February 04, 2010

INTERNATIONAL VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT

Mr. President, I rise today to express my support for the International Violence Against Women Act, introduced today by Senators Kerry, Boxer, Snowe and Collins. I am proud to be a cosponsor on this legislation simply because it has the power to save the lives of women and girls around the world while increasing our safety here at home.

This bill is particularly significant because it would be a very significant effort by the United States to tackle this egregious and widespread problem. One out of every three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime, with rates reaching 70 percent in some countries.
 
Ranging from rape to domestic violence and acid burnings to dowry deaths and so-called honor killings, violence against women and girls is an extreme human rights violation, a public health epidemic and a barrier to solving global challenges such as extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS and conflict. It devastates the lives of millions of women and girls - in peacetime and in conflict - and knows no national or cultural barriers.
Women who are abused are not only more likely to face serious injury or death because of abuse, but are at much greater risk of dying in pregnancy, having children who die in childhood, and contracting HIV/AIDS.
 
What many people don't realize though is that violence against women and girls is a major cause of poverty. Women are much more likely to be among the world's poorest, living on a $1 a day or less, and the violence they face keeps them poor. It prevents them from getting an education, going to work, and earning the income they need to lift their families out of poverty. In turn, women's poverty means they are not free to escape abuse, perpetuating a vicious cycle that keeps women from making better lives for themselves and their families.

In Nicaragua, for example, a study found that children of victims of violence left school an average of four years earlier than other children. In India, it has been found that women who experienced even a single incident of violence lost an average of seven working days. Sometimes, the workplace itself can be a source of abuse: in Kenya, 95 percent of the women who had experienced sexual abuse in their workplace were afraid to report the problem for fear of losing their jobs.

Greater economic opportunity and earning capacity not only allows women an option of escaping violent situations, but more importantly, it increases equality and respect within households, reducing women's vulnerability to abuse in the first place.
Women around the world are working desperately to change the laws and customs in their countries that routinely allow women and girls to be raped, beaten or deprived of any legal rights, even the ability to see a doctor or leave the house alone. But they need our help.
 
And IVAWA is a good step in that direction.

The bill was developed in consultation with more than 150 expert organizations, including the input of 40 women's groups from all around the world. 
 
Highlighting the cross-cutting nature of the issue of violence, the bill is supported by a diverse coalition of almost 200 NGOs, including Amnesty International USA, Women Thrive Worldwide, Jewish Women International, Family Violence Prevention Fund, CARE, United Methodist Church , and Refugees International.

This bill would d irect the State Department to create a comprehensive 5-year strategy to reduce violence against women and girls in up to 20 countries and provide vital funds to foster programs in these countries that address violence in a coordinated, comprehensive way. It would do this by reforming legal and health sectors, helping to change social norms and attitudes that condone rape and abuse, and improving education and economic opportunities for women and girls.

Because violence against women is often rampant in countries embroiled in conflict or crisis, this bill also requires that the United States act in cases of extreme outbreaks of violence against women and girls, like the horrific levels of rape experienced by women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This legislation is necessary because this is not an academic issue - we must remember that the scourge of gender-based violence effects real women around the world.
 
But there are solutions.
 
When Dulce Marlen Contreras started her organization with seven of her friends, the first thing on her mind was how to help the women of Honduras protect themselves from domestic violence. A daughter of farmers in the rural region of La Paz, Honduras, Marlen was tired of watching the women of her community endure widespread alcoholism and household abuse.
 
In 1993, Marlen founded the Coordinadora de Mujeres Campesinas de La Paz, or COMUCAP, to raise awareness about women's rights. The organization started by educating women in the community about their rights and training them to stand up for themselves.
 
As time went on, Marlen noticed something was missing. While awareness-building was critical, in order to reduce violence for the long-term COMUCAP had to attack the problem at its root: poverty. "We realized that until women are economically empowered, they will not be empowered to escape abuse for good," says Marlen. Seeing this link changed the way COMUCAP approached its work. It started training women to grow and sell organic coffee and aloe vera, helping them to earn an income for their families.
 
Initially the reaction from the community was hostile - women's empowerment was seen as a threat to families. As COMUCAP's programs grew, however, they started seeing results - the more money women made, the more power they were able to assert in the household.

As the community started to view the women of COMUCAP as economic contributors to its families, more and more women made decisions jointly with their husbands and stood up for themselves and their children in the face of abuse. Today COMUCAP provides employment and income to over 256 women in its community. Household violence has reduced drastically within the families of COMUCAP.

This example clearly illustrates that violence against women is preventable and that there are proven solutions that work. Even more inspiring, there are many thousands of local organizations like COMUCAP worldwide, which work within their own communities to support women in violent situations, help them find ways to support themselves and change cultural attitudes within their communities.
 
And by supporting funding to overseas women's organizations to enable them to work independently, IVAWA encourages this type of grassroots sustainability that will be crucial to any permanent solution to violence.

Violence has a profound effect on the lives of women and girls, and therefore, all communities around the world. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I am committed to continue to work with my colleagues to fight to end it and to provide any assistance and resources necessary to achieve this goal.
 
Thank you, Mr. President.