The United States has made great strides to change the sickening attitudes and legal obstacles that for decades held women in the grip of physical and sexual violence, far too often with little recourse, while their abusers went unpunished.

But as a nation, we can go further. Congress has an opportunity to support efforts that exist in many countries to change the desperate plight of battered women–by passing the International Violence against Women Act.

If it becomes law, this legislation would place efforts to prevent and respond to violence against women at the center of the U.S. foreign policy and the international aid agenda. For the first time, we’d take a comprehensive approach to a problem that is estimated to affect one in three women worldwide. And we know that even beyond the awful physical and emotional suffering, violence against women wreaks a terrible economic toll by preventing women in developing countries from taking steps to fully support themselves and their families.

I urge you to contact your member of Congress to encourage him or her to support the bill.

Many of us know a woman whose life has been scarred by violence. Each of us has the power to speak out to help reduce the levels of violence globally and to create a more tolerant, safe, humane and just world.

The need is urgent. Millions of women all over the world suffer horrendous violence in all of its forms–acid attacks, rape, forced marriage, bride burnings. The good news is that there are local organizations that are fighting violence in their communities, from Capetown to Caracas. In some countries, new laws are needed to stop the violence. In others, more public education is needed to condemn the violence.

The International Violence against Women Act would support a range of efforts worldwide.

These efforts would include programs to change attitudes about violence through public awareness and health campaigns; economic empowerment programs for women; legal reforms and programs that include men and boys as partners to create positive social change. The legislation would make the issue a diplomatic priority by requiring the United States to respond promptly to appalling acts of mass violence against women and girls committed during armed conflicts and war such as the mass rapes that have occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Enacting the International Violence against Women Act would send a powerful message around the world–that the United States stands with those who will not tolerate the lives of fear and terror that so many women and girls experience.

The proposed law has strong bipartisan support in Congress and is backed by more than 100 diverse organizations–faith-based and secular, including Amnesty International, CARE, International Rescue Committee, Family Violence Prevention Fund, Jewish Women International, World Vision, Global AIDS Alliance, and Women Thrive Worldwide. A 2009 poll showed 61 percent of voters across political and demographic lines believe global violence against women should be a top priority for the U.S. government. Eighty-two percent supported the International Violence against Women Act.

We know from our own experience in the United States that attitudes can be changed and laws can make a difference to prevent and reduce violence against women. We know we can make a difference to reverse this terrible crisis. And we owe it to women who are still suffering to speak up.

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Maribel QuialaBy

Maribel Quiala, LCSW is the Southeast Regional Coordinator for the National Latina Health Network and Field Instructor for the Florida International University School of Social Work, Nova Southeastern University and Barry University. For more information about the International Violence against Women Act, please visit www.amnestyusa.org/ivawa.