The Senate is Too Busy to Help Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Fight Global Violence Against Women
Secretary Clinton has worked hard to make women’s rights a key aspect of U.S. diplomacy and foreign policy. She has repeatedly noted the link between the status of women and governments which have a tendency to be repressive and authoritarian. She understands that the status of women can actually impact national security.
She has worked hard to promote women’s economic and social development throughout the world. There is more to fighting terrorism and creating stable democracies than dropping bombs via remote controlled predator drones. In fact, many sociologist, psychologists and world health experts will tell you that war and armed conflict always have a disproportionate impact on women and children, often in ways that are difficult for us to sometimes appreciate here in the U.S. This is something we rarely consider as we plan and debate whether this or that country should be the focus of our next military intervention.
Over at Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin has a post up about how last week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was set to vote on a bill that would have vastly increased the capability of the U.S. government to support the goal of ending violence against women throughout the world. But the Senate was too busy getting ready to leave to campaign for the upcoming midterm elections. Clearly, women’s issues are not a priority. In addition, once again abortion has taken over the debate:
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was set to vote yesterday on a bill to drastically expand U.S. government support to end violence against women around the world. Before that could happen, however, there was to be a debate over GOP attempts to add broad new restrictions on government funding for abortions.
But neither the debate nor the vote happened. The meeting was cancelled because too many senators were out campaigning.
“We can’t get a quorum [to hold the meeting] because Senator Boxer has a debate, Senator Feingold is not here, and some Republicans have a caucus,” Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), told The Cable.
Ironically, Boxer has spoken out forcefully for the legislation, called the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), at past meetings. But her absence Wednesday contributed to a delay that will push consideration of the bill until after the Nov. 2 midterm elections and probably until next year, when the political makeup of the Senate will have changed dramatically.
The legislation would give expansive new authorities to the State Department and the Defense Department to fund all types of organizations that are working to combat violence against women and girls in various countries.
This issue is a key priority of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and it constitutes a rampant problem throughout the world. In Congo, for example, U.N. peacekeepers have been completely unable to stop widespread rape by warring militias.
But the bill cannot come to a vote until committee members debate a Republican amendment prohibiting any organization receiving U.S. government funds from performing or promoting abortions in any way, even with money obtained from other sources.
If the bill had been approved by the committee Wednesday, it could have been passed by the full Senate. Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are sponsors of the bill, meaning that even if Casey voted no, Democrats could gather the 60 votes needed to close debate and approve the bill.
But since that is now impossible this year, passing the bill is expected to become even more challenging following the midterm elections, when more Republicans are expected to be in the Senate and on the SFRC. When senators return next year, they may have to make further concessions to Wicker and others on the abortion issue in order to get enough votes. Or they may just abandon their attempts to pass new laws to protect women from violence altogether.
What’s clear is that the abortion issue needs to be resolved before the bill can move forward. “Seems to me that we should solve this issue first, because there a lot of good things in this bill that I support,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN).
By not showing up for Wednesday’s meeting, pro-choice and pro-women advocates like Boxer and Feingold may have assured that this will not happen…
Sometimes when I read articles which quote current and former scions of the foreign policy establishment saying that while Secretary Clinton is a good SOS, she’s not on par with the likes of Kissinger or Baker, I can’t help but wonder if they look down on her focus on women’s issues. Most, if not all, of the people quoted are men like Leslie Gelb, Aaron David Miller or worse, anonymous sources. Secretary Clinton has also been pretty much the lone voice in this administration advocating for gay rights internationally, openly condemning nations who use draconian methods to punish gay men and lesbians. Now if only she could prod President Obama to do the same here at home.
After the article by Josh Rogin appeared on the Foreign Policy website, John Kerry said he will raise the issue again during the November lame duck session, but Republicans are planning to block any attempted passage of the bill unless the Democrats can demonstrate that the money for it will be offset with deficit reduction in another area. And then there is the effort, not just from the GOP but also conservative Democrats, to hold up the bill over theire concerns about funds being used to provide abortion (and other reproductive health services like family planning). This is preposterous. The GOP are totally selective in their fiscal conservativism. If this bill involved throwing more money for predator drones or bombing Iran, we’d have had the money yesterday with no demand for offsets.