How Vital is the International Violence Against Women Act?

Last week as I strolled through rainy Paris to La Poste to send off my absentee ballot to America, I kept reminding myself, Barbara Boxer will triumph. So will Kirsten Gillibrand. With election outcomes that cannot be called anything less than challenging, victory for these two women Senators seemed essential to help ensure the passing of the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA).

Originally introduced by John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with Boxer to the House and the Senate in February 2010, the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) was highlighted by Her Blueprint in late August in a MAKE CHANGE article while the act was making its way through Congress. In late September, the bill stalled.

However, the same statistics remain: Amnesty International cites that "one out of every three women worldwide has been physically or sexually abused during her lifetime with rates of domestic violence reaching 70 percent in some countries."

Erin Kennedy, Policy Advocate for CARE, an organization that works to end global poverty by empowering marginalized women and girls to bring lasting change to their communities, recently shared her thoughts on why she has been advocating to gain more support for IVAWA.

Based in Washington D.C. along with a team of policy and advocacy professionals, Erin advocates CARE’s mission: to focus on pivotal policies and legislation that will impact poor women and girls and work to influence the U.S. Congress, the Administration, and other key agencies. Right now, her focus is on the International Violence Against Women Act for a variety of sound reasons.

As Erin shares, "There is unprecedented support and momentum for the legislation with over 150 U.S. groups including faith-based, human rights, refugee and women’s organizations that support the bill. In addition, support from the American public is strong as well. A 2009 poll found that 61% of voters across demographic and political lines thought global violence against women should be one of the top international priorities for the U.S. government, and 82% supported I-VAWA legislation when it was explained to them."

IVAWA promotes efforts to reduce women’s and girls’ vulnerability to violence through programs aimed at improving their economic status and ensuring access to educational opportunities. The legislation also aims to support community level efforts to change harmful norms that lead to social tolerance of violence against women and girls. IVAWA will also buttress programs to help women and girl survivors of violence gain access to the legal system, and ensure safety and support throughout the legal process. In these multi-sectoral holistic efforts, IVAWA supports the development of societies where women’s and girls’ rights are recognized and promoted, and the problem of violence against women is effectively reduced.

That said, thousands of bills are up for legislation and many never make it into practice. The reason, Erin says, that IVAWA is so essential is that it is a first. "IVAWA is the first coordinating effort by the U.S. government to tackle violence against women and girls throughout the world. It aims to address Gender-Based Violence (GBV) by increasing violence prevention and response efforts within U.S. foreign assistance and diplomacy."

In August, Her Blueprint also reported in Health Versus Harm: Zero Tolerance on Violence Against Women and Girls that Gender-Based Violence amounts to an uncontained crisis. Accordingly, IVAWA would direct the State Department, in coordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to create, develop, then implement a comprehensive five-year strategy to prevent violence against women and girls for five to 20 countries which are experiencing significant levels of violence.

Erin asserts that through "decades of experience working with communities to address poverty in more than 70 countries globally, CARE has found that empowering women and girls yields dramatic benefits for families, entire communities, and nations. But we [CARE] has also found that violence against women and girls is one of the key barriers to empowering women and addressing issues of poverty and inequality. So a bill such as IVAWA, that addresses violence, is important not only because it will help to protect and empower women and girls, but also because this will help to reduce poverty and support community development efforts."

In February 2010, when the bill was introduced, Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE stated in a press release, "The introduction of IVAWA sends a strong message that the United States will not stand by while women and girls are repeatedly abused and subjected to violence. The passage of this legislation would be a historic proactive step forward in improving lives around the world, and I urge the American public and members of Congress to support it."

Pictured is an IVAWA advertisement supported by the Family Violence Prevention Fund and Women Thrive Worldwide, two of the 150 organizations pushing for this pivotal bill to pass.