WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last month, a group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) in the United States House of Representatives. Championed as a crucial step toward protecting women and girls around the world, what exactly is the bill and how does it work?
The IVAWA was initiated by a coalition of NGOs headed up by Women Thrive Worldwide, Amnesty International USA and Futures without Violence in 2005. The proposed legislation was written in consultation with more than 150 groups — from U.S.-based NGOs to United Nations agencies to overseas women’s groups — and is the fruit of extensive research on what methods are effective in combating gender-based violence. Last month’s introduction of the bill to committee marks the fourth time the proposed legislation has been floated.
Why is such legislation necessary? Gender-based violence is currently at epidemic levels. According to the U.N., more than a billion women — one in three — will be beaten, abused, raped, trafficked or face other forms of violence in her lifetime. In some countries, up to 70% of women face such violence.
In the words of the bill’s sponsor, Representative Jan Schakowsky, “Violence against women is a humanitarian tragedy, a vicious crime, a global health catastrophe, a roadblock to social and economic development and a threat to national security.”
Her opinion is echoed by fellow bill supporter Representative Nita Lowey: “Violence not only makes it harder for women to lead a healthy, safe, and productive life, this shameful scourge reverberates through every level of society and erodes stability, prosperity, and democracy. That is why addressing violence against women and girls must be a priority of the United States. We must pass IVAWA to take real and meaningful steps toward protecting women, reducing poverty, and promoting economic development and stability around the world.”
According to Schakowsky, IVAWA “would make ending violence against women a pillar in U.S. foreign policy… to be considered in all things that we do.” So how would the proposed legislation work?
The IVAWA directs the U.S. government to identify between five and 20 countries where gender-based violence is severe and create a multi-sector five-year strategy for reducing it. The bill supports programs that work to prevent violence as well as those that protect survivors and prosecute perpetrators of abuse. The legislation includes best practice, research-based provisions for preventing and responding to gender-based violence both during peace times and times of conflict.
Last year the Obama administration released the first U.S. national strategy on preventing global gender-based violence. This year, Obama created the ambassador-led Office of Global Women’s Issues. The IVAWA would make this new department permanent.
The bill has garnered strong support from abroad. Wangechi Wachira, executive director of the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness in Nairobi said: “We strongly believe that this law would send a signal… that ending violence against women is a permanent goal for the world.”
Ruth Messinger, president of the international development and rights group, American Jewish World Service, agrees with these sentiments and finds hope in the mere fact that the bill is being discussed in Congress. “In many cases, grassroots activists don’t know enough or don’t have the resources to move the issue forward… knowing that a bill like this is before the U.S. Congress and that it may influence how the United States gives out its funding will make a difference for activists on the ground in getting their government to take more steps to address the problems.”
The IVAWA was assigned to committee on November 21. The committee will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House as a whole sometime in the new year.
– Kelley Calkins