I recently was a participant in a conference call regarding the International Violence Against Women act, which is sponsored by 53 congressmen and is backed by womenthrive.org. Women Thrive Worldwide is a cause devoted to empowering women, ending violence against women and helping impoverished women and their families out of poverty.
Here is some quick background on the act: The International Violence Against Women Act. The bill aims to:
– Incorporate best practices on addressing violence against women into programs that provide health care, encourage legal reform and changes in public attitudes, promote access to economic opportunity projects and safe schools, and prevent violence in 10-20 countries.
– Build the effectiveness of overseas non-governmental organizations – particularly women’s nongovernmental organizations – in addressing violence against women.
– Create US leadership to address violence against women and girls and make prevention of violence a greater US diplomatic priority.
– Require the US government to respond to violence against women in conflict and crisis situations.
And a few facts about violence towards women, from the Women Thrive website:
“One out of every three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime with rates reaching 70 percent in some countries. This type of violence and abuse ranges from rape to domestic violence and acid burnings to dowry deaths and so-called honor killings. Violence against women and girls is an extreme human rights violation, a public health epidemic and a barrier to solving global challenges such as extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS and conflict. It devastates the lives of millions of women and girls – in peacetime and in conflict – and knows no national or cultural barriers.”
Included in today’s call were the following speakers:
– Ashley Judd, celebrated actress and humanitarian
– Congressman Bill Delahunt (MA), lead sponsor of I-VAWA
– Congressman Ted Poe (TX), lead bill sponsor of I-VAWA
– Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (IL), lead bill sponsor of IVAWA
– Ritu Sharma, Co-founder and President, Women Thrive Worldwide
– Humaira Shahid, former editor and legislator from Pakistan who pushed through groundbreaking domestic violence legislation there and is now a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard
The first speaker was Congressman Bill Delahunt (MA), a lead proponent of the IVAWA. I will not include party affiliations with this article because to this cause, partisan politics is irrelevant.
Congressman Delahunt began by saying that the IVAWA is a “must pass” piece of legislation. He stated that the act was introduced by him, Congressman Poe and Congresswoman Schakowsky on February 4 of this year (Resolution 4594). He says the bill has 52 sponsors and expects that number to increase. He echoes one of the many sentiments I share about this bill: This bill is conducive to bringing awareness to a NON-PARTISAN issue. He shares that in some countries, up to 70 percent of women are affected by violence, and that this particular bill aims to solve many of the problems associated with violence towards women, such as the abuse of women being used as a weapon of war and child marriage. The Congressman adds that he agrees with President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton’s handling of this issue, and that the abuse of women and social instability go hand in hand. He ends on a powerful note, insisting that this issue be a top priority for U.S. foreign policy.
The following speaker was Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (IL), another lead bill sponsor of IVAWA.
Congresswoman Schakowsky started by saying violence against women knows no borders, doesn’t recognize class, race or religion, is a vicious crime and a global health emergency. She states it is a low cost, low tech and effective weapon of war, instills fear in populations – especially in the Congo where hundreds of thousands of women have been raped alone. The Congresswoman uses the disaster in Haiti as an example of natural disasters harboring abuse towards women – girls as young as the age of TWO were being raped in the aftermath of the temblor and credits the close quarters and chaos for the deplorable acts. She commends Obama and Clinton for making this issue a top priority in the U.S., but we need more to ensure that women’s violence inches closer to a point of finality. She suggests a comprehensive approach to the issue, including survivor services and legal and judicial protection for victims. She corrects Delahunt by saying by her count, 53 members of Congress have given support to the bill. She finishes strong by saying that all women deserve to live a life free of fear, and we must do more to help this bill along.
Next up should have been Congressman Ted Poe, but his secretary advised us that he stepped out to vote on a bill. However, he did prepare a written statement for the call:
“Fundamentally, I-VAWA is about human rights. It is a basic human right to be treated with dignity. We have to teach women that it is not culturally acceptable for men to abuse them, and that it is not acceptable to resolve conflict with violence. Protecting women worldwide is also in the best interest of our foreign policy… Women use assistance dollars more effectively than men. For example, research shows that they are far more likely to invest these dollars in education and for growing food. Women also tend to devote far more resources to peace-building and creating stable societies less susceptible to extremism. No matter where you live, you have certain inalienable rights that should never be taken away… As the leader of the free world, we can no longer sit back and let horrible things happen to our mothers and daughters; we must do something about it.”
