I was honored to attend the event to mark the re-introduction of the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) on Thursday February 4th. There was quite a turn out – politicians, activists and advocates all committed to ending the global scourge of violence against women and all gathered to celebrate the long awaited introduction of this landmark legislation.
The bill is a comprehensive response to this global human rights violation that places women’s rights at the center of United States foreign policy and supports programs which have been shown to reduce rates of violence – including education, health, legal reform, economic opportunity and public awareness raising programs. A bipartisan team of sponsors from the House and the Senate were represented at the event and they were joined by two important women who had first hand experience of confronting violence against women. Humaira Shahid, an editor and legislator in Pakistan, was behind groundbreaking legislative reform to defend the rights of women in Pakistan, including a resolution to abolish acid attacks, amendment of criminal laws to increase protection of women from domestic violence and the Women’s Protection Act. As Humaira put it during her speech “..women are the untapped reservoir we should invest in to bring real change…and I-VAWA is the way to do it”
The other guest of honor was our very own Amnesty activist Irene Safi Turner. Irene has worked on gender issues in Central Africa for almost a decade. She made a moving speech on the value of I-VAWA to women like those affected by the conflcit and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “The legislation will bring a sense of hope and purpose for thousands of Congolese women victims of violence who are traumatized and stigmatized by their community” she said “The International Violence Against Women Act is an act of compassion and solidarity”.
The Members of Congress who are sponsoring the bill spoke of the critical role women play in reducing conflict, promoting peace and maintaining security. The bill was introduced by Senator John Kerry, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Societies where women are safe, where women are empowered to realize their aspirations and move their communities forward—are healthier and more stable societies.” said Senator Kerry. “This bill will protect women everywhere, and it turns out that championing these values is also an extremely effective and cost-efficient way to advance America’s foreign assistance goals and strengthen our national security”. Senators Boxer (D-CA), Snowe (R-ME) and Collins (R-ME) joined Senator Kerry to introduce the bill in the Senate and in the House it was introduced by Reps Delahunt (D-MA) and Poe (R-TX). We are certainly grateful for their leadership and welcome the 23 other Representatives and 21 other Senators who have already lent their support by sponsoring the bill at the point of introduction.
Amnesty was heavily involved in the original design of the legislation and we pushed for its introduction during the 110th Congress – its great to see it back in the 111th Congress! Now the hard work begins, to get the bill passed, so we are calling on everyone to contact their member of congress and urge them to cosponsor I-VAWA. I-VAWA provides a unique opportunity to stop the violence and empower those women who are key to maintaining peace.