Population Matters

Keeping Women’s Rights in Human Rights Day

December 10th, 2010

Today is Human Rights Day and it marks the end of the16 Days to End Violence against Women campaign. The campaign, which takes place every year between the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th, and Human Rights Day on December 10th, emphasizes that violence against women, in any of 16 forms, is a violation of human rights. But more than just a human rights issue, violence against women is an economic and social problem that has widespread implications.

Violence against women takes many forms, including domestic violence, female genital mutilation/ cutting, child marriage, human trafficking, ‘honor’ killings, and sexual violence.  The problem is so large that it might appear insoluble, but there are three bills before the U.S. Congress that would make a large contribution to ending violence against women.

The first is the Convention for the Elimination of All Form of Violence against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW is a 30 year old international human rights treaty that focuses exclusively on women’s rights and gender equality. The convention sets a global definition for discrimination against women and outlines a plan to end that discrimination. The United States is one of just seven nations in the U.N. who have refused to ratify CEDAW. The other six countries are Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Nauru, Palau, and Tonga.  If the United States wants to be a leader in human rights, particularly women’s rights, it is imperative that the U.S. ratify CEDAW.

The next bill now pending before Congress is the International Violence against Women Act (IVAWA). IVAWA would establish an Office for Global Women’s Issues in the State Department to coordinate efforts regarding gender integration and empowerment of women in U.S. foreign policy.  At USAID, it would establish an Office for Women’s Global Development to integrate gender in U.S. foreign assistance programs and policies, and direct the agency to develop a comprehensive five-year strategy for programs to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls in countries with severe levels of violence against women. The House bill (H.R. 4594) was introduced by Rep. Delahunt and currently has 133 cosponsors.  The Senate bill (S. 2982), introduced by Senator John Kerry, has 35 cosponsors.

The last bill is the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act. Last week this bill was approved unanimously by the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), would authorize the President to provide assistance to prevent the incidence of child marriage and promote the educational, health, economic, social, and legal empowerment of girls. The State Department is required to come up with a multi-year strategy to prevent child marriage and promote the empowerment of young girls who are at risk of child marriage. The House version of this bill (H.R. 2103) needs to be passed before Congress adjourns later this month. To help encourage the House to consider this bill CARE, the international relief organization, has organized a letter writing campaign.  To learn more and take action, visit their website. https://my.care.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=465&s_src=redlinkadvo1208010am&s_subsrc=twadvo&utm_source=redlinkadvo1208010am&utm_medium=tw&utm_term=advo&utm_content=childmarriage&utm_campaign=sm_redcmadvo.

If action is taken on all three of these measures it would go a long way to helping end violence against women internationally. Women’s issues may not be high on the Congress’ ‘lame duck’ agenda, but they are critically important to the millions of women around the world who have to deal with FGM/C, child marriage, ‘honor’ killings, trafficking, or wife beating. Congress needs to act now.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

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