Rose Mapendo felt ready to die after being kept at a death camp for eight months in the Democratic Republic of Congo, her native country.
Congolese soldiers imprisoned the family and killed her husband in 1998 because they are Tutsis. The string of abuse she and her nine children endured almost took her life, but she made the decision to forgive her oppressors. That choice plus a little luck enabled her to escape death and became a world-renowned advocate against violence against women.
Mapendo's story ended happily - she was named Humanitarian Person of the Year for 2009 from the United Nations and founded a nonprofit organization, Mapendo International, which cares for at-risk refugees from Africa.
Mapendo and members of Congress held a panel discussion Thursday to call on Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act before the November elections. House and Senate versions of the bill have been referred to committees that so far have taken no action.
Amnesty International has found that one in three women and girls worldwide are subject to different types of gender-based violence.
"Why should the U.S. do something to address international violence against women?" asked Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who serves on the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees. "Because we are a symbol of great hope and human rights promotion."
Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill., said, "We should take on this emotional sentiment and proceed to take effective action against this threat to global stability."
Schakowsky is the Democratic co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues. She and Poe are cosponsors of the bill.
Ritu Sharma, president of Women Thrive Worldwide, said the bill won't create added cost or bureaucracy but will contribute money to programs that are already working.
Sharma said her activism to end violence against women awakened after becoming a victim of sexual abuse by her grandfather at age 8.
I-VAWA's strategy focuses on funding local education programs already in place in several countries.
Sharma said that total resources for financing global initiatives will cost less than one ten-thousandth of the U.S. federal government budget.
The bill would also integrate the topic of violence against women in the agenda of U.S. diplomacy.
Locally run educational programs have proven effective in remote tribal areas of Kenya. Former U.S. ambassador to Namibia, George Ward, vice-president for international programs of World Vision, said female genital cutting practices among Kenyan villages dropped from 75 percent to 10 percent from 1996 to 2006.
Advocates for the bill agreed that working with local organizations is better than sanctions against foreign governments or programs run from overseas.
Mapendo learned that reconciliation and education are the right ingredients to make communities aware of women's rights 10 years ago when a team of American rescuers saved her from imprisonment in the DRC.
"After I said to the soldiers at the death camp: ‘I'm your people, I forgive you,'" Mapendo said, "there was a huge transformation. They started to ask what they were doing there."