SEATTLE, Washington — Staggering numbers of women have experienced gender-based violence around the world. According to the World Health Organization, more than one in three women around the world have been physically and/or sexually assaulted. A group in the U.S. congressmen/women and senators have come together to introduce legislation meant to tackle violence against women, especially in parts of the world plagued by violent conflict. On June 11, 2019, the Accountability for Sexual and Gender-based Violence as a Tool in Conflict Act of 2019 was introduced to both chambers of Congress.
A Global Issue
Although violence against women is a problem around the world, it is particularly rampant in areas of violent conflict. During the wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, more than 50,000 women and girls were sexually assaulted as a form of ethnic cleansing. During the Congo’s Kivu conflict, some estimates put the number of victims at more than a million. It is clear that drastic action must be taken to combat the threat of gender-based violence around the world.
The U.S. has a complicated history with helping to reduce gender-based violence around the world. In some ways, the U.S. has been quite involved in these efforts, but in other ways, it has lagged behind the rest of the world. For instance, the U.S. has failed to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) despite the fact that it has helped pressure many countries into adopting policies that protect women from violence and other forms of mistreatment.
However, during the Obama administration, the U.S. actively put the promotion of women’s rights and protections for violence against women at the forefront of its foreign policy. In 2011, President Obama issued an executive order that established the National Plan on Women, Peace and Security. The executive order aimed to increase women’s inclusion in peace negotiations and conflict resolution, protect women from gender-based violence and ensure that women receive equal access to recovery and assistance in areas of violent conflict around the world.
Sexual and Gender-based Violence as a Tool in Conflict Act of 2019
On June 11, 2019, a group of congressmen/women and senators introduced the Accountability for Sexual and Gender-based Violence as a Tool in Conflict Act of 2019 to both chambers of congress. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives with eight other Democratic cosponsors. Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the bill in the Senate. The bill has been sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Judiciary Committee for debate. It has yet to be introduced fully to either chamber of congress.
Generally, the bill aims to enable the U.S. to prevent and respond to violence against women across the globe, especially when it results from violent conflict. It seeks to protect survivors of sexual violence around the world and to hold governments that perpetrate such violence accountable. In its current form, the bill contains 3 main features:
- An amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 which would require the Act’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices to include a section on conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence.
- An amendment to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act which would include sexual and gender-based violence as a human rights violation. Violations would trigger economic sanctions under the Act.
- An amendment to Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2019 which would impose travel restrictions on individuals or entities that have committed or condoned sexual and gender-based violence.
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
In the modified annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, countries in which rape and sexual violence occur as a result of conflict would be assessed on their willingness to combat said violence. Specifically, countries in a conflict would be assessed on whether their government officials facilitate, condone or participate in gender-based violence. If this were not the case, that government would then be evaluated on the steps it was taking to prohibit that behavior from happening in the future. Additionally, governments would be evaluated on whether they offered victims of sexual and gender-based violence the humanitarian relief they need.
For now, the future of this new legislation remains unclear. GovTrack uses data from Skopos Labs to predict the likelihood that a bill will become a law, and currently, this legislation has only a 5 percent chance of being enacted. However, the fact that the bill has so much support in Congress and the Senate is an encouraging sign that the U.S. is embracing its role in helping to tackle violence against women around the world.
– Andrew Bryant