Violence against women is a profoundly serious and disturbing problem throughout the world. We like to think it is different here at home. We expect women will be safe and treated fairly. We assume that no political party or partisan agenda will stand in the way of ensuring the safety of our grandmothers, our mothers and our daughters.
Events of the last month suggest these may be false assumptions. At the very least, we must ask if our legislators are acting to meet this challenge.
On Feb. 28, after weeks of building public pressure, the U.S. House of Representatives finally passed a bill to reauthorize funding for the landmark Violence Against Women Act. The reauthorization expands federal programs to assist local communities with law enforcement and aiding victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Most notably, it expands protections for gay, bisexual or transgender domestic abuse victims and extends coverage to Native American Indian women assaulted on reservations by non-Indians.
Before this year, this legislation was notable for its lack of partisan controversy. But when it came time to vote, nearly one-third of House members found these inclusions unacceptable -- despite the strength that women demonstrated at the polls this past election.
In Pennsylvania and across the country, the passage of this legislation ensures that additional funds will target efforts to reduce violence and abuse of women and children. Through grants authorized under the Violence Against Women Act, community organizations can provide a wide range of programs, including transitional housing grants and civil legal assistance for victims. Police, prosecutors and the courts also benefit in their efforts to improve law enforcement responses to domestic and sexual violence. This is good for women and men in the commonwealth.
Unfortunately, not all of our congressional representatives are committed to this critical need. Their message is simple and horrifying to people of conscience: Women who are victims of dangerous and terrifying abuse -- at least if they are gay or Native American Indian -- are not worthy of these protections.
In fact, one-third of the Pennsylvania delegation voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Here is the shameful list -- all Republican, all men: Mike Kelly (PA-3); Scott Perry (PA-4); Tom Marino (PA-10); Keith Rothfus (PA-12); Joseph Pitts (PA-16); Tim Murphy (PA-18).
These officials were elected to represent constituencies across the state, from Pittsburgh and north, to York County and south, and Lancaster in between. Voters in their districts must ask whether this vote is, in fact, what they expect from the people who represent them in Congress. If not, voters must let their voices be heard in every possible way. Leaders with a commitment to preventing violence against women and children and providing assistance to the victims of violence should be recruited and funded to ensure voters have a real choice in November next year.
Sex discrimination and gender bias are deeply embedded in the legal framework of institutions designed to protect us all from harm. We see the impact of these inequities in our work on behalf of women in Pennsylvania and across America each day. But we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent -- not now, not ever. We must call to account elected officials who trade women's rights for partisan allegiances.opinion_commentary
Kate Michelman, president emeritus of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Carol Tracy are co-chairs of WomenVote Pa, an initiative of the Women's Law Project. Ms. Tracy is executive director of the project.