3 International Women’s Rights Bills Improving Gender Inequality

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TACOMA, Washington — Congress is paying particular attention to the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Several representatives introduced legislation during the 115th-116th Congress to support gender equality around the globe. Internationally, women face continuing discrimination, violence and inadequate representation in politics. It is estimated that at least 20% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced abuse from an intimate partner within the past year, and women make up less than a quarter of representatives in national parliaments worldwide. Recognizing that discrimination against nearly four billion people hinders social progress globally, these three international women’s rights bills have the power to substantially impact the lives of women everywhere.

H.R. 5267: International Violence Against Women Act of 2019

Originally introduced by Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois in 2012, the International Violence Against Women Act, with 123 original cosponsors, was reintroduced in November 2019. The goal was clear: prevent and address violence against women around the world by redirecting U.S. resources to promote gender equality. The bill does not authorize additional U.S. spending; rather, it asks for current funds to be used more efficiently and effectively to curb and respond to violence.

Other notable requirements of the bill include permanently establishing the Office of Global Women’s Issues as part of the U.S. Department of State, improving emergency response tools for outbreaks of violence abroad and increasing access to services, protection and justice for victims. Women in poverty are exposed to increased violence because they often engage in unsafe relationships and activities in order to meet basic needs for themselves and their families. In turn, gender-based violence exacerbates poverty by causing injury, lowering productivity and increasing food-insecurity for women. This act is critical legislation in the fight against poverty and in support of international women’s rights. The bill’s companion measure, S. 3037, holds bipartisan support in the Senate.

H.R. 1880: Women and Climate Change Act of 2019

Representative Barbara Lee of California introduced the Women and Climate Change Act in March 2019. The bill addresses the intersectionality of international women’s rights and climate change, two globalized subjects that are inextricably linked. Findings noted in the bill include: Women in developing countries will be disproportionately affected by climate change since they are often the food, water and fuel providers of the family. Climate change is expected to worsen natural disasters, conflict and epidemics, adding to the refugee crisis.

Furthermore, it is more difficult for women to adapt to climate change since they face constraints, such as a lack of access to technology, property rights, financial resources, education and reproductive healthcare. The Women and Climate Change Act seeks to mitigate the effects of climate change on women by establishing the Federal Interagency Working Group on Women and Climate change as part of the U.S. Department of State. The working group would be responsible for commencing strategies to alleviate women’s environmental plights globally, made up of member organizations like the Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and many others.

The bill ensures that marginalized women are included in the global conversation about climate change. Senator Maize Hirono of Hawaii introduced the companion measure S. 868 in the Senate. These two bills hold significant Democratic support, with 53 co-sponsors in the House and 5 co-sponsors in the Senate.

H.R. 7816: Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act of 2020

In July 2020, Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Jan Schakowsky introduced the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act of 2020 to repeal the Helms Amendment, a 1973 amendment that bars the U.S. from funding abortions as part of foreign aid. Schakowsky and Pressley, along with four other original co-sponsors, maintain that the Helms Amendment assumes unjust control over women’s bodies around the world, disproportionately affecting women of color, by denying them critical foreign assistance.

According to the legislation’s findings, abortions in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Central America account for 97% of unsafe abortions globally and take at least 24,000 lives per year. Although the annual cost of post-abortion care worldwide is estimated to be $4 billion, this is due to the dangerous conditions in which a majority of abortions are conducted. The bill also notes that restricting abortion does nothing to limit the number of abortions, it only increases the number of unsafe abortions. Pressley, Schakowsky and others are calling for U.S. foreign aid to include funding for safe abortions, which will reduce health care costs and advance the overall health of impoverished communities around the world. If passed, the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act would be a significant step in enhancing international women’s rights. The legislation has no companion measure in the Senate, but currently has 117 Democratic cosponsors in the House.

These three international women’s rights bills are working to improve gender inequality worldwide, addressing poverty in impoverished communities and unjust practices. With women’s rights bills like the International Violence Against Women Act, the Women and Climate Change Act and the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act, gender equality can improve worldwide.

—McKenna Black
Photo: Flickr

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