July 30, 2015
U.S. Efforts to Address Global Violence Against Women
During the past two decades, U.S. policymakers, as well as
many in the international community, have increasingly
recognized violence against women (VAW, also referred to
as gender-based violence) as a significant global health,
human rights, and security issue. Violence against women,
which includes random acts of violence as well as sustained
abuse over time, can be physical, psychological, or sexual
in nature. Many experts view it as a symptom of the
historically unequal power relationship between men and
women and maintain that over time this imbalance has led
to pervasive cultural stereotypes and attitudes that
perpetuate a cycle of violence.
There are many different types of violence perpetrated
against women, for example:
Intimate partner violence, one of the most common forms,
can include forced sex, physical violence, and
psychological abuse, such as isolation from family and
Honor killings can involve cases when women are stoned,
burned, or beaten to death, often by their own family
members, in order to preserve the family honor.
Dowry-related violence can arise when victims are attacked
or killed by in-laws for not bringing a large enough dowry
to the marriage.
Female genital cutting (FGC), a procedure that
intentionally alters female genital organs for non-medical
reasons, is a continued problem in some African and
Middle Eastern countries.
Violence against women occurs in all geographic regions,
countries, cultures, and economic classes, although some
studies have found that women in developing countries
experience higher rates of violence than those in developed
countries. A 2013 World Health Organization (WHO)
review of global data found that 35% of women worldwide
have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner
violence or non-partner sexual violence.
Violence against women is a key area of concern in many
humanitarian crises, armed conflict, and post-conflict
situations, where women and girls are often particularly
vulnerable. Many experts agree that current levels of
violence reported through studies and law enforcement
records underrepresent the number of actual cases.
Incidents are often not reported because of the shame
associated with being a victim, fear of reprisal, or lack of
adequate law enforcement infrastructure.
International efforts to address violence against women are
wide-ranging. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs),
other governments, and international organizations such as
the United Nations system implement large and small-scale
anti-VAW activities. International mechanisms, including
the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women, have also sought to
address the issue.
President Obama and past Presidents have generally
supported efforts to combat global violence against
women—often as components of broader foreign aid
initiatives. Key implementing agencies and offices include:
• the Department of State, including the Office of Global
Women’s Issues, and
• the U.S. Agency for International Development
(USAID), including the Office of Gender Equality and
The Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services,
Homeland Security, Justice, and Labor also support global
“[Gender-based] violence ... significantly hinders
the ability of individuals to fully participate in and
contribute to their families and communities –
economically, politically, and socially.” U.S. Strategy
to Prevent and Respond to Gender Based Violence
Globally, August 2012
The Obama Administration has expressed its commitment
to incorporating anti-VAW efforts into all aspects of U.S.
foreign policy. In August 2012, President Obama issued an
executive order to launch the multi-year U.S. Strategy to
Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally.
The Strategy calls on agencies to integrate prevention and
response into current programs; improve data collection and
analysis; and enhance existing government programs that
address the issue. It also establishes an interagency working
group led by State and USAID to coordinate U.S. efforts
worldwide. The Strategy is meant to build on existing U.S.
efforts to combat violence against women and to
complement related Administration policies such as the
U.S. National Action Plan on Peace and Security and State
Department and USAID policies on gender equality and
www.crs.gov | 7-5700
U.S. Efforts to Address Global Violence Against Women
For more than two decades, Congress has demonstrated an
ongoing interest in addressing international violence against
women. It has passed legislation addressing specific types,
such as human trafficking and FGC, and has adopted
legislation addressing violence against women in different
regions and countries. In some cases, Congress has
incorporated anti-VAW components into legislation and
programs addressing international HIV prevention and
foreign military and law enforcement training. Members
have also considered various iterations of the International
Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) in recent
Congresses, which have aimed to coordinate and provide
additional funding for U.S. efforts to address the issue.
Versions of IVAWA introduced during the 114th Congress
(H.R. 1340 and S. 713) would, among other things, codify
current State Department and USAID offices and positions
addressing global women’s issues.
In 2012, the Obama Administration reported that based on
prior year classifications, U.S. spending on gender-based
violence (GBV) programming totaled about $92 million
annually over the previous four years. However, this
estimate did not include some related activities under the
Global Health Initiative and the Global Food Security
Initiative (Feed the Future), among others. Generally, it is
difficult to determine the full scope of funding for U.S.
programs and activities that, either in whole or in part,
address international violence against women. While some
activities specifically focus on violence against women,
others address the issue in the context of broader U.S.
foreign assistance matters such as health care, crime, human
rights, economic development, security training, and
Key Issues and Challenges
Funding and further integration of U.S. activities. Some
experts and policymakers maintain that, in addition to
receiving attention as a stand-alone global health and
human rights issue, anti-VAW efforts should be a fully
integrated component of broader U.S. foreign assistance
efforts—including health services, development, human
rights, foreign military training and law enforcement
training, humanitarian assistance, and legal and political
reform. They argue that additional funding is needed to
adequately coordinate government-wide efforts and fund
current and future U.S. anti-VAW activities.
Implementation of the U.S. strategy. Members of
Congress may consider monitoring efforts to incorporate
the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based
Violence Globally into U.S. foreign policy; coordination
among participating agencies and departments; and any
challenges or lessons learned that could arise during the
course of implementation.
Some experts contend that providing financial support to
organizations that address the issue is a particularly
effective use of U.S. resources because it allows the United
States to share costs and other burdens with others.
Opponents argue that United States should focus on its own
initiatives, and emphasize that international activities may
not always align with U.S. priorities.
Lack of comparable data. Existing research offers little in
the way of comparative data. Many researchers use
different sampling techniques, methodologies, and criteria
for defining violence against women and conducting
surveys—which may lead to inconsistent and varied
findings on the scope of the problem and impact of
programs to combat violence against women.
Infrastructure and priorities at the country level. Some
governments, particularly those of developing countries,
may lack the political, legislative, and financial
infrastructures to establish and implement policies and
programs to eliminate violence against women. This may
be a challenge to donors who aim to distribute anti-VAW
funding and resources in the most effective manner.
Evaluation and assessment. Hundreds of global antiVAW programs are implemented annually, but few of these
programs are evaluated for effectiveness. Many activities
are short in duration and have small budgets, which may
leave little time and financial resources for evaluations.
Consequently, U.S. policymakers might have difficulty
gauging a program’s effectiveness and thus may reduce
resources to programs that cannot demonstrate impact.
Current and emerging issues. Some key areas in research,
prevention, and treatment include:
• Links to discrimination. Many experts increasingly view
violence as a form of discrimination against women, and
maintain that discrimination causes violence. To combat
the issue, they contend, equal attention should be paid to
the causes and impacts of female discrimination.
• Role of men and boys. Research on violence against
women has evolved to include not only treatment and
prevalence but also root causes. As a result, many
experts and policymakers have increasingly focused on
the role of men and boys in preventing violence against
• Links to peace and security. Some experts have argued
that the problem of international violence against
women, particularly sexual violence in conflict
situations, may be linked to national and international
security and stability.
Luisa Blanchfield, firstname.lastname@example.org, 7-0856
International cooperation. NGOs, international
organizations, and other entities support a range of
activities addressing violence against women worldwide.
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