There’s still plenty of legislative gridlock in Washington, D.C., but we’re thrilled to note that it didn’t extend to the Violence Against Women Act, which was recently reauthorized by both the U.S. House and Senate and includes a provision aimed at curbing child marriage in developing countries.
Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, a Democratic senator from Illinois, led the charge to include the language, which requires the secretary of state to come up with a variety of strategies for preventing child marriage and empowering girls in developing countries.
In addition, nations that receive foreign assistance from the United States will be required to provide updates on the status of child marriage in their countries as part of their regular reporting.
The Durbin provisions mirror what was in the Child Marriage Prevention Act, which he and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine introduced in the most recent Congresses. That act passed the Senate in 2010 and 2012 but has never managed to make it through the House.
The Violence Against Women Act, originally approved in 1994, garnered bipartisan support—though it wasn’t unanimous. The legislation, which includes a host of provisions aimed at preventing sexual assault and domestic violence and protecting the victims of those crimes, passed 78 to 22 in the Senate and 286 to 139 in the House. If you’d like to know how individual lawmakers voted, you can see the House record here and the Senate record here. President Obama signed the legislation on March 7th, the day before International Women’s Day.
“Since its passage, the Violence Against Women Act has provided valuable and lifesaving assistance to tens of thousands of women across Illinois and to hundreds of thousands of women in America,” Durbin said in a statement after the Senate vote. “Over the last 19 years, the rate of domestic violence against women has dropped by more than 50 percent, but there are many more who still need help. This bipartisan bill is our opportunity to show them that when it comes to protecting those who need help, we will be there.”
Durbin’s additions to the legislation also address sexual assault in America’s immigration detention facilities, restrict the use of U.S. peacekeeping funds for countries that use child soldiers and help ensure that victims of child sex trafficking are referred for treatment rather than criminal prosecution.
Among the host of supporters for the legislation was Donna Edwards, D-Maryland, who has helped arrange a fantastic photo and essay exhibit at Rayburn House Office Building titled “Women Between Peace and War: Afghanistan.” The exhibit takes place March 14 and 15 at the building at Independence Avenue and South Capitol Street.
The event, sponsored in part by UN Women and UNFPA, features moving images by 10 award-winning photographers, including Stephanie Sinclair, Lynsey Addario and Ron Haviv. It’s organized by a nonprofit called ART WORKS Projects, which aims to raise awareness of significant human rights and environmental issues through art.
In a statement, ART WORKS Projects points out that women are key to forging peace in Afghanistan, but gender inequities threaten to undermine their efforts.
“Fortifying the autonomy of Afghan women in the form of cultural, legal and political equality is the first step in supporting their work as catalysts for change. This transformation will champion the efforts of women and girls seeking to rebuild and sustain peaceful lives for the people of Afghanistan,” the statement reads. “Investment in women is an investment in peace.”
The group’s website offers a host of resources for those interested in understanding more about the plight of women in Afghanistan—where 30 percent of girls are married before they turn 18. The site also offers a way to request the exhibit for your own community.