February 14th V was -day. Not just a day for heart shaped candies and flowers but a day for global action! A vibrant symbol of activism in the name of stopping violence against women. And yet the fervent support and cries for justice seem to have been lost within the rhetoric of Congress. A Congress that has failed to pass two key pieces of legislation to help prevent and address violence against women: The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This years V-day event had a message, one billion rising. One billion to represent the 1 in 3 women, world wide, who will suffer sexual assault in their lifetime. The one billion who are victimized again when Congress refuses to sign key legislation to help end this epidemic.
This past January, for the first time in 18 years VAWA was allowed to expire due to the House’s refusal to even bring it up for a vote. VAWA is a bill that has created real positive change in the rates of domestic violence since its conception in 1993. It has also strengthened legal system penalties and support for survivors as well as health care services for survivors and their families. Of all bills sent through Congress this should be the least contested! However, two new measures to extend protections against domestic violence have rallied republican uproar in the House and stalled the bill in proceedings. On Tuesday February 12th the Senate passed VAWA in a majority bi-partisan vote and agreed to include LGBTQIA women as well as Native American women living on reservations in the new bill.
However, House republicans have raised objections to including LGBTQIA women as well as concerns for the rights of those who would potentially be tried in tribal courts if the bill was to pass. If the bill fails to pass the House, it means for the 1 in 3 Native American and Alaskan Native women who face sexual assault, the 2 in 5 who are victimized by domestic violence, and Native women murdered at 10 times the national rate will continue to be denied justice in order to protect the rights of their attackers. If VAWA fails to be passed, it means the 25-35% of gay and lesbian women who experience domestic violence will not be able to look to our government for protection.
Compounding this gap in VAWA coverage is Congress’s failure to sign CEDAW. While I applaud the Senate in their passage of VAWA, they to, like the House have yet to act on CEDAW. CEDAW is an international human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations in 1979. Once ratified a country promises to work towards the advancement of women in regards to reproductive rights, civil rights and legal status as well as addressing cultural and gendered influences that may prevent the advancement of women. Thirty years after its creation the United States is one of seven countries, and the only industrialized country, that has not ratified the treaty, sharing company with Sudan, Somalia, and Iran.
My family like so many others shares in the history of domestic violence. An atrocity that both my mother and my grandmother were exposed to. They are 2 in a billion. We, as women and men, must stand up and tell our Congress that violence against women is not something to be debated or compromised. Violence against women is not something that can wait! I ask you to write your senator and your congresswomen and congressmen and tell them that now is the right time to pass VAWA and ratify CEDAW. Tell them that we are the one billion rising and we will not rest until justice is done.