Biden’s Legacy Tied to International VAWA

Sarah Seltzer

The Obama Campaign has trumpeted Sen. Joe Biden's work as sponsor of the Violence Against Women Act. But many people may not know that Biden is again working for women worldwide on the International Violence Against Women Act.

The Obama Campaign has already trumpeted Sen. Joe Biden’s work as
author, sponsor, and rustler-up of votes on the Violence Against Women Act, which was passed under President Clinton and renewed under President
Bush. Biden himself cites it as one of the accomplishments he’s most proud of
in the Senate. This
moving video
put out by the Obama campaign details soberly the real-life
ramifications of the bill, through an interview with a woman who survived
battering and even a horrific shooting at the hands of her former partner.

There’s no question VAWA has made
an impact
on women’s lives at home. But what people may not know is that
Biden is also the co-writer of a bill currently in committee called the International
Violence Against Women Act
. I-VAWA is backed by three major NGOs, Amnesty International USA, Women
Thrive Worldwide
, and the Family
Violence Prevention Fund
, and the support of dozens more.

The I-VAWA is a little bit different in focus than its US
counterpart, because the American government obviously does not have the same
level of jurisdiction over foreign courts, laws, and funding direction as it
does at home (although no doubt Dick Cheney would like it otherwise). What this
particular bill aims to do, then, is direct US aid in ways that specifically help end gender-based violence, from
educational programs to health aid to special training for peacekeeping forces.

Empowering Women
Worldwide

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The bill broadly defines violence as anything from domestic
abuse to the sex trade to rape and torture against women during times of
war.  According to Amnesty’s website for
I-VAWA, "At least one out of every three women worldwide are beaten, coerced
into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, with rates reaching 70% in some
countries."

It also aims to raise awareness of the fact that
discrimination and abuse against women is a scourge across much of the  world–and directly hinders economic
development in the places it’s needed most. 

What’s fascinating about I-VAWA, beyond its strong
condemnation of violence is its recognition of a growing consensus that
everyone from UNIFEM to Condoleeza Rice
has embraced: the empowerment of women as a key to ending poverty, famine and
disease in distressed regions of the world.

"Violence against women and girls violates their basic human
rights. It prevents girls from going to school, stops women from holding jobs,
and limits access to critical healthcare for women and their children," wrote
Biden and the bill’s co-author, Republican Senator Dick Lugar in an op-ed this
June, urging passage of the bill.

The bill, S.2279,
contains several prongs. It would take effect as an amendment and update to the
Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.

New Centralized
Offices

First, the bill creates two offices
to help boost the effort. A centralized State Department office, the Office of
Women’s Global Initiatives, would include a committee directly concerned with
violence against women. This would be a central office coordinating all
anti-violence against women efforts at the international level, as well as
stressing sensitivity and rapid response to gender-based violence when the
state Department responds to foreign crises or conflicts. The other office, the
Office of Global Women’s Development at 
the Agency for International Development (USAID), is envisioned as
integrating violence prevention efforts into already-existing overseas
assistance programs.

Directing Funding to
Programs Already in Place

Second, I-VAWA would direct $175 million a year to programs that specifically deal with the problem
of violence against women internationally, from helping public awareness
campaigns that aim to alter social norms and taboos harmful to women, to the
criminal justice system and courts. But the funded programs would also include
programs that help women’s status internationally by directing funds to improve
women’s health, women’s economic empowerment, and women’s access to education.

In a website
Q&A section
on the bill, Amnesty emphasizes that the bill does not
represent the US foisting cultural mores on other nations. Instead, "local
women’s organizations who have been working for years to assist women and girls
affected by violence in their countries will finally get the help they
deserve."

Training Peacekeeping
Forces

Third, I-VAWA would mandate that all international, UN, and
foreign troops trained by US forces be given added instruction on how to
prevent gender-based violence and respond to it during times of crisis or
conflict. It also would seek to improve disciplinary and reporting measures for
those troops who themselves engage in acts of violence against women.  The bill also advocates for more female
peacekeeping troops.

Sitting in Committee

The bill, first introduced in July 2007, remains in
committee in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Biden chairs. A
companion bill in the House, H.R. 5927, was introduced this past April, by California
Representative Howard L. Berman, and is also in the House Committee on Foreign
Affairs. Both versions of the bill have bipartisan support, but one can assume
its fate is tied up with Biden’s.

I-VAWA is critical bill on two levels. First, it continue
the good work of the domestic VAWA, by recognizing the rights of women to
bodily freedom and safety as one that should be intrinsic but is frequently
threatened. But even beyond that, it recognizes what activists have been saying
for a good while now: getting rid of obstacles to women’s equality is a
surefire way to spur development in economically struggling regions, lift
entire communities out of poverty, and end some of the social conditions that
lead to conflict.

Biden’s role in I-VAWA has been critical. "Senator Biden played an instrumental leadership role in drafting the
IVAWA as well as Senator Lugar, " says Maureen Greenwood-Basken, Acting
Managing Director of Government Relations and Advocacy Development at
Amnesty International USA. "We hope that the upcoming administration will be a champion for
women’s rights globally and the US. We call on them in the first 100
days to take decisive steps to stop violence against women."

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