Around the world, we hear report after report of violence against women and girls. A five-year-old is raped in India. A girl is shot in the head in Pakistan on the way to school. 26 women are sexually assaulted by police in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico. A women’s rights advocate in Afghanistan is murdered in the street.
Violence against women and girls is one of the world’s most pervasive and preventable human rights abuses. It constitutes a tremendous and costly problem for societies from Burkina Faso to Bangladesh.
The United Nations estimates that one in every three women will experience violence at some point in her life. In some countries, the rate of women and girls experiencing violence is as high as 70 percent. Women and girls fall prey to sex traffickers, are attacked as they attend school, endure brutality in the home and are raped in conflict zones.
After graduating from Colgate in 2005, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa. My work focused on the promotion of girls’ empowerment and education. One of the best parts of the experience was seeing the confidence grow among the girls I worked with. The worst was the evidence all around me of the destabilizing and often devastating impact that violence against women reaps on individuals, families and communities.
The terrible consequences of violence against women around the globe rob countries of the contributions and talent of half their populations. Violence takes the lives of millions of women and girls and denies countless others their dignity and right to live safe, productive lives.
No country is immune. Violence crosses all borders and affects women of all ages, social groups, religions and economic, racial and ethnic groups.
This past November, the bipartisan International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) was introduced in the House of Representatives. Joining lead sponsor Jan Schakowsky (IL-9th) were the original co-sponsors, including New York Representatives Christopher Gibson (NY-19th) and Richard Hanna (NY-22nd), whose district includes Hamilton, NY. A similar bipartisan bill will likely be introduced in the Senate this January.
Passage of the I-VAWA would for the first time place gender-based violence at the center of the U.S. foreign policy and international aid agenda. Working through international assistance that the U.S. already provides to countries around the world, the bill supports best practices of violence prevention and response so that authorities can bring perpetrators to justice and women and girls can go to school, earn an income, farm and collect water without fear of rape.
Last year, the U.S. government took a critical step to help millions of women and girls by releasing the first-ever U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. This comprehensive strategy improves existing aid programs with the goal of helping to prevent and reduce violence against women. Passing the I-VAWA would ensure that these efforts continue.
Supporting the I-VAWA isn’t just the right thing to do, it also serves the strategic interests of the U.S. Investing in women is smart policy because when
women and girls thrive, societies are more likely to prosper. Empowered women and girls lead to reduced rates of HIV, decreased child and maternal
mortality and an increase in participatory and democratic governments – all of which help to ensure that U.S. foreign assistance dollars go farther.
U.S. security – and the security of all countries – is only enhanced when the status of women is elevated. Addressing violence against women is crucial to global development and stability and, by extension, to U.S. security.
My time as a student at Colgate helped lead to a career that has taken me around the world, working with women in countries including Haiti and the
Philippines to advocate for gender equality and an end to gender-based violence. I am proud that Congressman Hanna, whose district covers Colgate and surrounding areas, has chosen to lead Congressional efforts to do more to stop violence against women and girls across the globe.