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The Violence is Horrifying, Let's Do Something About It

Posted: 10/01/09 12:23 PM ET

It's women's week on the world stage. Secretary of State Clinton chaired yesterday's UN Security Council Meeting, introducing a resolution to provide greater protections to the world's women in times of conflict. And today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing on global violence against women.

That makes this another week when Americans will be reminded what it's like to be female in war zones around the world and in countries where violence against women is commonplace because no laws punish perpetrators and no services aid victims.

We'll remember that some women can be lashed for wearing trousers. Some teens can be stoned for the "crime" of being raped. Some girls risk being burned with acid when they go to school. Some children are at grave and constant risk of being kidnapped or sold into sexual slavery.

It's good to remember, but better to convince our government to do more to stop this violence which is, indeed, a scourge on our planet.

From the Democratic Republic of Congo to Darfur to Afghanistan and Pakistan, most of us know the hot spots and the horrors. And most of us agree that eradicating this violence is one of the most compelling causes of our time.

We now know that Americans believe that. With Lake Research Partners, we have been examining voters' attitudes about violence against women and girls globally through a series of focus groups and a survey. We learned that Americans care deeply about this issue. That's true for women and men, Democrats and Republicans, people in every region who are young and old.

Three in five voters say that addressing global violence should be one of the top priorities for the U.S. government overseas. One in four say it should be the top priority.

Reducing this violence matters to voters, even when compared to other foreign policy priorities like promoting democracy and trade, fighting corruption abroad, and reconstructing Iraq and Afghanistan.

Americans also tell us that they support the International Violence Against Women Act - groundbreaking legislation that would, for the first time, make stopping violence against women and girls a priority in American diplomacy and foreign aid. Seventy-two percent of voters say they support this legislation even - during this recession, when deficits are high - after being told it might cost as much as $200 million per year.

They support the International Violence Against Women Act because they want to see our country use its influence to keep women and girls safe in a much more concerted, serious way. They support a bold new initiative that will concentrate our resources on programs run by local women's organizations working to stop violence in local communities and promote women's economic empowerment so they have a greater say in what goes on in their own lives. They support it because they understand that stopping violence against women and girls is critical to achieving many of our goals, from fighting HIV/AIDS to reducing poverty. They support it because they see stopping violence as essential to sustaining the kind of security and economic development the world needs.

This is a critical moment because we have an unprecedented call - in the U.S. and around the world - to end this violence. The world does not expect the United States to solve this problem alone, but it does see our leadership as essential to changing course.

This is a moment of opportunity, because new voices are demanding change. It's not just activists like us anymore. It's the Secretary General of the United Nations, top military leaders and diplomats, the World Health Organization and UNAIDS. It is leaders of nations large and small, and nongovernmental organizations that recognize that gender inequality, and violence against women and girls, are among the greatest barriers to global health and security. It's people all over the world who recognize that investing in programs that improve the safety of women and girls, and their ability to participate in civic life, offers the greatest hope for peace and prosperity in our time.

The International Violence Against Women Act was introduced in the last Congress, with bipartisan support. Following today's hearing, we expect it to be introduced again. This time, it must not languish. We need Congress to pass it, and fund it. It's what the voters want and it's what the world needs.


Esta Soler is President of the Family Violence Prevention Fund. Ritu Sharma is Co-Founder and President of Women Thrive Worldwide.