The Importance of the Safe from the Start Act

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — In 2019, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations drafted the Safe from the Start Act. Sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY 6th District), it seeks to combat sexual violence and exploitation during humanitarian crises. The Act directs the Department of State to take a more active role in preventing and responding to gender-based violence (GBV). Furthermore, the bill would implement “guidelines, toolkits, reporting mechanisms and other institutional response and accountability measures” to handle such crimes. In addition, the Department would work closely with NGO’s and local actors to set up centers, distribute medical care and dispense justice.

The Safe from the Start Act

Previous Secretary of State John Kerry officially launched the Safe from the Start initiative in 2013. By 2015, Congress had allocated nearly $40 Million to support the initiative. These funds went to supporting various organizations (like UNICEF) and local aid workers. Rep. Meng along with Reps. Chris Stewart (R-UT 2nd District), Lois Frankel (D-FL 21st District), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL 25th District) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA 6th District) drafted the bill with bipartisan input. They officially introduced the bill to Congress on July 30, 2019.

Safe from the Start continues with policies on gender and protection that the Obama-era foreign policy initiative started. While previous rules and regulations were set up, the initiative sought to codify and strengthen such rules and procedures. Furthermore, the main objectives of the Safe from the Start Initiative include an increase in interventions of gender-based violence, the integration of “risk mitigation across all humanitarian sectors” and an increase in global-level accountability.

Why It Is Needed

Around one in five women report sexual violence during humanitarian emergencies although the number is estimated to be much higher due to under-reporting. These crimes against women and girls include forced marriages and human trafficking. For example, the Syrian Civil War and the subsequent refugee crisis has produced astronomical levels of GBV, notably in the surrounding nations of Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Female refugees report that fear of GBV is now part of everyday life. According to a 2014 UNHCR report, 60 percent of female Syrian refugees surveyed “felt insecure and were afraid of both violence and harassment.”

The President and Founder of Futures Without Violence, Esta Soler, believes that “ending gender-based violence and helping those harmed by it heal must be a top foreign policy priority if we are to reduce conflict and violence globally.” The data shows that violence and state instability go hand in hand. Futures Without Violence is an education and public policy non-profit. It has spent more than 30 years combating domestic and sexual violence. The initiative not only secures the safety of vulnerable populations but also ensures that they are able to thrive when such conflicts end. It helps to contain the effects of such horrendous events.

What People Can Do

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs is currently considering the Safe from the Start Act. The Borgen Project encourages its readers to reach out to their local representatives in support of the Act. “Today, as we are witness to the largest flow of refugees in recorded history, protecting women and girls from gender-based violence must be a priority that is integrated fully into the U.S. Government’s humanitarian response,” stated Rep. Meng. That is precisely what this legislation is intended to do. It would provide a way to improve “prevention and mitigation efforts.”

Malcolm C. Schulz
Photo: Flickr

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