01/11/2013 06:17 pm ET Updated Mar 13, 2013

Inaction in the U.S. Government and the Dangers for Women

A new year, a new presidential term, and a new Congress should mean a fresh agenda, but in 2013, that is far from our reality. What started out as "high hopes" for the 113th Congress has transformed into disapproval and disappointment, and we are only into the second week of January. A recent poll shows that Congress is less popular than some of the most detested events and annoyances in American culture.

I couldn't agree more. The new year started out with the looming fiscal cliff and in the midst of that deal, Congress discussed the impact of the resolution on the economic security of our nation. They argued that averting the fiscal cliff meant securing the long-term economic stability of Americans.

Some important victories for women came out of that agreement but there were some detrimental exclusions such as the lack of any clear next steps for the debt ceiling and additional deficit reduction. The fiscal cliff deal also threatens Head Start programs and protection of the programs that women and families rely on most, including Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.

While Congress was busy arguing about the fiscal cliff, they also ignored other priorities like the pending expiration of an indispensable bill for women's economic security: the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). When the House failed to vote and renew VAWA, they sent a clear message to women voters that their safety and security from sexual and domestic violence is not important.

Initially passed in 1994, VAWA has received bipartisan support in every reauthorization until 2012. Problems for VAWA began in April 2012 when the Senate introduced a version of the bill that included three new provisions:
  • help LGBT victims receive domestic-abuse protections,
  • provide more U-visas for undocumented women in the United States,
  • offer Native American women more protection.
The House did not approve the Senate's additions and instead introduced their own version -- which eliminated inclusions of these three groups. No deal was reached before time ran out on lawmakers. Failure to reauthorize the bill leaves many Americans in danger and threatens their economic security. If lawmakers truly cared about Americans and the economy, perhaps they would have thought twice about letting VAWA expire. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence here are the costs:
  • The cost of intimate partner violence exceeds 5.8 billion each year, 4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health services.
  • Victims of intimate partner violence lost almost eight million days of paid work because of the violence perpetrated against them by current or former husbands, boyfriends and dates. This loss is the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs and almost 5.6 million days of household productivity as a result of violence.
  • There are 16,800 homicides and 2.2 million (medically treated) injuries due to intimate partner violence annually, which costs37 billion.

It is time to reauthorize VAWA for all women, including Native Americans, immigrant women and individuals who identify as LGBTQ, who deserve the same protections as everyone else.