When I was studying to be a rabbi, I spent several years doing volunteer service work in India, Thailand, El Salvador, Ghana, and many other countries. During that time, I heard many wrenching stories from women who had been the victims of violence. They told me they felt powerless, vulnerable, and scared. I pledged on each encounter that I would commit my life to giving voice to their cries. I prayed for an end to this epidemic and sought ways to take action to fulfill the Biblical mandate to pursue justice. Today, each and every one of us has an opportunity to do something tangible to help, and I urge you to join me.
In the next few weeks, the Senate is expected to introduce a bill that could save women’s lives around the world, and we need to tell Arizona’s senators that we want them to ensure it passes. This bill needs bipartisan support, and Sen. John McCain’s vote could make the difference.
The statistics are staggering and devastating: An estimated one out of every three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Every year, 10 million girls under the age of 18 enter into early and forced marriages, making them more vulnerable to violence. Six thousand girls a day (more than 2 million a year) undergo genital cutting. In every corner of the globe, girls, women, and LGBT people suffer violent domestic abuse, rape, and hate crimes.
A world that allows such atrocities to take place on a regular basis, and in which all people are not treated with infinite human dignity, is deeply flawed. But thankfully, there is something that each and every one of us can do to repair it.
The United States has taken some important steps to create change here at home. Twenty years ago Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA), which extended important protections to women and girls in the United States. It has been reauthorized and extended three times since then, under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Each bipartisan effort affirmed the American commitment to end gender-based violence in our country. Last year, Sen. John McCain was among those who supported this legislation, and we must now urge him to act again — this time on behalf of women and girls overseas.
The new bill is called the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), If it passes it will guarantee that the U.S. foreign aid program will account for and prioritize the rights of women and girls in its work around the world.
I am proud to be advocating for this legislation as a supporter of American Jewish World Service’s “We Believe” campaign, dedicated to ensuring that women, girls and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people around the globe can live free from violence and fear and that all girls have the freedom to determine their own futures.
We are aware of the atrocities taking place and we must act to ensure that preventing violence against women and girls remains a top U.S. diplomatic priority. Each and every person is created with infinite dignity and the absolute right to live a life free from abuse. We must turn this promise from dream to reality.
That’s why I’m calling on you, residents of Arizona of all faiths, to help ensure this bill passes. Please consider placing a call, email or tweet —or go in person — to tell Sen. McCain that we, as citizens of conscience, want him to support this crucial life-saving legislation. He has gone on record in support of women and girls in our own country, and he must now act to help those suffering from violence around the world. I also call upon my fellow faith leaders to mobilize our various communities to support this initiative, helping protect the most vulnerable in our midst and overseas.
We all pray for an end to this devastating worldwide problem; but we now have an opportunity to go beyond prayer, to action. Please join me in supporting IVAWA today.
• Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is executive director of the Valley Beit Midrash study center in Phoenix, founder and president of the Jewish justice organization Uri L’Tzedek, and the author of four books on Jewish ethics.