Photo courtesy of Congresswoman Grace Meng's office
Meng introduced the Safe Start Act to fight gender-based violence against women

Women across the globe experience gender-based violence in the face of wars, displacement and natural disasters. But one Queens lawmaker wants to combat these instances of violence with a new bipartisan bill.

Congresswoman Grace Meng recently introduced the Safe from the Start Act, which would codify the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Safe from the Start Initiative. The program works to improve American involvement to prevent, mitigate and respond to gender-based violence from the onset of humanitarian emergencies.

“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 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.”

According to a research study, gender-based violence against women increases in refugee settings or during other humanitarian crises. The study found that one in five of these women experienced sexual violence, though numbers may be higher due to the complexities of disclosing such incidents.

“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,” Meng said.

Meng introduced the bipartisan bill with Republican representatives Chris Steward and Mario-Diaz Balart and with fellow Democrats Lois Frankel and Chrissy Houlahan.

The Safe from the Start Act would require the secretary of state and the USAID administrator to submit a report to Congress detailing the progress made with preventing, mitigating and addressing gender-based violence.

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.”

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

“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.

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