WASHINGTON, D.C. – The International Women’s Freedom Act was introduced by United States Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) on August 1, 2013. The bill seeks to use United States foreign policy to support those in foreign countries who suffer from gender discrimination.
International Women’s Freedom Act
The International Women’s Freedom Act was created to progress the human rights of women in foreign countries. Women cannot achieve advancement without the financing and resources necessary to support the cause. The International Women’s Freedom Act gives the U.S. Department of State and the executive branch the support it needs to further human rights efforts for women.
A Commission on International Women’s Rights will be established in the State Department and work alongside the current Office of Global Women’s Issues, which will be renamed the Office on International Women’s Rights. The two will be tasked with issuing status reports that detail women’s rights in foreign countries. The Commission and Office of International Women’s Rights will serve as advisers to the President and Secretary of State on issues pertaining to women’s rights abroad.
The International Women’s Freedom Act uses annual country reports as a way to enact national policies in foreign countries that will improve the lives of women. Human rights violations such as child marriage, honor killings, domestic violence and rape could potentially decrease if women’s rights country reports are put to use. Such a report would be the first of its kind if the bill is enacted.
The International Women’s Freedom Act includes the creation of a women’s rights internet website that publicizes international documents regarding the protection of women’s rights. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the general public will have worldwide access to the website. Other important information, such as annual reports and executive summaries, will be made available as well.
The way in which Foreign Service officers are trained will be modified to include instruction on women’s rights and the violations of those rights as internationally recognized.
The International Women’s Freedom Act encourages U.S. outreach to NGOs through high-level meetings. Chiefs of missions and Foreign Service officers abroad are required to meet with imprisoned women’s rights advocates. Both actions are promoted as methods to help improve women’s rights abroad.
The International Women’s Freedom Act establishes conditions that prohibit the providing of economic, multilateral, military and export assistance to governments that severely violate women’s rights.
Prisoner lists will be kept on a country by country basis of individuals who may be imprisoned, detained or on house arrest based on their gender. Evaluations and critiques on countries with restrictive women’s rights policies are to be included with the prisoner lists.
Human Rights for Women
Congressional findings revealed that women are badly abused in many countries all over the world. The human rights of women have been violated both by government policies and governments tolerant of abusing women. Some women live under harsh policies that severely restrict them based on their gender. Men have the authority over the daily lives of women.
In some countries, women must adhere to a strict dress code and a male companion is required to accompany them on outings. Gender discriminating policies can leave women with little mobility. The laws prohibit women from driving and segregate public transportation. Women and girls are not allowed to receive a formal education either. They are banned from attending school or university and women must work inside the home. Women are also forced to live in houses with blacked out windows to hide them from public view.
The overall health of women suffers when women have little to no rights. Some countries make it impossible for women to receive quality health education. Health care access is minimal because of the strict laws that limit women. A male relative must accompany the woman to the doctor and a female doctor must be available because it is against the law for male doctors to touch female patients. If a male relative or female doctor is unavailable, women cannot receive health care.
Violence against women goes hand-in-hand with gender inequality. The World Health Organization (WHO) listed some risk factors associated with gender inequality that contribute to sexual violence against women. Those risk factors include family honor and sexual purity belief systems, male sexual entitlement ideologies and the lack of legal sanctions for sexual violence.
Sexual violence against women has serious health consequences for female victims. WHO found that 42 percent of women suffer injuries from sexual violence. Women can contract sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), from their attacker. Sexual violence also subjects women to gynecological problems and unintended pregnancies. Women are put at a higher risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and having babies born preterm or at a low birth weight. Sexual violence can also end fatally in homicide or suicide.
The conditions for women in many parts of the world can be quite extreme and even deadly. Enacting the International Women’s Freedom Act allows the U.S. to better monitor the conditions for women abroad and recommend policies that advance women’s rights.