CHICAGO —In some countries, the number of women and girls who experience gender-based violence reaches as high as 70 percent.
While this number is striking, it doesn’t tell the full picture. Oftentimes, gender-based violence will go under-reported as the victims fear impunity, retaliation and victim-blaming.
One study showed that in the European Union alone, women reported only 14 percent of intimate partner violence to the police. But even this number is high compared to India’s reporting rate of 1 percent.
The occurrence of gender-based violence reinforces the cycle of poverty. Women who are excluded from school and the economy desperately engage in dangerous activities in order to provide for their family. These activities expose them to sexual exploitation, abuse, HIV and even human trafficking. Once victimized, these women often do not have the means to obtain the social and medical services they need to recover.
Preventing gender-based violence and providing treatment for victims is a crucial step toward empowerment for women, which is critical to global development. Addressing gender-based violence on a global scale is necessary to finally close the gender gap.
Last spring, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced the International Violence Against Women Act of 2015 (IVAWA). “We must continue to focus on combating gender-based violence whenever and wherever it occurs,” said Rep. Schakowsky in a press release. “The International Violence Against Women Act will ensure that this remains a top foreign policy priority of the United States, protecting the lives of women and girls, and promoting peace.”
“Too many women and girls face horrific violence and discrimination across the globe, every day, and that affects our national security, global justice and economic growth,” Sen. Boxer said.
The measures prescribed in the bill aim to ramp up the U.S.’s efforts to combat gender-based violence worldwide.
The IVAWA calls for the establishment of an Office of Global Women’s Issues (OGWI) within the Department of State. The ambassador-at-large of this office would coordinate with USAID’s existing senior coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in updating and implementing a strategy to fight global gender-based violence.
Specifically, IVAWA suggests updating the current U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, which was issued in August 2012.
Under IVAWA, the new strategy would start by identifying five to 20 low and middle-income countries where gender-based violence is especially prevalent. Countries with the organizational capacity to implement various programs will be selected.
Once selected, the OGWI and USAID will work with experts, local governments and civil society to develop comprehensive plans to address and respond to gender-based violence. The plans will be individually tailored to best address each nation’s needs.
To accomplish this, the IVAWA directs the Secretary of State and USAID to conduct original research and improve data collection on gender-based violence. This will enable them to analyze the effectiveness of existing interventions and understand the scope of under-reported instances as they occur in each locality.
Each plan must include at least two of the activities listed below from the bill:
“(1) Development and implementation of programs that work to change social norms and attitudes so that violence against women and girls is neither condoned nor tolerated.
(2) Promotion of accessible quality educational, learning, and literacy opportunities for women and girls.
(3) Promotion of access to economic opportunities, including by increasing distribution, credit, property, and inheritance rights for women and girls.
(4) Development and enforcement of civil and criminal legal and judicial sanctions, protections, trainings, and capacity.
(5) Enhancement of the health sector capacity to detect, prevent, and respond to violence against women and girls.”
Once completed, each implementation plan will be submitted to the corresponding congressional committee.
Expenditures for the plans under IVAWA will draw on already existing funds allocated to the Department of State and Other International Programs (State/OIP) budget. It will also take into account resources from donor country governments, multilateral institutions and the private sector.
Stopping gender-based violence is not only important for the millions of women and girls who experience it each year, but also for global development. When women are forced into the cycle of poverty because of gender-based violence, the world loses out on valuable assets. In Asia and the Pacific alone, lack of women’s participation in the market accounts for a loss of $47 billion in output per year.