As November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, approaches and the International Violence Against Women Act is poised for reintroduction in the U.S. Congress, the time is now to prioritize ending violence against women and girls worldwide.
Violence against women takes many forms, including rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and acid attacks, to name just a few. It’s a global human rights crisis that exacerbates instability and insecurity around the world.
[pullquote text=”I-VAWA would support survivors and programs that hold perpetrators accountable and prevent violence, while ensuring that U.S. foreign aid money is used in the most cost-effective and impactful way possible.”]But it is also an issue that affects individual women intimately. United Nations statistics show that one in three women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during their lifetime. This is a shocking number, and in my experience, a vast underestimation of the true number of women affected.
I count myself among those women. As a teenager, my boyfriend cut me with his switchblade. The physical wounds were relatively minor, the psychological ones less so.
These incidents of violence are more common than most people think. Whether it is a coworker who confides in me about her experience with domestic abuse or a friend who was date-raped, these are the stories that I’m told constantly.
A Chinese woman that I was tutoring in English while I was living in the Republic of Palau confided in me that she had been duped into forced labor. Her story followed the typical fact pattern of someone who has been trafficked. Deceived by false promises of a good job in another country, she had followed a recruiter overseas. Once there, he had taken her passport, confined her to the premises and refused to pay her until she agreed to engage in sex work. She asked for my help, and several tense weeks later, we managed to get her out of the country.
I wish I could say that these stories are unique, that somehow my work or interest in women’s human rights is the reason that I know them. Sadly, this is not the case. With one in four pregnant women physically or sexually abused and statistics such as that from South Africa, where every six hours a woman is murdered by an intimate partner, violence against women is one of the world’s most prevalent human rights abuses – one which nearly a billion women globally will experience in their lifetimes.
But this violence is not inevitable. There are concrete steps that all governments, including the United States, can take to end violence against women and girls around the world.
One of the most critical steps is for the U.S. Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act, which makes ending violence against women and girls a top US diplomatic priority.
The legislation would codify and implement the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. The strategy, promulgated by President Obama last year, is an excellent start to ensuring U.S. commitment to this issue – and for setting the model for other countries to follow suit. The I-VAWA would support survivors and programs that hold perpetrators accountable and prevent violence, while ensuring that U.S. foreign aid money is used in the most cost-effective and impactful way possible.
The I-VAWA provides a comprehensive approach to address these priorities within a human rights framework by enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of existing U.S. government programs that seek to tackle violence against women. It recognizes that violence intersects with nearly every facet of women’s lives and creates a framework for better outcomes for women and communities. It should be a bi-partisan cause.
Today, I’m testifying before Congress and asking it to take concrete steps to end gender-based violence. I’m not doing it just for me or the women whose stories I know intimately, but for every woman around the world who has or could be the next to experience violence.