Bipartisan Support for the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA.), Chairwoman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women’s Issues, along with sponsors Senators Collins (R-ME) and Snowe (R-ME) and Representatives Bill Delahunt (D-MA), Ted Poe (R-TX), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced The International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) in the House and Senate.

Violence against women is a worldwide epidemic. Amnesty International reports that one in three women globally has been sexually, physically, emotionally or otherwise abused. In some countries the rate of domestic violence is as high as 70 percent. Violence against women includes, but is certainly not limited to: domestic violence/beatings, verbal abuse, mass rape, torture, acid attacks, false imprisonment, forced and arranged/dowry marriages, forced pregnancies, underage marriages, public lashings, female genital mutilation (FGM), human trafficking, stoning, and honor killings.

I-VAWA creates new institutional authorities, responsibilities, and funding to fight the scourge of violence against women and girls around the globe.

The bill addresses for the first time, violence against women and girls through all relevant US foreign policy efforts, including its international assistance programs. It would allocate $175 million a year over five years, for a total of $1 billion. The bill would support local efforts in up to 20 low-income countries, assisting in public awareness and health campaigns; shelters; education, training, and economic empowerment programs for women, as well as legal reforms. It would create a specialized office in the U.S. Agency for International Development and provide $40 million annually, for five years, to expand and modify emergency and humanitarian relief programs to address violence against women. The I-VAWA would also make the issue a diplomatic priority for the first time, asking the United States to respond within three months to horrific acts of violence against women and girls committed during conflict and war.

Senator Boxer said, “Every day, too many women and girls across the globe endure horrific acts of violence.  They are disfigured by acid, raped and beaten, or they are denied the opportunity to see a doctor.  This important legislation gives the United States government the tools to make international violence against women and girls a top diplomatic priority.”

“As the international community strives to respond to conflicts and humanitarian crises, such as last month’s devastating earthquake in Haiti, it is absolutely vital that we pay careful attention to those populations most vulnerable to violence and abuse,” said Senator Snowe.  “There is no question the federal government’s efforts to combat violence against women across the globe are hampered by a lack of strategic focus and integration with existing programs. With this bill, we will finally provide the State Department with the tools it needs to develop targeted, gender-based violence prevention and response activities in countries with significant levels of violence against women. There is no question women can and will drive social and economic progress in the developing world when they are afforded the same protections and opportunities.”

Senator Collins said, “I have long been concerned about the treatment of women and girls throughout the world, especially in places like Afghanistan.  This legislation is an important step toward ending gender-related violence in the world, which is a disturbing and unacceptable practice.”

“Worldwide, one in three women will be the victim of abuse, physical, sexual, or psychological, because of her gender at some point in her lifetime,” said Representative Poe. “Violence doesn’t recognize borders. It is imperative to the fight to end violence against women that we take the lead, not only by example, but by educating and providing opportunities for other countries to end the violence around the world.”

“This is a crucial year for Afghanistan, and the country’s future success will depend, in large part, on its women.  The women of Afghanistan, like women in all conflict zones, have borne the brunt of years of warfare; they will also form the underpinning of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.  No woman should have to live her life in fear of attack.  U.S. leadership will be critical if we are to effectively fight abuses against our sisters around the world.  I am proud to support this important legislation, which will finally make halting violence against women and girls a U.S. foreign policy priority,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Co-Chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus.

Support from the American public is strong. A 2009 poll found that 61 percent of voters across demographic and political lines thought global violence against women should be one of the top international priorities for the US government, and 82 percent supported the International Violence Against Women Act.

Larry Cox and Kerry Kennedy of Amnesty International USA aided in the drafting and advocacy of the bill. More than 150 U.S.-based experts and 40 women’s groups overseas gave advice on the bill.

Senators Brown, Burris, Cardin, Casey, Dodd, Durbin, Franken, Gillibrand, Johnson, Kaufman, Klobuchar, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Menendez, Mikulski, Murray, Schumer, Shaheen, Stabenow, Udall, and Whitehouse are co-sponsors of the legislation.

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