January 14, 2020

BLOG: Reflection by HoyasForShe Fellow Grace Shevchenko

During finals season, Georgetown students took a break from studying to spend a day advocating against gender-based violence.

Grace Shevchenko (SFS'22) with a classmate in the halls of the U.S. Capitol.
Grace Shevchenko (SFS'22) with a classmate in the halls of the U.S. Capitol.

On December 10, I led five undergraduate students to Capitol Hill as part of my HoyasForShe Fellowship with the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. We spent the day lobbying with the Coalition to End Violence Against Women and Girls Globally. As part of the Coalition, we accompanied non-governmental organizations such as CARE and Amnesty International to bring attention to the issue of gender-based violence (GBV) in the onset of emergency settings to US congressional staff members and legislators. During meetings, we were able to educate staff members, who cover multiple policy areas for their office, on the Safe From the Start Act in order to have more members of Congress sponsor the legislation.

GBV is any violence, harassment, exploitation, or abuse directed at an individual because of their gender identity. During humanitarian crises, the issue of GBV is dramatically amplified due to the breakdown of society and normalization of violence in communities. This phenomenon occurs around the world during times of conflict and natural disaster and it is so egregious that nearly one in five women reported experiencing sexual violence during humanitarian emergencies, which was most likely underreported due to stigmas surrounding the act of reporting acts of sexual violence. This global disaster indicates that the United States as well as any other humanitarian actors need to implement a gender-based perspective in order to properly address such situations. 

The Safe From the Start Act (HR 4092) sponsored by Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY) works to find and apply gender-based solutions to the crisis. It plans to implement programs to build the capacity of humanitarian organizations to identify, prevent, and address GBV. It also expands existing programming to include support for local, women-led organizations and actors while developing and implementing standards, in addition to better reporting pathways and training to improve accountability.

After a total of 26 meetings throughout the day, three legislators have already signed on to cosponsor the act. As passionate Georgetown students continue to advocate for these issues, I believe more members of Congress will recognize the importance of the bill and will sign on to support the security of women worldwide.

This advocacy project demonstrates how uniquely situated Georgetown students are to make big impacts due to our location and passion. Unlike full time policy workers or lobbyists who take these meetings regularly and cover vast policy areas, students see this as a rare opportunity and therefore tend to over prepare in order to make the most of it. Moreover, students have the ability to only focus on legislation that they are innately passionate about and can tie in their research with their experiences to make a compelling argument. I am excited to see the future of our advocacy efforts as we grow in number and advocate for more pieces of legislation regarding women, peace, and security.

This blog post was prepared by HoyasForShe Fellow Grace Shevchenko (SFS'22).