The Violence Against Women Act, a groundbreaking piece of legislation addressing domestic and sexual violence, was first enacted in 1994 and then reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. Among the measures the act has taken to protect victims and prevent abuse, the law strengthened the legal action taken against perpetrators of domestic violence and provided services, including rape crisis centers, hotlines, and community support programs, for its victims. Congress is now debating its reauthorization, as the law expired in September, and while it has received broad bipartisan support in the past it has recently come under political fire from some Republican lawmakers who object to provisions which Democrats have added to this year’s reauthorization. Critics specifically object to provisions which would expand the law’s coverage to illegal immigrants, homosexuals, and American Indians, who would have greater authority to persecute non-Indians who commit crimes against American Indian women. Republicans argue that these were purely political additions designed to induce GOP lawmakers to oppose an otherwise popular bill, giving Democrats more ammunition in their campaign argument that Republicans are “anti woman.” Furthermore, some conservative activists object to the law entirely, arguing that it does not cut down on—and might even increase—instances of domestic abuse while overextending the federal government’s jurisdiction. Should the Violence Against Women Act be reauthorized? Here is the Debate Club’s take:
Near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, a father doused his three teenage daughters with boiling water and shot them because, he told a court, he suspected they were having sex. Two died.
He said he killed them to defend his honor.
Murder in Iraq can carry a death sentence but under laws that activists say are far too lenient for so-called "honor killings," the father was jailed for just two years. Medical examinations showed the girls were virgins.
The light sentence was a result of Article 409 of Iraq's penal code which is often used in cases of "honor killings" by men. Women's activists in Iraq, led by the only woman in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet, Minister of State for Women's Affairs Ibtihal al-Zaidi, are lobbying to change the law.
But they say they face entrenched tribal values in a country where parliament includes many men from conservative parties.
For decades Iraqi women have enjoyed more freedoms than women in many other countries in the Middle East. They are generally free from the strict enforcement of dress codes or restrictions on movement, and can join political life.
But conservative tribal norms still prevail and all too often girls or women are punished by relatives for what are perceived to be crimes of honor.
Such cases can be difficult to document. An Iraqi Human Rights ministry report said 249 women were murdered in 2010, including for reasons of "honor crimes," without giving a breakdown. Amnesty International cites the ministry as saying at least 84 women were killed in Iraq in honor killings in 2009.
Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), launched the Agency's new Policy on Gender Equality and Female Empowerment.
Citing its importance, Dr. Shah stated, "We know that long-term, sustainable development will only be possible when women and men enjoy equal opportunity to rise to their potential. But today, women and girls continue to face disadvantages in every sector in which we work, and in other cases, boys are falling behind. With this policy, we can ensure our values and commitments are reflected in durable, meaningful results for all."
USAID Deputy Administrator, Ambassador Donald Steinberg, Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Development, and other senior White House officials participated in the launch.
The Polyclinic of Hope in Rwanda takes a comprehensive approach to combating gender-based violence for genocide survivors affected by HIV by facilitating support groups, encouraging income generation activities and providing HIV testing and treatment services.
This case study was prepared by the AIDSTAR-One project. As an AIDSTAR-One partner organization, ICRW provided technical oversight on this publication. The full case studies series and findings are available at AIDSTAR-One.
Saranga Jain, Margaret Greene, Zayid Douglas, Myra Betron, and Katherine Fritz 2011
Lately it seems I can’t have a conversation with a women’s expert without hearing the phrase “opting out.” “Thirty percent of working women will opt out of the workplace during the course of their career,” they tell me. “How can we ever expect to make progress when so many women opt out before they reach the truly high-powered positions,” they ask.
When NY Times writer Lisa Belkin introduced the women’s world to the term “opting out” in 2003, she framed it as a revolution: highly educated working women were quitting their jobs in droves to stay at home with their children. “It’s not just that the workplace has failed women,” she wrote. “It is also that women are rejecting the workplace.”
Belkin wrote about a group of Princeton-educatedAtlanta mothers who had, by and large, taken the off-ramp from their successful careers to stay at home and raise children. To a one, they described their choice as just that: the decision towards the preferred path. ”I don’t want to be on the fast track leading to a partnership at a prestigious law firm,” one said. “Some people define that as success; I don’t.” ”Maternity provides an escape hatch that paternity does not,” said another. “Having a baby provides a graceful and convenient exit.”
