A real Valentine’s gift? End violence against women

For many people in the developing world, Valentine’s Day is just another day of hardship. In the world’s poorest areas, throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America, millions of people are living without access to basic components of human survival – safe, clean drinking water, and  a clean, working toilet.

The burden of finding and fetching water falls disproportionally on the shoulders of women and girls. Because of cultural taboos, women and girls also suffer more from the lack of sanitary facilities. One in three women worldwide risk shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they have nowhere safe to use a toilet. On their long, daily trek to find clean water for their family, women and girls are in significant danger of gender-based violence.

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Women and girls should not have to live in fear every time they head out to collect water or use the toilet, and we should do everything we can to put an end to it.

Thankfully, there is a global movement to take action against gender-based violence on Valentine’s Day. The One Billion Rising campaign seeks to stop violence against women and girls. It calls on people around the world to “harness their power and imagination to rise for justice.”

I’m taking action and want you to do the same. Last August, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and I reintroduced the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act (HR 2901), a bipartisan bill that will improve the well-being, education, economic opportunity, safety, and dignity of the 768 million people who don’t have safe drinking water and the 2.5 billion people who live without a basic latrine. By improving our government’s focus on the poorest of the poor and the countries and communities suffering most from water-related diseases, Water for the World will save many lives. Most importantly, it will use current funding for water, sanitation, and hygiene more effectively. It is a smart bill that won’t break the bank.

There is significant support for this bill around the country. People in all 50 states are doing their part, volunteering their time and resources to international safe water and sanitation projects through Rotary clubs, church groups, schools, and charities. I’m doing what I can with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to push this bill ahead on Capitol Hill. Now, I urge you to help me with this effort.

All of us can agree that politics stop at water. It’s a serious issue, but a solvable one. Women and girls deserve to be free from the fear of violence and harassment trying to fulfill basic needs. For this Valentine’s Day and One Billion Rising, join me in taking action.

Poe has represented Texas's 2nd Congressional District since 2005. He sits on the Foreign Affairs and the Judiciary committees.