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(New York) - The US Senate should quickly approve a bipartisan bill that sets out a new strategy for US engagement in the struggle to end violence against women worldwide, Human Rights Watch said today. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to take up the bill on Wednesday, September 29, 2010.

The draft International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) would require the State Department to adopt a five-year plan to reduce violence against women in up to 20 target countries. The approach calls for increased legal and judicial protections against violence against women, strengthened health services to respond to such violence, increased educational and economic opportunities for women, and changes to social norms that perpetuate violence against women. Special attention is given to responding to violence against women in the context of humanitarian disasters and armed conflict situations.

"Violence against women is a complex problem, but we can be smarter in fighting it - and that's what this bill is about," said Meghan Rhoad, women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The Senate bill has real potential for lasting positive impact to the lives of women and girls around the globe."

The bill has 33 cosponsors in the Senate. Lead sponsors in the Senate are John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts; Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California; and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Republicans of Maine. The House of Representatives version of the bill, which has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Armed Services, has 123 cosponsors. Lead sponsors in the House are Bill Delahunt, Democrat of Massachusetts; Ted Poe, Republican of Texas; and Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois.

The United Nations estimates that one of every three women in the world has been a victim of violence. Human Rights Watch reports have documented  rampant violence against women, both in armed conflicts and in homes and workplaces throughout the world. Much of the violence goes unpunished, especially where insufficient legal protections are compounded by poor enforcement. Recent Human Rights Watch investigations exposed degrading forensic examinations conducted on rape survivors by medical personnel in India and the frequent abuse of women with disabilities in northern Uganda.

"The persistence of violence against women around the world is not only a challenge to our consciences, but a major impediment to economic, political, and social development," Rhoad said. "It is a problem that we literally cannot afford to fail to solve."

There is mounting evidence of the debilitating effect of violence against women on economic development. In some countries, violence and sexual harassment in schools prevent women from obtaining an education and contributing fully to their communities. The health care costs and workplace absenteeism associated with injuries from domestic violence also take a significant financial toll.

The Senate bill would complement the Violence Against Women Act, which addresses these issues within the United States. Similar legislation was introduced, but not voted on, in the last Congress.

Human Rights Watch repeated its call for the US Senate to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The US is only one of seven countries in the world not to have ratified the major global women's rights treaty.

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