Sure, they’re not furthering the feminist cause by staying home with their babies, but do a handful of moms not living up to their Ivy League potential really do much harm? In the weeks and months and ensuing media flurry, you’d certainly think so. “Opting out” became the phrase of choice for thought-leaders, researchers and women’s advocates for not just women who happily choose children over paychecks, but increasingly those whose choices are much more hard-pressed.
And ever since then, “opting out” has been a bad word.
In Tunisia, Salafist vigilantes have been attacking unveiled women and occupying universities that do not allow the face veil. In Egypt, only eight out of 508 newly elected parliamentarians are female, and the country’s Islamists are threatening to repeal laws making it easier for women to divorce and to gain custody of their children. The head of Libya’s transitional government has promised to bring back polygamy.
The rise of political Islam in all three countries has led some commentators to accuse the Islamists of turning the Arab Spring into an Islamist winter for women. Yet the backlash against women is not confined to Islamists. In Egypt, women who demonstrated for equal rights last year on International Women’s Day were met with ugly jeers and taunts to go home and take care of their children.
Female protesters against the secular military government were subjected to brutal beatings and “virginity tests.” Women who venture into Tahrir Square these days are often sexually harassed.
As the Egyptian anthropologist Hania Sholkamy recently noted, even the left-wing activists who first manned the barricades against President Hosni Mubarak’s regime “reject the whole narrative of gender equality as a figment of a Western imagination.”
A project of the Women's Media center, Women Under Siege documents how rape and other forms of sexualized violence are used as tools in genocide and conflict throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. Spearheaded by Gloria Steinem, this initiative builds on the lessons revealed in the anthology Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust by Sonja Hedgepeth and Rochelle Saidel, and also in At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance—a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Daniella McGuire. In the belief that understanding what happened then might have helped us to prevent or helped us to prepare for the mass sexual assaults of other conflicts, from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Women’s Media Center project is exploring this linkage to heighten public consciousness of causes and preventions.
We first thought about starting this piece with the story ofSaleha Begum, a survivor of Bangladesh's 1971 war in which, some reports say, as many as 400,000 women were raped. Begum had been tied to a banana tree and repeatedly gang raped and burned with cigarettes for months until she was shot and left for dead in a pile of women. She didn't die, though, and was able to return home, ravaged and five months pregnant. When she got home she was branded a "slut."
We also thought of starting with the story of Ester Abeja, a woman in Uganda who was forcibly held as a "bush wife" by the Lord's Resistance Army. Repeated rape with objects destroyed her insides. Her captors also made her kill her 1-year-old daughter by smashing the baby's head into a tree.
We ran through a dozen other stories of women like Begum and Abeja, and finally realized that it would be too difficult to find the right one -- the tale that would express exactly how and in what wayssexualized violence is being used as a weapon of war to devastate women and tear apart communities around the world, conflict by conflict, from Libya to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Defense Department received 3,191 reports of sexual assault last year, Panetta said yesterday. That’s 1 percent more than the 3,158 reported in the previous fiscal year and a 19 percent increase over five years, according to an annual review released in March.
“Because we assume that this is a very underreported crime, the estimate is that the actual number is closer to 19,000,” Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon. “I deeply regret that such crimes occur in the U.S. military, and I will do all that I can to prevent these crimes from occurring.”
Among the new measures to stop what Panetta called an “unacceptable” number of sexual assaults, the military will require its sexual-assault response coordinators and victim advocates to obtain nationally recognized certification and will extend confidential reporting and victim-support services to spouses and dependents.
Two years after an earthquake devastated Haiti, a report detailing the impact of sexual exploitation on displaced Haitian women and girls has been released. The report is authored by MADRE, the Commission of Women Victims for Victims (KOFAVIV), the International Women’s Human Rights (IWHR) Clinic at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law (GJC) and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at UC Hastings College of the Law (CGRS).
The drastic increase in sexual violence in displacement camps has been well documented since the disaster. But another face of the epidemic has emerged as a pressing issue: the sexual exploitation of displaced women and girls.