Violence Against Women Rages On

Our guest blogger is Julie Ajinkya, Policy Analyst for Progress 2050 Action at the Center for American Progress Action Fund

Protesters in India are demanding justice for the 23-year-old medical student who ultimately died as the result of a brutal gang-rape in the nation’s capital on December 16 by calling for a nationwide shutdown today. The savage attack immediately sparked mass protests across the country, with thousands of Indians pouring out onto the streets, continuing to demand that the government take swift action not only against the perpetrators, but also to make the country safer for women in general.

Protestors have said that political leaders would not be allowed to take part in the bandh, lest the public outrage become exploited for political gain. It remains to be seen whether Indian politicians will take the public cry for better protection of women’s rights seriously.

Here at home, some of our political leaders have decided to speak up in the fight to end violence against women — except, in the case of the House GOP, they’re on the wrong side of that fight. On Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Eric Canter actually killed the legislation that has done a huge amount to help victims of such violence. This is first time since its original passage in 1994 that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has not been reauthorized, despite a long history of bipartisan support.

Why did this important piece of legislation die? Because some congressional Republicans opposed extending protections to three groups: Native American, undocumented, and LGBT victims of violence. If you thought that we had reached the point where sexual assault was finally considered an assault on humanity, no matter whom it involved, you were wrong — according to the House GOP.

The war on women is not over, folks. In fact, while we celebrate the gender gap that helped re-elect the President, the record number of women ushered into the Senate, and the host of restrictive laws against reproductive rights that were defeated, we cannot overlook the battles that persist to turn our country back in time.

Michigan and Virginia kicked off 2013 by passing legislation that will effectively shutter clinics and restrict access for women seeking abortions, disproportionately hurting women from rural and low-income areas. And even if we have a record number of women leading in the nation’s capital, 21 states will have the trifecta — House, Senate, and governor opposition to abortion — needed to pass restrictive legislation. What good is a right, you may ask yourself, if you can’t use it?

This is to say nothing of economic policies that also hurt women. Refusing to extend paid sick days and workplace flexibility or provide paid family and medical leave has been shown to disproportionately hurt women, yet we still wait to see progress on these fronts (while, I may add, still expecting our businesses to run smoothly with sick workers and our children and elderly to not be thrown into the streets).

And now the House GOP has declared literal violence against women a thing of the past. Granted, the legislation and the resources it supports with funding have done an amazing amount to reduce intimate partner violence — from 1993 to 2010, we saw a 64 percent drop in such violence from 2.1 million to 907,000 — but that is precisely the reason the legislation must be reauthorized. 907,000 cases is still a lot of violence.

The tragedy that occurred on December 16 in New Delhi is, tragically, not uncommon in a city that has become well-known for its gender-based violence. What is more unusual is the public outrage — women and men pouring into the streets across the country saying enough is enough. How many ways will congressional Republicans in the U.S. have to say that women’s rights are not human rights before our outrage stops them in their tracks?