We’ve seen stories about violence against women all over the world: from a student gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi to the teenage girl in Steubenville, Ohio. In 2013, these horrific incidents rightfully provoked a massive public response. They also put pressure on people and governments to change the way we think about violence against women, its causes and ways we can prevent it. While the problem is vast, we know we can solve it.
The scope of the problem is daunting. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women worldwide is the victim of gender-based violence in her lifetime. In some communities, this number is as high as 70 percent. Globally, this kind of violence causes more deaths among women than cancer does. It causes more illness than traffic accidents and malaria combined. All of us should be morally outraged by these figures.
The underlying causes of this violence are deep-seated in many communities. Around the world we see rigid gender roles, which view women as subservient and unequal to men, as well as power dynamics that punish people for stepping outside accepted boundaries.
Despite the fact that women are overwhelmingly more likely to suffer from gender-based violence, it is not just a women’s issue. This is an international human rights issue. Violence against women hurts societies, families, communities and our global economy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that violence against women costs the United States $5.8 million a year. Studies suggest that Bangladesh loses 2 percent of its gross domestic product annually to the effects of violence, while in Nicaragua the cost is equivalent to 7 percent of GDP. Violence against women can undermine every single development outcome we hope to achieve — from preventing girls like Malala Yousafzai from going to school to increasing women’s and children’s risks of HIV and death to undermining the rule of law in fragile states. Addressing violence against women is critical to achieving America’s foreign policy goals of a more stable and prosperous world.
That’s why I chose to be a lead Republican to sign on to the International Violence Against Women Act introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. As a lifelong supporter of women’s rights, I support IVAWA because it shows that ending violence against women and gender-based violence is a top diplomatic priority of the United States. It requires more coordination between government agencies to better respond to the causes of violence against women and ensure the Obama administration is taking a comprehensive approach to a complex but deeply important issue. Passing this bill would represent a commitment from the American people to do the right thing and stop this abuse. IVAWA is an essential catalyst for mobilizing action worldwide.
The challenge of ending violence against women may seem overwhelming, but the United States and its partners have been successful in working to address the underlying causes of violence against women. Key among these is working with men and boys. In the Balkans, a once war-torn region still home to U.S. troops, more than 4,000 young men have participated in programs organized by the humanitarian organization CARE to reframe the role of violence in society and how men and women should relate. Programs like these help expose some of the root causes of violence against women and, when combined with women’s empowerment programs, victims services and better legal protection, can have a tremendously positive impact on women, families and entire communities. The United States can play a major role in helping to end violence against women around the globe, and IVAWA is an important first step in making that a reality.
We must continue making strides against this global health crisis, and I believe 2014 is the year to do it.