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By Diane Hart

Around the world, with sickening frequency, we hear about another instance of violence against a girl or woman. A 5-year-old is raped in India. A girl is shot in the head in Pakistan on her way to school. Twenty-six women are sexually assaulted by police in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico. A women’s rights advocate in Afghanistan is murdered in the street. We now have an opportunity to tackle this issue once and for all by passing H.R. 3571, the International Violence Against Women Act.

This issue hits home for me. My daughter, a graduate of Iroquois High School, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural West Africa. She worked with too many young girls whose potential and opportunities are limited due to restrictions on their freedoms and vulnerability to sexual harassment, rape and other forms of violence.

As president of the Zonta Club of the Aurora Area, part of a worldwide organization that seeks to advance the status of women, I work with women across Western New York to raise awareness of issues like violence against women and girls.

This year, Zonta members are taking a stand against global gender-based violence as part of the “Zonta Says No!” campaign. As part of this work, we join with the Coalition to End Violence Against Women and Girls Globally in working to pass the International Violence Against Women Act in 2014.

This bill is a crucial step forward in ensuring that women and girls are at the center of the U.S. foreign policy agenda. It will increase the impact of U.S. foreign assistance around the world by making the protection of women and girls a priority focus. The bill supports best practices of violence prevention and response efforts so that authorities can bring perpetrators to justice and women and girls can go to school, earn an income and collect food or water without fear of rape.

I applaud New York State representatives Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook; Richard Hanna, R-Binghamton; Nita Lowey, D-White Plains; and Eliot Engel, D-Bronx, who are all original sponsors of the bill. Just this week, Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, joined his fellow New York Republicans in supporting the bill.

As congressional support grows, I encourage Reps. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, to join these members of the New York delegation by co-sponsoring the International Violence Against Women Act.

This bill promotes a more just and stable world and is the right thing to do. We must all make our voices heard. Join me in asking our Western New York lawmakers to do more to stop violence against women and girls across the globe.

Diane Hart of East Aurora is president of the Zonta Club of the Aurora Area.