The Importance of the Violence Against Women Act

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WASHINGTON — One-third of women experience sexual violence or intimate partner violence, according to Doctors without Borders. In Honduras, gender based violence increased by 246 percent from 2005 to 2012. In Brazil every two hours a woman is killed and femicide increased by 230 percent between 1980 and 2010. In Mexico, where femicide has been considered a pandemic, six women are murdered each day.

Femicide is to murder a woman because she is believed to be inferior.

These figures are alarmingly high and demand a genuine response from the global community. The response should acknowledge cultural differences and respectfully interact with local communities to fully combat femicide and violence against women.

Currently, the International Violence Against Women Act of 2015 (S.713 and H.R.1340), or I-VAWA, is in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.

This act is important because it acknowledges femicide and gender-based violence as a global problem that needs government, nonprofit and faith-based organizations interacting to promote the improvement of women’s livelihoods. It recognizes the increasing issues related to women’s health and well-being.

I-VAWA aims to promote gender equality, economic growth and improved public health. Its introduction lists international issues, including the fact that more than half of internally displaced people are women and that there are 125 million girls aged birth to 15 who are victims of female genital mutilation/circumcision.

The bill also elucidates that women are frequently denied participation in peace processes despite the fact that they can play a crucial role as they are often victims in crimes.

As a response to these issues and more, I-VAWA intends to “systematically integrate and coordinate efforts to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls internationally into United States foreign policy and foreign assistance programs” and through supporting and building-capacity for states and other sub-entities that play a natural role in promoting women’s health and rights.

While violence against women and girls has dramatically increased in many states, some NGOs have been actively mitigating this problem with populations most deeply affected by these issues. In addition, states have been passing legislation to counter violent crimes against women.

In India, crimes against women reached 309,546 in 2013. Violence against women increased from 2012 to 2013 by 26.7 percent. Six out of 10 men reported that they were violent against their female partners. The International Center for Research on Women is providing school materials in Maharashtra and Jharkhand, India about gender inequality at more than 12,000 schools for students aged 12-14 years. Students participate in role-play assignments and open discussions are highly encouraged. Some girls have said that they became more confident in themselves and in reporting any harassment or crimes they experience.

In 2015, Brazil, in addition to fully acknowledging the term femicide, passed legislation that creates harsher sentences, 12 to 30 years, for those who commit femicide. In Colombia, the Supreme Court made history by sentencing a man convicted of femicide to 18 years in prison. The lower courts ruled that the man committed a “crime of passion,” i.e. out of jealousy. The term “crime of passion” has been used frequently to dilute the issue of violence against women. Femicide as a term has been powerful in implementing anti-sexist policies.

I-VAWA would be highly crucial in supporting NGOs as states resolve the structural existence of laws and cultures that allow for violence against women. States and organizations are making a difference in society, and the I-VAWA would make a positive impact in helping states fully carry out equality promoting and anti-violence policies.

Aside from moral obligation, violence against women holds back society’s development. When women are devalued, their opportunities to contribute to the economy diminish. This makes a large portion of the population unable to provide a stronger, sustainable domestic and global economy.

The U.S. foreign policy agenda should join the global movement in combating violence against women. The I-VAWA does exactly this and encourages an interactive approach in working with, not for, states to resolve this global problem.

Courteney Leinonen

Sources: Childhood Migration Human Rights Book, Reuters-Gender Education in India, Reuters- Women’s Rights in Columbia, Time, Reuters-Femicide in Central America, Reuters-Femicide in Brazil, Brookings, ICRW, American Aljazeera
Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Courteney Leinonen

Courteney is from Indianapolis, Indiana, but currently writes for The Borgen Project from Philadelphia. She recently lived in London for three years. Courteney completed her bachelor's degrees at Indiana University, and completed her masters in International Relations at King's College London. She loves to sing jazz and soul, particularly songs by Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, and recently picked up candle making as a hobby.

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