I-VAWA: Abusegate to go International?

Bill Pledges a Billion Dollars to Fight Gender Violence
By Charles Fromm

WASHINGTON, Feb 4, 2010 (IPS) – The U.S. House and Senate introduced new legislation Thursday that addresses the plight of women around the world who are victims of violence.

The International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) would make violence against women worldwide a priority of the United States government and an enhanced component of its foreign policy and foreign assistance programmes.

Several advocacy groups and non-profit organisations have issued statements supporting the bipartisan legislation, including Amnesty International, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF and Women Thrive Worldwide, among others.

“Every day around the world, girls and women are subjected to indescribable acts of violence. Rape, sexual exploitation, and physical abuse are daily occurrences and these crimes too often go unpunished. The International Violence Against Women Act is an important step in addressing gender-based violence and in protecting the rights of women and girls,” said Ann M. Veneman, executive director at UNICEF.

Senators sponsoring the bipartisan legislation included John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

In the House, Representatives Bill Delahunt, Ted Poe and Jan Schakowsky are lead sponsors.

“Societies where women are safe, where women are empowered to realise their aspirations and move their communities forward, are healthier and more stable societies,” said Kerry. “This bill will protect women everywhere, and it turns out that championing these values is also an extremely effective and cost-efficient way to advance America’s foreign assistance goals and strengthen our national security.”

“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,” Snowe added.

Violence specifically targeted towards women can include abuse by spouses, rape as a weapon during war, dowry-related deaths and forced prostitution.

“We must pursue policies that increase women’s economic opportunity, advance educational opportunities, and build public awareness, among both men and women,” said State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley in a statement posted on the State Department’s website.

The legislation aims to improve legal and judicial protections and increase the capacity of the health-sector to respond to violence against women, sexual and gender-based violence.

Before the introduction of the I-VAWA, legislation surrounding violence against women was primarily relegated to specific phenomenon, such as child marriage, human trafficking or education.

This is first time a bill introduced to the U.S. congress has comprehensively incorporated legal, economic and health protection for women into all U.S. foreign assistance programs.

The bill is a comprehensive, five-year, one-billion dollar plan that authorises projects in 10 to 20 countries which have severe levels of violence against women and girls.

According to the legislation’s summary, the projects will work to promote economic opportunities for women, address violence against girls in school, and work to change public attitudes surrounding women, among other strategies.

If passed, the bill may have far-reaching political implications, as it would require the U.S. government to respond to critical outbreaks of gender-based violence in armed conflict, such as the former rape-camps of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, or the mass rapes still taking place in the ongoing civil wars of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The legislation was crafted in part by Amnesty International USA, the Family Violence Prevention Fund and Women Thrive Worldwide. Lawmakers also sought recommendations from a variety of international and U.S.-based NGOs.

“The odds are stacked against women in many spheres,” said Meghan Rhoad, researcher in the Women’s Rights division at Human Rights Watch. “This bill is a chance for changes that will make a real difference.”

“It is exciting to see a bill that holds so much promise for tackling an issue that has inflicted tremendous suffering and undermined economic and social development around the globe,” Rhoad went on to say.


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