International Women’s Day

Phyllis Kahn, Minnesota state representative, Women’s Action for New Directions

 

Started in the early 1900s, International Women’s Day, March 8, is a celebration of strides made for women’s and girls’ human rights and a reminder of the challenges still ahead.

The Feb. 14 Minnesota Daily article on the slower path to tenure for women at the University of Minnesota outlines a situation somewhat better than the outright discrimination I encountered that propelled me into running for the Legislature. International Women’s Day is a great time to show again why women’s rights are important and why we need women’s voices in decision making 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’ rights 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 University neighborhood, women and girls are frequently victims of assaults including sexual assault.

Last week, Congress finally passed the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, 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 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender 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. The bill was delayed for some time by the Republican House because of these inclusions. Rep. Michele Bachmann was the only member of the Minnesota Delegation to vote against the act.

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 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 not debatable 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 our congressional delegation, both the Senate and House, 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.