According to the World Health Organization, around one in three women worldwide will be a victim of violence in her lifetime; in certain countries the likelihood is closer to 70 percent, or 7 in 10 women. And yet, according to a 2006 UN Secretary General's report, 102 UN member states have no specific laws on the books regarding domestic violence.
The International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA), introduced by Senators Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Richard Luger (R-Ind.), could make the U.S. a leader in stopping these human rights abuses. Called by Amnesty International "an unprecedented effort by the United States to address violence against women globally,"the act authorizes $1 billion to reduce violence against women worldwide. The bill would authorize the creation of a federal "Office for Women's Global Initiatives" to coordinate U.S. policies and programs that deal with women's issues; mandate a new, five-year comprehensive strategy to fight violence against women in 10 to 20 countries with the most severe rates of such offenses; create new training systems and reporting mechanisms; and, establish a system for helping women and girls subjected to violence during humanitarian aid efforts and periods of conflict.
The legislation was written with input from more than 100 humanitarian and human rights non-govermmental organizations. U.S. citizens can contact their senators in support of I-VAWA here.
That's not all that's happening to brighten the picture on women's rights in Congress. Earlier this year, legislation took effect that eliminated incentives for drug companies to give deep discounts to health centers on U.S. college campuses. (The change was part of a much larger Medicaid rebate bill.) The result was that prices for contraception on college campuses spiked almost immediately, often to two or three times what it had previously cost. College students who had been paying discounted prices -- many probably on tight budgets and working low-paying jobs -- suddenly found themselves paying hundreds of dollars more for birth control annually.
Legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) would restore these discounted prices for contraceptives on college campuses. About 39 percent of college women in the U.S. use oral contraceptives. The bill to restore the discount has more than 100 sponsors in the U.S. and is strongly supported by U.S. family planning groups.
And more: the global "gag rule" is "in the crosshairs." In September, the U.S. Senate repealed the global gag rule, which denies U.S. aid to foreign groups that provide abortions, referrals to abortion providers or counseling related to abortion. Since the U.S. provides so much foreign aid funding, this gag rule prevented millions of women worldwide from receiving reproductive health care, included access to means to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Parallel legislation is now pending in the House of Representatives.
President George W. Bush reinstated the rule on his first day in office in 2001, and has vowed to veto the repeal legislation if it's passed by Congress. However, with the prospect of a U.S. president from the Democratic Party being elected next year, the global gag rule's days are probably numbered whether or not Bush uses his veto to maintain it.