As we celebrate International Women’s Day, a call to action

A little over a year ago, shortly before the annual March 8th International Women’s Day, I joined with 16 of my colleagues to urge House leadership to swiftly bring the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) re-authorization to the floor for a vote.  Since its initial passage in 1994, this critical piece of legislation has helped curbed the rates of domestic and sexual violence in the United States and we needed to expand and re-authorize it to maintain the positive momentum we had achieved over the past two decades.  Fortunately, leadership listened, and shortly thereafter it was brought to the floor for a vote and I was proud to join a bipartisan majority of Members to ensure its passage on February 28, 2013. Ultimately, President Obama signed the VAWA re-authorization into law on March 7th and we are a stronger country today as a result.

Sadly, violence against women is a global issue, devastating the lives of millions worldwide every year. According to the World Health Organization, one in every three women will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime.  From my experiences overseas while serving in the US Army, I know there is more that we can do to help reverse this disturbing trend.

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We are called to lead on issues like this by the moral strength inherent in the virtue that flourishes in America, emanating from our democratic institutions and protected by our Bill of Rights.  While it’s clear we need a strong military to deter those who would attempt to do us harm, quite frankly our greatest strength is that of our ideas as instantiated in our founding documents, especially when we stay true to them. On our best day, other countries want to be like us because of the freedom and opportunity that flourishes in America.  When we lead with these strengths, we inspire hope and justice and this gives us influence in the world.

Accordingly, I am honored to be a lead Republican sponsor of the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA), joining with leading domestic and international organizations such as Amnesty International and CARE USA to promote the bill. The legislation aims to improve and better coordinate U.S. foreign assistance to curb violence against women across the globe with the hope of actually improving lives and advancing the cause of freedom for mankind.  By making our foreign assistance dollars more efficient, effective and better designed to prevent and respond to violence, the United States can play a leadership role in tackling one of the biggest obstacles to global development and advancing the status of women.

Gender-based violence severely undermines human harmony, adversely impacts international stability and materially impedes the economic progress of mankind.  Focusing resources on upholding human rights, particularly the right to live free from violence, strengthens communities and promotes stability. This isn’t a western value; it is a human value and when we champion it, we strengthen our position in the world. We do so first by being a good example for others to follow and then by committing precious resources to protect the unprotected across the globe.  True, you can’t quantify this investment in numbers of tank divisions, but the good will that is produced by advancing noble causes such as these elevates our world standing - enhancing our national security.  To be sure, we will still need the world’s best military to protect our cherished way of life. But, when more people and nations follow our lead, this unquestionably strengthens our national security.

Violence hinders a woman’s ability to live to her God-given potential and to gain access to education, health care, employment, voluntary marriage, and political participation. I-VAWA recognizes that a holistic approach is necessary to prevent and respond to violence.  The bill supports health programs and survivor services, promotes access to economic opportunity projects, education, and encourages legal accountability. I-VAWA not only seeks to build better responses to violence, but addresses the root causes of it by working with men and boys to change social norms and attitudes about the acceptability of violence, striving to create communities free from it. Despite the reality that women are disproportionately affected by violence, I-VAWA recognizes that gender-based violence is perpetrated against and by both men and women alike and does not differentiate when it comes to supporting survivors and bringing perpetrators to justice.

As we observe International Women’s Day this year, I strongly encourage my colleagues to join me in supporting H.R. 3571, the International Violence Against Women Act.  I look forward to the bill becoming a bicameral effort through the upcoming bipartisan re-introduction in the Senate.  Let’s recognize the possibilities of American leadership in this cause and what that means for our national security and the advancement of mankind and seize the opportunity before us.

Gibson has represented congressional districts in New York's Hudson Valley since 2011. He sits on the Armed Services and Agriculture committees.

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