Violence against women is a global epidemic, threatening the lives and safety of women and girls around the world. Today, one out of every three women worldwide will be physically or sexually abused during her lifetime, with rates reaching 70 percent in some countries.
These are horrifying statistics. As chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I recently joined efforts to tackle this egregious problem by co-sponsoring the International Violence Against Women Act.
Violence against women ranges from gang rape to domestic violence and from acid burnings to so-called honor killings. It also includes sexual violence as a tool of war, such as what is now occurring on a vast scale in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has become a serious public health epidemic and a barrier to solving global problems such as poverty and HIV/AIDS. It devastates the lives of millions of women and girls, and it knows no national or cultural barriers.
Women who are abused frequently die or face serious injury and are at much greater risk of dying in pregnancy, having children who die in childhood, and of contracting HIV/AIDS.
What most people don't realize is that violence against women is also a major cause of poverty. Typically, women are much more likely to be among the world's poorest, living on a dollar a day or less. Violence reduces their standard of living by preventing them from accessing education or earning the income they need to lift their families out of poverty. In turn, poverty often prevents them from fleeing, perpetuating a vicious cycle that keeps millions of women from making better lives for themselves and their families.
In Nicaragua, for example, a study found that children of female victims of violence left school an average of four years earlier than other children. In India, it has been found that women who experienced even a single incident of violence lost an average of seven working days.
Encouraging greater economic opportunity and earning capacity not only makes it possible for women to escape violent situations, but it also reduces the likelihood of abuse by improving the woman's status within the household. Ensuring that women around the world are treated equitably and fairly would go a long way to reduce poverty. It is worth noting that women often use the money we provide in foreign assistance to invest in education or to grow food.
The International Violence Against Women Act, S. 2982, has the support of approximately 200 nongovernmental organizations, including Amnesty International USA, Women Thrive Worldwide, Jewish Women International, Family Violence Prevention Fund, CARE, United Methodist Church, Global AIDS Alliance and Refugees International.
This bill would direct the State Department to create a comprehensive, five-year strategy to reduce violence against women and girls in up to 20 countries and provide $265 million a year for five years to foster programs that address violence in a coordinated, comprehensive way. It would do this by reforming legal and health sectors, by changing social norms and attitudes that condone rape and abuse, and by improving education and economic opportunities for women and girls.
Violence has a profound effect on the lives of women and girls, and on all communities around the world. I am committed to greatly reducing violence against women worldwide and that means we need to provide the assistance and resources that are necessary to achieve this goal.
U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland is a member of five Senate committees and is chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, which monitors compliance with the Helsinki Accords and promotes human rights, democracy and economic, environmental and military cooperation in 56 countries. His e-mail is cardin@senate