which would support survivors, hold perpetrators accountable, and prevent violence while ensuring that U.S. foreign aid is used in the most cost-effective and impactful way possible.

Amnesty’s recent report on Egyptian women provides us with a poignant example of why this legislation is necessary.

Dalia Abdel Wahab went to Tahrir Square in Cairo on January 25 to exercise her right to protest. Dalia’s life was threatened as she was beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob of men. Like the many other women who have faced gender-based violence while peacefully protesting in Tahrir Square, her attackers have not been brought to justice.

A life free from violence is a fundamental human right. Yet nearly a billion women around the world will not have that freedom.

To affect real change in the lives of women globally, action is needed now, and the United States must continue to be a leader on this issue. Please help amplify my message to Congress by taking action to encourage Congress to pass the International Violence against Women Act.