Next up in the queue was Ritu Sharma, co-founder and President, Women Thrive Worldwide.
Sharma started out by saying it’s important to keep in mind that this bill doesn’t just cover domestic violence – it covers violence used as a weapon of war, trafficking of women, harassment in the workplace and school, and kidnappings and murders of girls on their way to school or elsewhere. The gamut of violence against women is essentially covered with this legislation. She stresses the need for strong action for this unfair and unjust violation of human rights. Sharma also states the violence doesn’t just impact women and their families, but has a palpable impact on economies and a woman’s ability to provide for her family. She offers some statistics to back her eye-opening claim: In Managua, Nicaragua, a study was done that says women who reported abuse earned 40 percent less than those who didn’t. In a study done in Cambodia, 16 percent of women who participated said they had lost income as a result of domestic violence. She offers one good statistic, though: There have been fewer beatings against female members of credit organizations in Bangladesh. She says women presented with economic opportunities are more likely to be protected from violence.
Sharma went on to say that men are not just part of the problem – they are part of the solution as well. And to no surprise, she points out that there is massive public support for this legislation – 82 percent of Americans support it – which leads one to wonder “where are the other 18 percent?” Anyway, she finishes by saying when included in a list of other American issues such as domestic policy, preserving democracy, ending corruption and reconstructing Afghanistan, this non-partisan issue ranks higher in support.
Next up was Humaira Shahid, former editor and legislator from Pakistan who pushed through groundbreaking domestic violence legislation there and is now a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.
Shahid begins with a harrowing story of a 15 year old girl walking into her office in Pakistan who told her she was kidnapped by her father’s brother-in-law and was raped and abused for three weeks. The father had actually brought the child in demanding justice – she was mentally scarred as well as physically, her skin ravaged with bruises and scrapes. Shahid printed this story in the newspapers and even went door to door to try and bring this girl justice. A week later, the father and daughter suddenly vanished. It turns out the father gave the girl to the rapist to collect the reward money. Worse yet – the man got away with it.
Upon later discussion with the girl, the girl said living with a rapist as a wife was easier than living with the stigma of being raped. She had no other feasible alternative fiscally but to live with this deplorable man. Profound, chilling and shocking, and all the more reason this legislation must be passed.
The final speaker was Ashley Judd, celebrated actress and humanitarian.
Judd states that we are still a great world power and need to keep up our fighting efforts to bring violence towards women to the forefront of the social issues we face as a nation, and as part of this world. She says putting an end to gender-based violence is one of her life’s missions, and something she became cognizant of at a young age. The actress and activist adds that she is aware that this bill is focused on an international stage, but there is a lot of work to be done domestically regarding the issue. She brings forth the staggering statistics that 3 women today will die from abuse, a woman is raped every 2 seconds in this nation, and 4.8 million more will be battered in the course of this year. She adds that a quarter of undergrad women will be battered, and 50 percent of all American women will be a victim of some manifestation of gender abuse somewhere along their lifespan. It is apparent that Judd is very aware of the inherent danger and inevitability of this social affliction.
Judd was content with the mentions of abuse impeding a woman’s ability to sustain an income and receive a quality education. She is currently studying at Harvard herself. Judd also echoes the sentiment that men as well as women lose when it comes to gender abuse, despite what society tells us – it diminishes our potential overall. She makes note of the gender ratios in India and China and how they can be conducive to tragedies such as sex selection abortion, abandonment of girls and preferential treatment when it comes to health care. She ends passionately by saying she is devoted to getting the bill passed this session, and that she is also passionate about ending the modern slave trades that occur. Also, she has witnessed the violence that occurs in brothels and stresses the fact that the violence that takes place there is the norm.
This call was definitely a shot in the arm as far as the state of not only our society, but other countries’ societies as far as gender based violence goes. This legislation should be a top priority in this nation, for the benefit of the U.S. and the world as to ending this unfair, criminal activity. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I speak for all involved when I say I hope this has made you more cognizant of the problems we still face with violence towards women.
However, I also hope you extract from this the fact that steps are being taken to combat this type of inequality, and you can make a change – no matter who you are or where you’re from. This is a global issue that will take time yet to make dormant, but if you believe it can be done, it will be done.