On November 1, 2007, Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced in the Senate the International Violence Against Women Act, closely modeled on the VAWA enacted by Congress in 1994 and recently re-authorized. The IVAWA was developed with expertise and cooperation from numerous NGOS world-wide. Through the coordination of resources and leadership from the United States, the legislation, called a “blueprint” by Sen. Biden, tackles on a global level the problem of widespread and increasing violence that targets females around the world. Its ambitious goal is to prevent and respond to the often endemic violence faced by girls and women which can take the forms of forced child marriages, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, and femicide, as seen in the mass rapes and murders of women and girls used as a weapon of war to terrorize entire communities, as occurred in Bosnia and the Congo.
As noted in the Senators’ joint press release, there are three primary components of the bill. The IVAWA would:
1. create a central Office for Women’s Global Initiatives to coordinate the United States’ policies, programs and resources that deal with women’s issues, and provide that its director report directly to the Secretary of State;
2. mandate a 5 year comprehensive strategy to fight violence against women in 10 to 20 selected countries, and provide a dedicated annual funding stream of $175 million to support programs dealing with violence prevention in the criminal and civil justice systems, healthcare, girls’ access to education and school safety, women’s economic empowerment, and public awareness campaigns; and
3. require training, reporting mechanisms and a system for dealing with women and girls afflicted by violence during humanitarian, conflict and post-conflict operations.
The Executive Director of Amnesty International, one of the participating organizations, underscored the need for such legislation to address the dire consequences of the horrific violence inflicted on women both in domestic situations and during armed conflict, which is prevalent in so many countries. Such violence “destabilizes communities, undermines economic development and breeds poverty and despair.” Senator Biden believes it is time for the U.S. to become actively engaged in the “fight for woman’s lives and girls’ futures.” Dedicating money and services toward this goal will educate and empower women, and thereby improve conditions for all people. Unfortunately, given the funding of the war in Iraq, and the general mood of Congress, passing this bill will be an ‘uphill’ battle on the Hill.