NEW YORK - Joining others in the ongoing international campaign against gender violence, women's groups in the United States stepped up pressure on Congress this week to endorse a proposed law that would protect women in poor countries.
"Gender-based violence is a serious threat to public health and a barrier to economic development," said Nora O'Connell of the Women's Edge Coalition, a Washington, DC-based organization that has developed the International Violence Against Women Act with the help of more than 50 other groups.
If it is approved, campaigners say, U.S. international assistance programs, which amount to billions of dollars each year, could prove much more effective in eliminating violence against women in developing countries.
Approximately one in three of the world?s women will experience violence in her lifetime and rates reach as high as 70 percent in some countries, according to Women's Edge.
"The idea behind the legislation is not to create a new international assistance program on violence against women," explained O'Connell, "but to integrate [anti-violence efforts] into all the many programs that already exist."
Other supporters of the legislation, including Amnesty International and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, say they are hopeful the next Congress will take up this issue sooner rather than later.
The call for new legislation is part of the global campaign known as 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.
The campaign, which is held each year between the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25) and International Human Rights Day (December 10), is fully backed by the United Nations and its various agencies.
"We are working with partners to end impunity--to protect the rights of women, including the right to sexual and reproductive health," said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), last week.
UN researchers say violence against women persists in every country in the world as a pervasive violation of human rights that continues to hinder efforts for gender equality.
Last month, the UN released a new study on gender violence saying women continue to be victims of sexual harassment, human trafficking, and blatant discrimination worldwide.
The 113-page study is critical of UN member states that have failed to adopt laws criminalizing violence against women. It was drafted by an advisory committee of 10 high-level internationally recognized experts on gender violence.
The report shows that at least 102 of the 192 UN member states have no specific legal provisions on domestic violence, and marital rape is not a prosecutable offense in as many as 53 countries.
It also points out that many countries have no sufficient support measures in place for victims of gender violence, nor do they keep any systematic or reliable data on violence against women.
The UNFPA estimates that 5,000 women are murdered by family members each year worldwide in so-called "honor killings"--crimes against women in the name of protecting "honor" within the family or community.
Commenting on the study's results, the outgoing UN chief Kofi Annan said such violence is "unacceptable whether perpetrated by the state and its agents or by family members or strangers, in the public or private sphere, in peacetimes, or in times of conflict."
According to official statistics, in India, nearly 7,000 women were killed in 2002 alone as a result of violence related to demands for dowry--the payment of cash or goods by the bride's family to the groom's family.
On the phenomenon of gender violence in developed countries, a recent study by the Alabama-based Coalition Against Domestic Violence shows that at least 40 percent of teenage girls in the United States face beatings at the hands of their boyfriends.
Other examples of gender violence that the UN researchers have documented so far include female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and rape.
Groups such as Women's Edge and Amnesty International say the issue of gender violence in developing countries demands not only local efforts, but international support as well.
"The local, grassroots efforts are critical for eliminating gender violence," O'Connell told OneWorld, but "increased U.S. participation in it is equally important."
"On the one hand, we are reaching out to women's groups in different regions of the world," she said, "but, on the other, it's very important to educate policy makers and the U.S. public that the solution we have put forth will make an impact on women's lives around the world."
Copyright © 2006 OneWorld.net