Letter to the Editor: U.S. government should lead in protection of women’s rights

Parker Breza, Sophomore

In response to the opinions piece “Indian gang rape: governments need to show more attention to women’s rights,” published 1/10/13, I agree with the author that women’s rights need to be a priority for governments, especially with the recent cases regarding violence against women throughout the world, such as the fatal gang rape in India as the author noted, or even the hundreds of thousands of rape cases in our own nation. But I would like to further that as a major world player, the United States has an obligation to lead the world by example on this issue. The United States has a responsibility to take action on women’s rights, and since 1994 one piece of legislation has been about as bipartisan as it could get––The Violence Against Women Act. The legislation’s title says it all; it will help to curb violence against women in the United States through a litany of policies. However, recently Congress hasn’t taken this responsibility seriously enough by not renewing the Violence Against Women Act.

Rather than working to expand women’s rights and helping to make their lives better, the 112th Congress did the opposite. It’s quite well known that this past Congress was statistically the least productive Congress on record, only passing around 300 bills while they wasted their time trying to repeal The Affordable Care Act or attempting to restrict women’s reproductive rights. This misspent time and hateful rhetoric put women and their rights on the sidelines. Despite the “War on Women” controversy (a series of measures taken by Republicans to limit women’s rights, especially regarding reproduction), the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was a moderate bill that was so widespread that almost everyone in both parties could agree with it.

The benefits of the VAWA strengthen state and federal laws for rape and domestic abuse, mandating that women not be required to pay for a rape test. It also includes improved training for law enforcement regarding investigation and prosecution within these crimes. The benefits have already been fruitful with over 3 million calls to the Domestic Violence Hotline (another implementation from this bill), intimate partner violence declining by 67%, and more arrests and convictions than ever before. Without the renewal of this law, all of theses benefits will be lost.

Now that the 113th Congress has been sworn in once again, it is time to see if women’s rights will be respected. Despite being passed in the Senate 68 to 31, this bill wasn’t even brought to the floor in the House of Representatives due to Republican control. This is because the revised VAWA has included three new groups of women: Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, LGBT women, and undocumented women. These women should be and need to be covered by the bill. By expanding into these three groups, Congress would be extending the positive effects of VAWA to 30 million people.

The fact that this bill hasn’t passed is despicable to say the least. Especially considering that compared to the 8.2% of Caucasian women who will be stalked in their lifetime, 17% of Native American and Alaskan Native women will also be stalked. LGBT women are twice as likely to be raped than straight women. And an undocumented woman, while having no statistics to her specific group, is up to three times more likely to be sexually or physically abused by her partner. This issue is magnified even further when considering the language, cultural, and legal barriers they face. What our lawmakers fail to acknowledge is that women are women no matter their race.

The VAWA comes up for a renewal vote in the Senate within the coming weeks, and while it will likely pass under Democratic control it will be pertinent for this bill to also be renewed in the Republican controlled House of Representatives. It’s easy for us as Americans to look at other countries and to scold them for gross violence against women, yet we often forget to look at our own country. We need to pressure our lawmakers to stand up what’s right for us, our mothers, our sisters, and our daughters. Women’s rights are human rights, and it’s about time they’re seen as such.