Ending violence against women is both a challenge and an opportunity. You have probably heard that in some countries gender-based violence impacts as many as 70 percent of women. And the U.N. statistic that “one out of three women throughout the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime,” is cited frequently. But how familiar are you with I-VAWA – a critical piece of U.S. legislation that prioritizes both the prevention of and the response to the worst cases of violence against women worldwide?
Drafted in consultation with more than 150 groups across the globe, I-VAWA is the centerpiece of a nationwide campaign led by Women Thrive, Amnesty International USA, and the Family Violence Prevention Fund. Its supporters in Congress are both Republican and Democrat. And the only reason it may not pass this fall is because the problem is too remote, and we are too busy and too distracted to get the job done.
If you are like me, stories of rape in Congo, femicide in Guatemala, stoning in Iran, or acid attacks in Afghanistan render you helpless and resigned. It is so much easier to focus on my one-year-old son, my family, and my friends than to be steeped in the awareness of what the world is really like for so many millions of women. I would like to think that someone else is watching out for the victims of violence and that it is not my responsibility. But unfortunately, that is not the case.
According to CARE Policy Analyst Milkah Kihunah:
Violence against women and girls is often underreported, even in countries where such violence is prohibited under law. This is because social attitudes and beliefs often condone such violence and may stigmatize and blame the survivor. Many countries also lack appropriate health and psychosocial services for survivors and strong mechanisms for their protection and legal redress.
In an informal interview, Women Thrive’s Director of Global Development Policy Seema Jalan told me, “Violence cuts across all countries, communities, all socio-economic lines.” The good news, she said, is that I-VAWA addresses some of the root causes of gender-based violence, such as when women lack resources or are living in poverty they are more vulnerable to experiencing violence. While many countries are already passing their own legislation to protect women and girls, violence continues unabated in many places -- victims suffer unaware of their rights and unable to protect themselves, while perpetrators roam freely with no threat of incarceration or punishment.
Some wonder how the U.S. can make I-VAWA a funding priority now when we have a major budget crisis at home. According to Jalan, I-VAWA is a small percentage of the funding that the U.S. already spends overseas. In addition, “the way the bill is written is that it leverages current foreign assistance investment. It leverages our work to end poverty. It leverages our work to stop the global pandemic of HIV/AIDS. And it builds on [current foreign assistance] to integrate work to end violence against women and girls.” She added, “We feel like it’s an efficient investment.” I agree.
Without a personal connection to a situation of violence, we may not feel compelled to do the work necessary to get this legislation passed. It may be difficult to prioritize I-VAWA as an important solution to such an egregious problem. But on Tuesday, September 28, there is an opportunity to witness a film exposing the unspeakable violence that I-VAWA addresses.
Tapestries of Hope, a film documenting Betty Makoni and the Girl Child Network she founded to create a refuge for girls in Zimbabwe will be shown in 100 theaters around the country for one night only. In 2007, Director Michealene Cristini Risley traveled to Zimbabwe to film Betty’s work to help the victims of rape and sexual abuse and to expose the pervasive myth that sex with a virgin cures HIV/AIDS. As a result of her filming Michealene was jailed, interrogated, and deported from Zimbabwe.
Please take this opportunity to see Tapestries of Hope and to connect with I-VAWA. Bring your partners, your colleagues, your family, and your friends. Each of the 100 theaters screening Tapestries of Hope on September 28 will provide the opportunity to sign a petition to Congress and to join organizations like CARE and Women Thrive and pass I-VAWA.
To find a theater near you, visit Tapestries of Hope.
Kate Daniels is the founder and Executive Editor of The Women's International Perspective Photos courtesy of Tapestry of Hope.
More from entertainment