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Domestic violence and sexual assault transcend every age, every socioeconomic status, and every educational background. It sees neither color nor creed. Regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or nationality, violence against women has completely pervaded our society. Many women are forced to suffer in silence, but late last week they regained their voice.
Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is at once a heartening testament to our commitment to women’s rights and a sad reminder that violence against women is still happening. It is a reminder that, even with men and women facing violence every day in this country, it took more than 500 days for Congress to reauthorize and reinforce these common-sense protections.
That lag can be chalked up to partisan gridlock, ideological differences and imminent economic issues that dominate policy discussions. But breaking that stagnant streak with action can also be chalked up to female leaders’ voices in Congress, in communities and online. Without women standing up and speaking out about the bill — speaking on the floor, sending action alerts and mobilizing the grass roots to urge passage — we could have seen this inaction persist for another 500 days.
Some women’s “no” votes notwithstanding, this bill’s passage is a palpable example of a point the Barbara Lee Family Foundation’s research has demonstrated: Women in office matter, and they get results. In the Senate, 78 members supported the bill, including all of the 20 women in that chamber. While the gender split wasn’t so clear in the House — 10 Republican women voted against it — women’s voices were still a strong force for passage.
This bill, which strengthens protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Native American women and undocumented immigrants, is reflective of the electorate. Inclusivity in VAWA matters for the same reason it matters in Congress: It is better for everyone. It is no wonder that the most diverse Congress with the most women in history passed the most inclusive VAWA to date.
VAWA’s passage, like women’s wins in November, is a sign that by leveraging their power — their voices, their values and their votes — women are making change.
Research by political scientists at Vanderbilt University and Ohio State University shows that over the past 40 years, women in the House introduced twice as many bills on civil rights, family issues, immigration, labor, health and education (those typically labeled “women’s issues”) than men. To be sure, women are not a monolithic group, all thinking and voting in lock step. But when it comes to traditional women’s issues, women have an advantage among voters.
VAWA’s passage is proof of that idea in action.
Let’s applaud the women who, by elevating their voices in the public sphere, elevated the often silenced voices of women in the private sphere. Let’s work to increase their ranks to a critical mass — a tipping point at which their collective voice will always be enough to get resounding results.
Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore represents Wisconsin’s 4th District. Barbara Lee is founder and president of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, whose nonpartisan research has studied women in politics since 1998.