Violence against women is one of the greatest barriers to economic freedom for women worldwide. Every day, all over the world, women are victims of some of the worst physical atrocities, including acid attacks, rape, forced marriages, and other unimaginable forms of violence. We read these stories and cringe at the grotesque photographs, often feeling helpless because we can't do anything.
But there is, finally, something meaningful we can do. For the first time, the U.S. has the chance, through the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), to address violence against women all over the world. This historic, bipartisan legislation addresses violence against women and girls through all relevant U.S. foreign policy efforts, including its international assistance programs.
The U.S. woke up to the need to protect American women from violence when we passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. Now managers in U.S. corporations can help make a difference to even more women by helping to get IVAWA passed. Specifically, managers can:
Get their company to sign a corporate letter supporting IVAWA. It has already been endorsed by the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, TB, and Malaria.
Encourage their corporate offices overseas to support fair treatment of women by educating them about ending violence and why it's good for everyone;
Educate the American workforce about IVAWA with e-mail alerts and office postings and by encouraging them to be personal advocates on the issue;
Implement corporate social responsibility programs that help end violence against women in the overseas communities they work in.
Effect on World Resources
All over the world, violence exacts a huge economic toll on women, which, in turn, drains the worldwide economy of key resources. For example, a World Bank study has found that in Nicaragua, women who reported abuse earned 46 percent less than women who did not. Women in India lost an average of seven working days after an incident of severe violence, according to the International Center for Research on Women. In many countries, girls might go to primary school, but their families will not send them to secondary schools further away for fear the girls will be subject to abuse in school by teachers or other students, or harassment on the way to school. Women who report sexual abuse in the workplace are often fired or demoted: In Kenya, for example, 95 percent of women who had experienced sexual abuse in their workplace were afraid to report the problem for fear of losing their jobs, according to the International Labor Rights Fund. U.S. businesses are not immune to the economic costs of such violence, not to mention the human costs of violence faced by employees, colleagues, or people in the communities they operate in: Raw materials, supply chains, support services, and customers are drawn from all over the world.
IVAWA lays out constructive steps the U.S. can take. It will support local efforts in up to 20 countries, assisting in public awareness and health campaigns; shelters; education, training, and economic empowerment programs for women, as well as legal reforms. And for the first time, it will also make the issue a diplomatic priority leading to the U.S. responding within three months to horrific acts of violence against women and girls committed during conflict and war.
This means that women facing death by stoning (or worse), women in the world's most violent places, such as Congo, and even women silently suffering brutality in their own homes will for the first time get a much-needed boost, whereas in the past, local organizations with meager resources were unable to help them. Services will expand, police officers will be properly trained, new laws will be passed, and existing laws will be enforced.
"And Everybody Eats"
One of every three women worldwide is physically, sexually, or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Yet we are awed by the strength these same women exert despite the battles they face. As we at Women Thrive like to say, "Teach a woman to fish, and everybody eats." Women are an essential part of the workforce and the global economy. In countries where women are treated fairly, protected from violence, and encouraged to succeed, the whole community benefits.
For example, in the rural region of La Paz, Honduras, Dulce Marlen Contreras oversees an organization that not only educates women about their rights and trains them to stand up for themselves, but also runs an organic coffee-producing business that helps them become economic contributors to their families. Over time, husbands have realized the value of the additional income for the family, and women have gained more decision-making power within the household. Today, Marlen's group, Comucap (Coordinadora de Mujeres Campesinas de La Paz), provides employment and income to more than 256 women in its community, and, Marlen is proud to report, household violence is close to zero.
In Pakistan, legal reforms are slowly starting to give women the tools they need to obtain justice. In 2003, in the provincial parliament in Punjab, two groundbreaking resolutions were passed. One prohibited acid attacks on women. The other abolished violent customary practices or vani, which include honor killings, forced marriages, and women being bartered into marriage to make up for crimes committed by their male family members. These then led to national-level laws providing unprecedented legal protections for women. These reforms moved through a parliament that is well-known for being corrupt, traditionalist, and patriarchal, whose leaders are collaborators, often directly involved in the violence being debated. A powerful combination of local women—activists, survivors, journalists, and legislators—have worked together to make change possible. This kind of bottom-up change is what IVAWA seeks to support.
IVAWA draws on the full strength of U.S. foreign policy to do good in the world, and it has strong backers in Washington in Congress and the Administration. Indeed, American companies should feel proud of and support the enormous progress IVAWA stands for. With business' help, it could truly make a difference in the lives of women worldwide.
In Managua, Nicaragua, women who reported abuse earned 46 percent less than women who did not, after taking into account other factors that could affect earnings.