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.