A chilling statistic drives Ritu Sharma in her life's work: One out of every three women, both in the United States and throughout the world, is a victim of assault, rape, murder or some other violent act or, all too often, multiple acts.
"So if you have three daughters, one of them will be a victim of violence," said Sharma, co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide, a Washington-based group trying to tackle the problem on a global scale.
Sharma endured brutality at a young age, and decided early on that she would focus on addressing an issue that dates to the beginning of man. After being raised in Arizona by her Indian parents, Sharma graduated from Georgetown University in 1990 and spent time in Washington's nonprofit world before helping to set up Women Thrive Worldwide in 1998.
The launch came four years after Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, which established an array of programs for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Since the law's enactment in 1994, the rate of violence against women has been going down in the United States, Sharma said.
Sharma's group, with a staff of 17 and programs reaching out to women around the world, is pushing Congress to pass a law similar to VAWA but with a global reach.
The International Violence Against Women Act is awaiting markup in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, possibly this week, Sharma said. With time running out for action in this Congress, sponsors of the bill invited victims of violence to share their stories on Capitol Hill last week in hopes of pushing the bill onto the calendar.
One of the speakers at Thursday's event was Rose Mapendo, who survived a genocidal war that continues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and comes from a province that has the highest rate of rape in the world. "All these rapes are known and not consistently prevented," she said.
Backers of the bill say it would shine a much-needed spotlight on the problem of violence against women and put the full weight of the U.S. government behind efforts to address it. There are now a number of small programs focused on the issue scattered around the State Department and other agencies, but there is no coordinated approach, Sharma said.
The bill would reorganize government efforts, plus allow it to direct funds to nations with major problems, such as Congo and Haiti, and authorize grants to locally based groups around the world, she said.
This article appears in the September 25, 2010 edition of NJ Daily.