A small refugee camp lies in the Democratic Republic of Congo next to a national park. Each day, the women of the community must venture into the forest to gather firewood to cook and to heat their homes. On an average day, ten of the women who go into the forest are raped. The women are faced with a bleak choice: their own safety or a resource necessary for survival.
This story, shared by Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan was amongst the dozens of tales told at Tuesday’s Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women’s Issues hearing on combating violence and discrimination against women. The hearing came as a push to pass the International Violence Against Women Act, which would make the reduction of violence against women a diplomatic priority for the U.S.
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California underlined the importance of spreading the ethos that violence against women was not the behavior of a “real man.” She suggested using famous athletes and other popular role models as the faces of an effort to get more men to speak up. “Women can’t do this alone,” Boxer said. “This is a partnership.”
The bill has been introduced four times since 2007, but, despite bipartisan support, it has not had enough Republican support to pass. Although the legislation has yet to be discussed outside of the subcommittee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said that he plans to bring the issue to the attention of the full committee. “I struggle to understand why the United States has failed to pass the convention, but I understand politics,” said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. “We need to acknowledge our responsibility and our leadership on issues.”
Panelist Gary Barker, International Director of Promundo, an international group that works to engage men to promote gender equality, discussed the importance of men who witnessed violence against women speaking up, as one of the many potential solutions. He cited a study that revealed that men who use violence likely saw their father being violent toward their mother or experienced violence themselves. The perpetrators believed that two-thirds of the men around them thought that this violence was acceptable. “Something is really engrained in silence of other men and how systems don’t react to it,” Barker said.
Because there is not enough prison space to imprison every man who has committed an act of violence, Barker said, it is necessary to think about prevention.