Halting Violence Against Women in India and Elsewhere a Win-Win

$1 billion to prevent sexual abuse in developing nations is worth the investment.


By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Here's a perfect example of why it's important that the United States do more to stem violence against women in developing nations. CNN posted this story about debt-ridden Indian farmers "selling" their wives to the lenders to whom they have become beholden:

To survive the bad years, some farmers say they turn to the "Paisawalla"—Hindi for the rich man who lends money. Farmers say the loans from these unofficial lenders usually come with very high interest.

When the interest mounts up, lenders demand payment. Some farmers work as bonded laborers for a lifetime to pay off their debts. Others here say because of years of little rain and bad harvests they are forced to give money lenders whatever they ask for.

Sometimes that includes their wives.

A House committee heard testimony this week on a bill called IVAWA (International Violence Against Women Act) that would spend a billion dollars over five years to assist women in developing nations. The funds would go to educate the populace about and prevent violence against women, as well as to give medical assistance to female victims of violence (usually rape victims who are mutilated in the process).

I'm normally a fiscal hawk and $1 billion (even over five years) is still a huge chunk of change to me. But overseas aid comes back to the United States in ways most Americans do not understand—jobs and business. This goes above and beyond the humanitarian reasons for supporting victimized women.

First, let me explain that while the Indian situation (wife-selling) is not violent on its face, the women sold into virtual slavery to new "husbands" must submit to sex with these men. Very little if any of that sexual relationship is consented to by the new "wife." So it is in fact rape in most if not all instances. And that sort of indentured servitude, forced sex, and so on is clearly a form of "violence against women."

Now let me switch back to how American taxpayers win by supporting overseas aid—even in tough economic times such as these. I was in Morocco about a decade or more ago having dinner with a USAID staffer there. He was bemoaning the fact that a U.S. company had just lost out to a French company for a government-let contract to set up cellphone service throughout most of the country.

When I asked him why the U.S. firm lost the bid process, he explained that even though the U.S. bid was lower, the Moroccan government (which awarded the contract) received much more aid from France than from the United States, and that cost the U.S. company its victory.

So if we spend money today to protect female victims of violence, this will be remembered by these women and their families. And the reward will come back to us many times over in terms of increasing our share of global trade.