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Meng, Frankel Introduce Legislation to Strengthen Fight Against Gender-Based Violence

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, introduced legislation that would help improve U.S. efforts to combat gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies across the globe. She was proud to introduce the bipartisan bill with Reps. Chris Stewart (R-UT), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA).

The Safe from the Start Act would codify the Department of State-United States Agency for International Development’s Safe from the Start Initiative, a program to prevent, mitigate, and respond to gender based violence from the onset of humanitarian emergencies such as conflict settings and natural disasters.

Gender-based violence is known to increase among refugees and those in these types of crisis environments. In fact, an estimated 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence during humanitarian emergencies, although the numbers are likely higher given the barriers associated with disclosure.

“Gender-based violence threatens the lives of women and girls around the world – particularly those who are already vulnerable due to displacement from war, famine, or natural disaster,” said Rep. Meng. “Today, as we are witness to the largest flow of refugees in recorded history, protecting women and girls from gender-based violence must be a priority that is integrated fully into the U.S. Government’s humanitarian response. My legislation would help ensure that happens, and it would be a critical tool in improving prevention and mitigation efforts as well. We must do all we can to save lives and protect women and girls from these despicable and brutal acts of abuse and violence. I am grateful to introduce the Safe from the Start Act alongside my bipartisan colleagues, and I urge all my colleagues in the House to support this bill.”

The legislation would also provide needed Congressional oversight, requiring the Secretary of State – in coordination with the Administrator of USAID – to submit a report to Congress detailing the progress made in preventing, mitigating, and addressing gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies.

“From the start of their lives, women and girls everywhere must have the right to safety and security,” said Rep. Frankel, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Never are they more vulnerable than when their country is in crisis. Rape is commonly used as a tool of war. Access to reproductive care becomes scarce. We have seen this in Syria and now dramatically in Venezuela and Yemen. The Safe from the Start initiative, ensures that our government addresses gender-based violence (GBV) in humanitarian crises. Empowering women leads to a more secure world.”

"America continues to be on the frontlines of bringing relief to vulnerable populations around the world,” said Rep. Stewart, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “This bill strengthens this critical role by ensuring that our country's foreign assistance focuses on keeping women and children safe from violence."

“We are not doing enough to protect women and girls from gender-based violence around the world,” said Rep. Houlahan, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I firmly believe when women around the world succeed, we all benefit as a global community. Too many women seeking refuge are vulnerable to violence because of their gender. As a leader in providing global humanitarian aid, the United States must also be a leader in protecting aid recipients. The Safe from the Start Act is a critical first step in addressing the gaps in support and protection for women and girls who are subjected to gender-based violence.”

“The global risk of violence and exploitation against girls and women increases during emergencies, such as natural disasters and turmoil,” said Rep. Diaz-Balart, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “I am proud to be the co-sponsor of this bipartisan legislation that would play a significant role in combating gender-based violence while also providing the necessary resources to mitigate and prevent such crises.”

“1 in 5 women report experiencing sexual violence in humanitarian emergencies,” said David Ray, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at CARE. “With the world currently experiencing the largest refugee crises in recorded history – where the majority of displaced people are women and girls – it is critical that the United States make a robust commitment to address gender-based violence in its humanitarian response efforts. The Safe from the Start Act does just that, and we applaud Reps. Meng, Stewart, Frankel, Diaz-Balart and Houlahan for their bipartisan leadership on this critical and timely legislation.”

“We applaud the introduction of the Safe from the Start Act of 2019 under the bipartisan leadership of Representatives Grace Meng, Mario Diaz-Balart, Chris Stewart, Lois Frankel and Chrissy Houlahan,” said Abby Maxman, President of Oxfam America. “This bill not only seeks to protect women by focusing on prevention, monitoring and accountability, but it also acknowledges the power that they have by working to promote women’s leadership and empowerment, and by highlighting the need to coordinate with women led organizations.”    

“Thank you Congresswoman Meng for your leadership in working to end sexual violence in humanitarian settings,” said Esta Soler, President and Founder of Futures Without Violence. “Ending gender-based violence and helping those harmed by it heal must be a top foreign policy priority if we are to reduce conflict and violence globally. The data are clear on the connection between and trauma and violence and state instability. This bill is an important step in bringing our policy in line with priorities and protecting our most vulnerable from rape, abuse and trafficking.”

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs where it is awaiting further action.

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