Violence against women is a profoundly serious and disturbing problem throughout the world. Each year, International Women's Day reminds the world that global leaders have failed to address or find adequate remedies for the horrific tragedies that befall women and girls worldwide. Many of the victims are seeking little more than trying to survive and provide stable lives for themselves and their children.
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 February 28, after weeks of building public pressure, the House of Representatives finally passed a bill to reauthorize funding for the landmark Women Against Violence 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 the lack of partisan controversy. But last week, nearly one-third of all House members found these inclusions unacceptable. This, despite the strength women demonstrated at the polls this past election.
In Pennsylvania and elsewhere 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 throughout Pennsylvania can provide a wide range of programs, including transitional housing grants and civil legal assistance for victims. Police, prosecutors and the courts also benefit from these funds in their efforts to improve law enforcement responses to domestic and sexual violence. This is good for women and men in the state.
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 -- whether gay or straight 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:
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 elected officials -- all Republicans; all men -- 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 next November.
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.
Kate Michelman is President Emeritus of NARAL Pro-Choice America and co-chair of WomenVote Pa, an initiative of the Women's Law Project.
Carol E. Tracy is Executive Director of the Women's Law Project and co-chair of WomenVote Pa, an initiative of the Women's Law Project.