Thursday morning I attended Stories of Courage and Success: Surviving and Ending Violence Against Women Internationally, an event that was organized to bolster efforts to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA, H.R. 4594/ S. 2982). There I was– my first day as an official AIDemocracy intern– sitting before an impressive panel of women’s rights advocates. The excitement I felt being in a room with these dedicated individuals, couldn’t prepare me for what I was about to hear.

After opening remarks from Maria Alexandra Arriaga (Senior Campaign Strategist for the Family Violence Prevention Fund) and Paula Kerger (president and CEO of PBS) a woman took the podium and began to sing to the crowd. Although I couldn’t understand the lyrics, the pain in her song didn’t need a translation.

This woman was Rose Mapendo, a Tutsi woman born in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. When the Rwandan army invaded the Congo in 1998 and president Kabila declared Tutsis were the enemy, pregnant Rose, her husband, and seven of her eight children were arrested and sent to a death camp. In the camp Rose witnessed the execution of her husband. According to the commanders at the camp, “women were not worth the bullet” so they were killed in other ways. Rose witnessed her family and friends slowly killed through systematic rape, beatings and starvation. After eight months in captivity Rose gave birth to twin boys on concrete prison floor. She had to beg guards for a piece of bamboo to cut the umbilical cord.

Rose never thought that there was a chance her family would survive the squalor, malnutrition, violence and rape at that camp. Yet through some miracle Rose made it to a refugee camp in Cameroon and eventually resettled to Pheonix, Arizona. She founded Mapendo International in 2003, and “works to fill the critical and unmet needs of people affected by war and conflict who have fallen through the net of humanitarian assistance”. In 2009 Rose was honored with the Humanitarian of the Year Award by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees.

This year PBS will be airing Pushing the Elephant, a film that documents Rose’s reunification with her daughter Nangabire. The documentary follows them for a year as they make up for the decade they were separated. The film airs March 2011 as part of PBS’ Independent Lens Series. When Rose finished sharing her story there was not a dry eye in the house. I couldn’t help but wonder how in the 21st century violence against women can still be used as a weapon of war.

The presentation continued with Ambassador George Ward (Senior VP for International Programs, World Vision) and Samantha Mathis (Actor & Human Rights Activist) explaining the on-the-ground reality of gender based violence. Ritu Sharma (President and Co-Founder, Women Thrive Worldwide) bravely shared her own story as a survivor of rape, and highlighted the necessity to act now on International Violence Against Women’s Act (IVAWA).

When 1 in 3 women worldwide experience violence in their lifetime, measures like IVAWA are not only needed but necessary. I encourage all of you to contact your representatives today to request they support this common sense legislation. You can also visit for more information on the legislation and how you can take action.

Read another one of our blogs about IVAWA here.