Protection for women a top foreign policy priority

Originally posted on Politico.com

By Sen. John F. Kerry, Rep. Bill Delahunt, Kerry Kennedy & Larry Cox

Rita Mahato, a mother of three, works as a health adviser for the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) in Nepal, counseling rape victims and registering cases of domestic violence routinely dismissed by the local police. In June 2007, a mob of more than 60 men surrounded her offices, threatening to rape and kill Rita and her colleagues – demanding that they end their work. Three years later, Rita and her team continue to be threatened, harassed and physically abused, yet the police have failed to take action. Despite threats to her life, Rita perseveres defending the human rights of women and seeking justice for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Sadly, Rita’s experience is not unique: women around the world are subject to abuse and many also face extreme poverty.

It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why today a bipartisan coalition, led by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) in the Senate and Congressmen Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Ted Poe (R-Texas) in the House, will introduce the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). Introduction of this bill supports the efforts of President Obama and Secretary Clinton to rightly put women at the very center of a broad global security agenda that factors in the great challenges of our decade and invests in the world’s peacemakers.

Passage of the bill is critical. Every day, women and girls are battered, beaten, raped or otherwise brutalized. In some countries, more than 70 percent of women have been the victims of domestic violence. And, for most of these women, justice is elusive, because where violence against women is endemic, so too are impunity and poor governance. Not only can they expect police, prosecutors and judges to refuse to investigate cases against their perpetrators, too often, they can also expect to be condemned, shamed and even punished themselves.

IVAWA will support innovative programs that challenge public attitudes and cultural practices that perpetuate and condone violence against women and girls. In settings where women are prevented or discouraged from seeking justice, IVAWA will support training for police and judicial officials on countering violence against women and respecting the rights of victims. It will allow long-term prevention efforts such as increasing women’s economic security, expanding access to jobs and education, and engaging men to change behaviors and attitudes. Societies in which women are able to live and function in relative safety, empowered to realize their aspirations and move their communities forward are healthier, better developed, and more stable. Societies that take measures to deter discrimination and violence against women are better equipped to root out terrorism, less prone to conflict, and therefore more secure.

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Real men are not afraid of women's empowerment!

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put it “Violence against women and girls will not be eradicated until all of us – men and boys- refuse to tolerate it”. Globally, men are taking a stand. Kenya’s Men for Gender Equality Now (MENGEN), a member of the Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence Against Women global coalition, stands out as an inspiring organization.  Since 2001, MENGEN has worked to involve men in the struggle against gender-based violence and gender-inequality. To date, the organization has reached thousands of men and women in 21 constituencies across Kenya, championing equality and rejecting violence against women.

During the 2009 global 16 Days of activism against gender violence campaign, MENGEN spearheaded the Men’s Traveling Conference, recruiting male role models across Kenya to oppose violence and to start MENGEN branches in their communities. MENGEN mobilized men and women to sign commitment forms pledging their allegiance to fight gender-based violence; despite meeting heavy resistance in some towns, several police offices and provincial administrators pledged their support.

Activists march against gender violence in Kigali, Rwanda.

Activists march against gender violence in Kigali, Rwanda.

On November 25th, the first day of the 16 Days campaign, Malawi Minister for Gender, Children and Community Development, Hon. Patricia Kaliati, launched the official inauguration of MENGEN in Malawi with a powerful statement, “Real Men are not afraid of women’s empowerment.”

Amnesty International USA could not agree more!

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Women's Rights on the Line

A vote in Congress tomorrow (6/10) will decide the fate of a new Office of Global Women’s Issues, a key provision of the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA).

The creation of this office would mean major advancements in healthcare, poverty reduction and U.S. foreign policies aiming to empower and improve the lives of women worldwide. But opposition groups are trying to de-rail this piece of legislation by spreading misinformation about what this office would really do. They claim that this legislation would hurt women’s rights. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This new office is about:

  • helping the U.S. meet its foreign policy goals of economic stability and poverty reduction
  • advancing the global fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other health crises, and
  • pushing the United States to finally take a leadership role in the fight to end violence against women and girls globally

These last moments really count and your Representatives need to hear that you care about women’s rights.  Please take a moment today to tell Congress to support the Office for Global Women’s Issues.  Thank you!

Make It the Best Mother's Day!

Ground-breaking legislation that could help end violence against women around the world is currently in Senator Kerry’s hands – just in time for mother’s day.   What a great gift it would make to mothers and women everywhere if that legislation became reality.

The International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) is an unprecedented effort by the United States to address violence against women globally.  One out of every three women worldwide will be physically or sexually abused during her lifetime.  Violence against women and girls is a violation of human rights. Violence and abuse devastates the lives of millions of women, knows no national or cultural barriers, and most importantly, it must be stopped.

Amnesty International worked with a coalition of supporters and partners to draft IVAWA.  Last week, we sent Senators Kerry and Lugar, the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a final draft of the legislation.  Now, it’s up to them to say “yes” to ending violence against women – walk the bill over to the floor of the Senate and reintroduce it this week before Mother’s Day, May 10th.

If you want to make it the best mother’s day ever, let Senators Kerry and Lugar know you think ending violence against women should be a priority by taking action right now.  Then send a special Mother’s Day ecard to your family and friends encouraging them to take action with you.

Thanks for defending the rights of mothers and daughters everywhere!

DRC: 40,000 Signatures for Obama

When I came to work one day this week, I found two thick packages at my desk: They were filled with signed petitions on ending sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was really impressed by how much activists continue to speak out about human rights violations in the Eastern DRC, even when the issue has once again disappeared from the headlines of major media outlets.

The petition was initiated by Raise Hope for Congo and AIUSA signed on to it last fall. Among other things, it asks President Obama to urge Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) when it is reintroduced later this year. In total, 40,000 people signed the petition, including 9,000 AIUSA members! The Raise Hope for Congo campaign delivered the signatures to President Obama this week, asking him to make an announcement on International Women’s Day on March 8. We’ll definitely look out for that!

Here are some of the things I-VAWA would do in cases such as the crisis in eastern Congo:

  • Increase legal and judicial protection to address violence against women and girls;
  • Increase health sector capacity to address violence against women and girls;
  • Change social norms to end violence against women and girls;
  • Increase U.S. training of overseas foreign security forces on violence against women and girls.

If the International Violence Against Women Act is adopted, the current situation in eastern Congo could be drastically changed by directing U.S. foreign aid towards programs that prevent and respond to violence.

The situation in eastern DRC remains extremely volatile. The recent arrest of CNDP leader Lauren Nkunda is a step in the right direction, but it’s too early to lean back and relax. I have no doubt activists around the country will agree with me and keep up the great work.

Parliamentarians Debate Women's Rights

© Jeronimus van Pelt; Former ‘Comfort Women’ lobby for parliamentary resolutions against violence in the Netherlands

© Jeronimus van Pelt; Former ‘Comfort Women’ lobby for parliamentary resolutions against violence in the Netherlands

The Inter-Parliamentary Union is bringing together members of parliament from around the world this week for a conference on “A Parliamentary Response to Violence Against Women”. During this conference, parliamentarians will discuss the role they can play in ending violence against women. The legislature can play a critical role in ending abuses and achieving rights for women, particularly by introducing laws that fulfill the “three ps” – prevent violence, protect survivors of violence and punish perpetrators of violence.

In our own United States Congress, there is a bill to end violence against women around the world, the International Violence Against Women Act. I hope that our Members of Congress will be inspired by the debates amongst their international parliamentary counterparts gathered in Geneva this week, and moved to support the International Violence Against Women Act. But, it is more likely that they will be inspired by their constituents in their own back yards. That’s where you come in.