WASHINGTON — Bipartisan legislation that would mandate a comprehensive plan to combat violence against women worldwide is poised for a potential congressional vote, marking tough new action by the United States on a problem that's commonplace across the globe.
Among other things, the bill would increase U.S. aid to 20 nations that take concrete action to curb brutality against women.
One of the original sponsors of the House of Representatives' version, Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., has said that passing the bill is an important step toward protecting women worldwide and advancing U.S. security interests.
Delahunt "believes that while (the legislation) addresses violence against women, it goes further and is a strong statement that says that any violence is unacceptable, both in the home, where violence against women is often a root cause of other violent crimes, as well as among nations," Delahunt's press secretary, Rory Sheehan, said Monday.
Since the act was introduced last February, the House and the Senate versions have gained traction in both parties: The House version has 118 co-sponsors and the Senate version has 30. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will debate and amend the act Wednesday morning.
Amnesty International calls violence against women "a human rights violation, a public health epidemic and a barrier to solving global challenges like desperate poverty, HIV/AIDS and conflict." According to the human rights organization, at least one in three women worldwide have been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused.
The World Health Organization has reported that up to 70 percent of women in some countries say they've been victims of domestic violence.
Last year, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a multiyear effort to end violence against women and pledged to engage male leaders and to mobilize men and boys to make ending violence against women a priority.
If it passes, the U.S. measure would require the secretary of state to develop a five-year strategy to fight violence against women in select countries where violence is commonplace. The Department of State would choose 20 countries that already are preventing and working against abuse to be eligible for additional aid, according to the Senate legislation by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
The legislation would cost $50 million over five years.
It also would increase access to hospitals and medical care for victims while stepping up enforcement against abusers.
Ritu Sharma, the head of Women Thrive, one of the organizations that are behind the legislation, said the measure finally showed the United States' commitment to women.
"Our government has never really said anything meaningful about violence against women around the world," Sharma said. "We've said we don't like it but this would put a stick in the ground, saying we're committed, committed to working for women."
Sharma added that the legislation would send a message that the U.S. sees violence against women as a human rights issue.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have called for increased legal and health protection for women. When the bill was introduced, the State Department released a statement supporting Congress' efforts.
"Increasing legal and judicial protection and health sector capacity to respond to violence against women are necessary steps needed to address sexual and gender-based violence," it said. "Similarly, we must pursue policies that increase women's economic opportunity, advance educational opportunities and build public awareness, among both men and women."
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