Women around the world will be watching Capitol Hill today. After multiple postponements, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is again scheduled to vote on the International Violence Against Women Act Tuesday afternoon, deciding the fate of a bill that would lay out a new strategy for U.S. engagement in the global fight to end violence against women. A House version is pending before the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Women will be watching to see if senators will seize this opportunity to partner with them in helping to overcome the epidemic of violence that touches at least one out of every three women around the world.
Women will be watching in Afghanistan where, in areas under Taliban influence, families receive "night letters" warning that if women go out to work they will be killed.
Women will be watching in northern Uganda, where women and girls with disabilities face especially high levels of rape, sexual abuse, and beatings.
Women will be watching in India, where hospital examinations of rape survivors routinely involve a "two-finger test" to determine whether the survivor has a sexual history and thus in the authorities' view couldn't have been raped.
Women will be watching in the United Arab Emirates, where the Federal Supreme Court recently upheld a husband's right to "chastise" his wife and children with physical abuse as long as the violence leaves no physical marks.
And women will also be watching in Terre Haute, Charleston, Tulsa, and other cities and towns across the U.S. A 2009 study found that eight out of ten voters support the International Violence Against Women Act, with a majority of them saying that violence against women should be one of the top priorities for the U.S. government. Women and men in the U.S. recognize that just as the country works to address these issues in communities here at home so that women and girls can lead lives free from violence and contribute to society as full partners, so too should the U.S. support the efforts of communities around the world to eradicate violence and advance global development.
What this bill presents is an opportunity to be smarter in how the U.S. tackles this problem. We now know that there is no one cure-all for violence against women. Making headway requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses prevention and response, that looks to change harmful stereotypes along with insufficient legal protections, that couples protections with economic empowerment of women, that involves men and boys as well as women and girls. This bill if enacted would have the U.S. apply these lessons learned in a coordinated effort, beginning with a five-year plan to reduce violence in up to 20 countries with high levels of violence against women.
The U.S. has a history of leadership in the fight to end violence against women. Today's vote is an opportunity to reaffirm that commitment and to chart a path for finally eradicating this global scourge.