*Editor’s note: The initial version of this article stated that Congress would be voting on I-VAWA over the next few weeks. We have edited this article to reflect that at this time, it is not known exactly when Congress will vote on that bill.
The relationship between The International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) and Congress is complicated. No, not the Nancy Meyer-l-love-you-so-much-it-hurts kind of complicated, but the I-won’t-pass-this-legislation-unless-you-restrict-abortion kind of complicated. At some point in the future, the 113th Congress will vote on the bill which has failed to be enacted during the past three Congresses.
I-VAWA was developed by Amnesty International USA, Futures Without Violence and Women Thrive Worldwide who received assistance from 150 domestic and more than 40 international groups. The landmark legislation “makes ending violence against women and girls a top U.S. diplomatic priority,” according to a June 2013 issue brief from Amnesty, and requires federal agencies to implement actionable measures that prevent violence against girls and woman at a global level. Additionally, if enacted, I-VAWA would identify 5 countries where the violence is most severe and would implement components of the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, a model released by the government in 2012, to help eradicate gender-based violence in those countries.
Sounds like a no-brainer. Legislation that pursues an end to gender-based violence can’t possibly be exploited in the name of ideological agendas, right? Wrong.
In 2007, I-VAWA was introduced to the Senate by then-Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) where it failed to pass, and history would repeat itself during the 111th and 112th Congresses. Now, the bill is being re-introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) to the 113th Congrses, which the Pew Research Center reports is “on pace to become the least productive Congress in the last decade.” Given Congress’ role (I’m looking at you, Republicans) in the current shutdown and its debilitating effects on women and children, whether I-VAWA will pass in such a polarizing climate is yet to be seen.
Women in the World‘s Adrienne Vogt reported in June that a member of Representative Jan Schakowsky’s office claimed that I-VAWA failed to pass during the 112th Congress because “Republicans pulled support for the bill after abortion restrictions were not put into it.” Vogt went on to report Schakowsky as stating, “House Republicans refused to support I-VAWA unless it included the Global Gag Rule or other extremely restrictive abortion restrictions.”
If you’re thinking there’s something thematic about Republican hostage-taking negotiations, you’re right. While the GOP continues to sneak their irresponsibly archaic agenda into legislation, countless women around the world will be directly affected if the failure to pass I-VAWA is due to their ideological warfare.
Violence against women is an epidemic whose severity builds every moment action is not taken against it. Amnesty International reports that globally, one in three women “has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime” and that “gender-based violence kills and disables as many women between the ages of 15 and 44 as cancer.” I-VAWA will not only work to dismantle this violence, it will establish a State Department office, the Office of Global Women’s Issues, and would employ an Ambassador-at-Large to oversee these issues.
As far as complexity goes, the conversation about implementing a process to end gender-based violence shouldn’t be complicated. It should just be done.