Madam Secretary

International Violence Against Women Act approved by Senate Foreign Relations Committee

International Violence Against Women Act approved by Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Stopping the scourge of rape, domestic violence, acid attacks, and honor killings perpetrated against women internationally has been an important priority for Secretary Clinton, an unflagging advocate for women and girls. And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took an important step toward advancing that priority yesterday when it approved the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). 

IVAWA, drafted after consultations with more than 40 women’s groups in developing countries and more than 100 experts and other organizations, will support local NGOs addressing the problem of violence against women and girls. The problem will be tackled through various means, such as services for survivors, economic-empowerment programs, girls’ education, and legal and judicial training programs.

The act targets countries where violence against women and girls is rampant, but where three things are going for them, according to an op-ed by Ritu Sharma of Women Thrive Worlwide: The national government is receptive (or at least not opposed) to anti-violence efforts, local women’s groups are active and ready to expand, and the United States has a positive relationship with the country.

As Clinton said last week at the TEDWomen conference, women’s issues are a security issue. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, an original co-sponsor of IVAWA,  referred to that rationale when hailing the bill in a statement yesterday, stating:

The Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that one of the most effective forces for defeating extremism is female safety and education. Violence against women undermines the effectiveness of existing U.S. investments in global development and stability, whether fighting HIV/AIDS, increasing basic education, or creating stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The bill was approved with an amendment that constrains the funding the act would receive if passed. A news release from the Foreign Relations Committee states: "Chairman [John] Kerry offered an amendment in response to concerns raised by Republicans and some faith-based groups.  Among other things, the amendment reduces authorization levels to ‘such sums’ in order to focus on existing resources. While the use of new funds is possible, the focus is on transparency, accountability, inclusion, and longevity."

Sadly, too many lawmakers seem to have difficulty coughing up funds to help marginalized women in developing countries, while spending billions on pork-barrel projects. But supporting women benefits us all. As Clinton said at TEDWomen last week:

Give women equal rights, and entire nations are more stable and secure. Deny women equal rights, and the instability of nations is almost certain. The subjugation of women is, therefore, a threat to the common security of our world and to the national security of our country.

Next step for the bill: Get passed by the Senate and House by the end of the year.