March 6, 2013

Milwaukee Courier

Legislatively Speaking: International Women’s Day Calls For International Action

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Started in the early 1900s, International Women’s Day (IWD), March 8, is a celebration of strides made for women’s and girls’ human rights, and a reminder of the challenges still ahead.  We have made great steps, but there are miles to go.  Just in the Wisconsin State Senate, it was 1975 when Kathryn Morrison became the first woman to serve in the Senate.  Senator Morrison would tell the story of having to raise her hand to ask for a recess to use the bathroom, because there was no women’s room off the floor of the Senate! International Women’s Day is a chance to promote women's rights and equal participation in all social, political and economic processes.

Shocking acts of violence against women around the world are headline stories more and more frequently. A 14-year-old Pakistani school girl was brutally shot in the head for standing up for girls’ right to education. A 23-year-old woman was gang raped on a moving bus in India and then thrown on the road to die. Female polio vaccinators were murdered in northern Nigeria. Violent attacks (including sexual assaults) by security and armed forces against women protesters in Tahrir Square were seen during the commemoration of the second anniversary of Egypt’s Arab Spring. And in our own backyard, women and girls are frequently victims of violence.  The stories are horrific and many, but especially poignant is the shocking violence at the Brookfield Spa shooting last year.   

Last month, the U.S. Senate supported the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first passed in 1994, to protect victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. New amendments to the 2013 re-authorization bill expanded VAWA to include protections for LGBT and Native American victims of domestic violence, provisions targeting human trafficking, and measures to ensure that child victims of sex trafficking are eligible for grant assistance. While VAWA has greatly advanced systematic changes to meet the needs of victims and saved countless lives within the U.S., there remains much work to be done to address the root causes of gender-motivated attacks against women and girls globally.

This year, in recognition of International Women’s Day, women leaders in the U.S. Senate will re-introduce the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) to address violence against women and girls globally. This legislation will direct the U.S. government to implement the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender Based Violence. Passage of this law would make ending violence against women and girls a top U.S. diplomatic priority.

I-VAWA recognizes that violence intersects with nearly every facet of women’s lives. According to the World Health Organization, approximately one out of three women in the world will experience some sort of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and in some countries up to 70 percent of women have been victims of domestic violence. I-VAWA supports health programs and survivor services, encourages legal accountability, promotes access to economic opportunities and education, and addresses violence against women and girls.

Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, a public health epidemic and a barrier to solving global challenges such as extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS and conflict. This violence devastates the lives of millions of women and girls—in peacetime and in conflict—and knows no national or cultural barriers. I-VAWA aims to protect and prevent women from debilitating acts of violence that break down the fabric of our societies, and prevent women and girls full and equal participation in all social, economic and political sectors. It is undebatable that we must stand up together and take all necessary measures to ensure that violent attacks against women and girls are no longer tolerated.

To recognize and commemorate International Women’s Day, I strongly urge Senators Tammy Baldwin & Ron Johnson to join their colleagues as co-sponsors of the International Violence Against Women Act. The progress and development of our societies and nations depends on our ability to affirm and safeguard the human rights of all people, including women and girls.

Lena Taylor is a Wisconsin State Senator and an active member of the Women Legislator’s Lobby – a program of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).