Twenty years after the Beijing Platform for Action called for the end of all forms of violence against women and girls, gender-based violence remains a global threat. The numbers alone are shocking: 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence, and 120 million girls have been forced into sexual acts.
These are crimes with devastating consequences: women who survive abuse are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections; they’re more likely to suffer depression, alcohol abuse, and pregnancy complications. Where ever and whenever it occurs, sexual violence is a fundamental and profound violation of women’s human rights.
Today, as the UN system observes the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we also kick off the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign. IWHC is participating in this global campaign to raise awareness of the links between militarism and gender-based violence because, as part of our daily work, we see that war and civil unrest places women’s health and rights at greater risk.
Gender-based violence affects us all, but women in conflict zones face a particular threat. Studies in areas torn apart by fighting and warfare have found that as many as 70 percent of women report sexual violence. From Syria to the Democratic Republic of Congo, sexual violence and rape are used to terrorize and destabilize entire communities. Save the Children has reported that in some instances, over 80 percent of wartime rape victims are under 18 years old.
The U.S. must be a global leader in efforts to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. A critical first step is passage of the International Violence against Women Act (IVAWA), legislation that would make ending gender-based violence as a U.S. foreign policy priority. IVAWA (S. 2307/H.R. 3571) is a bipartisan bill that would require the State Department to develop and implement a global strategy to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls. Critically for IWHC, the bill includes a call for improved health services for survivors of violence.
Passage of the International Violence against Women Act would also make permanent the Office of Global Women’s Issues (GWI) at the Department of State. Currently headed by Ambassador Catherine Russell, the GWI office is perfectly placed to ensure that women’s health and rights are part of key U.S. foreign policy decisions.
As an organization built on a vision of women’s and girl’s human rights, health, and equality, IWHC strongly urges the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to immediately take action to pass the International Violence against Women Act. The U.S. government can lead the charge on fulfilling the promise of Beijing and set the world on a course to finally end violence against women and girls.