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.
This isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s in our own interests. Investing in women makes sense because when they are safe and free to earn a living they invest in education and grow economies – making U.S. assistance dollars go farther. And, U.S. security benefits from the elevated status of women. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recently stated that one of the most effective forces for defeating extremism is female education. IVAWA will help make this possible.
A comprehensive U.S. response to the global scourge of violence against women is long overdue. Going forward, this goal should be recognized as crucial to global development and stability, and by extension, to America’s security. IVAWA is the first step in making women a central focal point in U.S. foreign policy and allows the United States to join with them in their struggle to stop the violence.
Larry Cox is executive director of Amnesty International USA. Kerry Kennedy is Chair, Amnesty International USA Executive Director’s Leadership Council. Rep. Bill Delahunt (D) represents the 10th congressional district in Massachusetts. Sen. John Kerry represents the state of Massachusetts and is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.