Representative Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois, recently sponsored a new bill aimed at curbing violence against women globally.
The International Violence Against Women Act of 2012, which was co-sponsored by 47 other Democratic members of Congress, would establish an Office of Global Women’s Issues within the State Department and provide funding for gender-based foreign assistance programs.
In particular, it would: require the U.S. to develop a comprehensive strategy for reducing and preventing violence against women and girls; coordinate existing assistance programs and make grants to non-governmental and community-based organizations; ensure accountability of the United States’ response to violence against women and girls internationally; enhance training of foreign military and police forces and judicial officials on violence against women and girls; and create educational and economic opportunities for women.
Schakowsky listed “staggering” statistics. One in three women worldwide (1 billion women) is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused over the course of her lifetime. The U.N. reports that among women aged 15-44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. In some countries, 70% of women and girls are affected by violence.
Women living in areas of war and conflict are particularly vulnerable. Schakowsky cited a recent trip she made to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, “where rape has been used for over a decade as a low tech, low cost and horrifically effective weapon of war.”
“IVAWA will make ending violence against women and girls a foreign policy priority of the United States,” Schakowsky announced at a recent press conference. “It will give the Unites States government news tools to promote the fundamental rights of women around the world,” she added.
Schakowsky used the bill’s introduction as an opportunity to take a dig at the Republicans. She said she was highly disappointed that after over a year of negotiations across the aisle, House Republicans have refused to support IVAWA unless it included the Global Gag Rule or other extremely restrictive abortion restrictions. “I hope they will reconsider that position because this bill has nothing to do with abortion,” she said.
She added that the law is also about national security, because most of the world’s unstable countries and regions are ones in which women do not enjoy equal rights and are not protected from gender-based violence.
“I feel myself to be part of an international sisterhood, and, given my special privileged position, am obligated to do what I can to address the concerns of victims worldwide of violence against women,” Schakowsky said in a statement made to The Forward through her communications director, Adjoa Adofo.
“Without question, my Jewish values drive much of my decision-making and priority setting as a Congresswoman. I have a deep sense of commitment to those in need or in danger whose situation can be helped by my advocacy.”