Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The importance of the upcoming November 6th Presidential elections cannot be adequately stressed for women voters as we head to the polls.  Due to some unfortunate, or possibly fortunate, gaffes by both candidates, women’s issues have been placed front and center in the spotlight of their messaging.  Women are being wooed, our votes being courted, but how do we know if their promises are sincere?

While women certainly are not one-issue voters, it seems that even candidates recognize that there are some issues that uniquely resonate. When we make our decisions it may just be these slight differences and assurances that make us feel secure in their hands.  Recent ads from both the Obama and Romney camp have addressed the issue of choice.  Although rarely polling as the most important issue to women voters, it is certainly something that can swing the vote of an undecided woman.

Most jarring to the audience of the recent Presidential debates was how women were included, and not included, in the discussions of our policy.  Although we may be able to point to differences in the policies and positions of the two parties, the similarity we saw in the first debate regarding National policy was that women were not considered an important agenda item.  As 51% of the population and still experiencing discrimination in political, business and personal arenas it was a glaring error and representative of how we must focus on all parties and candidates to include women as talking points.

The Town Hall and final Presidential debate on Foreign Policy were great improvements in regards to the attention women’s issues received.  Likely in response to the overwhelming pressure women’s groups placed on the candidates to include women in the discussions, we saw the issues of paycheck fairness and gender equality brought up in both debates.  Despite being relegated to pages in a binder by one candidate, the attention brought much needed discussion to where women are in the economy and how important it is to improve this status.

The recent Presidential debates are fresh in our minds; however, we need to take an extensive look into what the candidates have been saying for the entirety of their campaign and how it fits into each party agenda.  We are still learning about GOP Candidate Governor Mitt Romney’s exact stance in regards to women’s issues.  President Barack Obama has been fairly consistent in his statements in regards to women’s issues and does not need to go on the attack.  Both candidates do have some areas that could be improved and neither is perfect but we need to take an informed look before we can decide who receives our votes.

The National Women’s Political Caucus feels that this election is pivotal in maintaining and enhancing women’s rights in the United States.  We will be spending the upcoming two weeks trying to help delineate what the candidates are saying and how we can be the presence from the outside that encourages both parties to strive for women’s equality.  Knowledge is power and we plan to make as informed a judgment as possible and want to help others do so as well.

-Bettina Hager, NWPC Programs Director

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Violence Against Women at College? Something to Worry About

By: Allyson Bach, Political Planning and Action Intern at the National Women’s Political Caucus

AI am a college student, a young woman, and according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the most at risk of being raped. Wait, what?

It’s easy to think: “No way, I’m the exception. I play it safe when I go out. I know how to protect myself at parties: I always pour my own drinks, hang with a group, and stay away from the creeps. I’ve stuck to these guidelines and so far, I’ve been just fine. I have nothing to worry about.”

Wrong. I may not have been a victim and I may be lucky enough to never be a victim but that certainly does not suggest that I have “nothing to worry about.”

Sexual assault can happen in many ways; it happens not just physically but technologically and emotionally as well. Over half of all rape and sexual assault victims are females younger than twenty-five but, due to concerns about privacy or being blamed for the assaults, less than 20% of on campus and off campus assaults are even being reported to the police. These victims are our peers, our friends, and our sisters. In fact, the assaulters are no strangers to us either – 84% of raped women admit to knowing their attacker, with 57% of those rapes happening on dates. Yes, these numbers are shocking but this is no time to simply feel sorry for the victims or for ourselves.

What’s worse than pity is society’s blame. “It is YOU who put yourself in that compromising position or YOU are the one who prompted that moment for vulnerability – it is YOUR fault.” It is easier to blame the victim than to acknowledge society’s wrongdoings. Accusations that violence is a direct result of poor decision making and actions feeds into society’s decision to ignore the issue of violence against women by refusing to take responsibility. This ignorance undermines a victim’s chance for rehabilitation since 60% of sexual assault victims report that none of their friends knew how to help them. As friends and sisters of these victims, young women need to take on society’s responsibility in our own communities, which mean our college campuses.

The ignorant are not the blissful; rather, they become the victims. As young females, it’s important to stay informed about the protection from violence that can be available to us. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides such protection for not just women but the entire community and assistance for victims of crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. VAWA was originally passed in 1994 and has been reauthorized twice since then, once in 2000 and again in 2005. Since its implementation VAWA has provided legal assistance programs for victims and created new programs to meet the emerging needs of communities, including much-needed programs at college campuses, working to prevent violence.

VAWA, unfortunately, expired in 2011. I started my first year in college this past year – my community, my own campus, my peers and I have been left vulnerable for over a year.

I lived in safe dorm. My floor was quiet and never unusually disruptive. I had two residential advisors who both took shifts to patrol the floor to ensure everyone was in safe hands. They made it seem as if we had nothing to worry about. It was a friendly environment, trust filled the air.

Again, according to the Department of Justice, 60% of sexually violent acts against women most often take place in the residence of the victim. Now, looking back, the cavalier atmosphere of my dorm residence may have put me and my peers at a greater risk for sexual assault. The welcoming environment and the naivety of my peers and I would have easily allowed for potential perpetrators to develop friendly relationships with us and put us at a great risk for being assaulted, by allowing access to our own personal living quarters. Statistics from the same study done by the Department of Justice continues on to report that 31% of sexually violent acts takes place in some sort of living quarters, and with women under the age of 25 being the most risk for sexual assault, college dorm rooms may not be as safe as we perceive. 

What is worse is that I wandered at nights going from one fraternity party to another, thinking that I was doing everything right to be safe – that I was just fine. Those were selfish thoughts because even if I ended each night returning back to my dorm room safely, other girls, my very classmates, may not have. Over 10 of rapes on college campuses take place at fraternity houses. In most likelihood, violence against my fellow peers occurred as I carelessly partied the night away.

This ignorance, this hesitation, and this self-blame needs to stop. By reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, the critical issues of sexual assault on college campuses will once again be addressed in the limelight. VAWA will require our colleges and universities to record and report dating violence on campus as well as ensure victim’s safety by requiring schools to create plans to enforce protective orders and notify the victim of their rights.

It’s time to voice your concern on your own campus and help reauthorize the bipartisan Senate-passed VAWA.  If we work together, we can stop violence against women.

Violence is Violence, No Matter What Gender

Guest blogger: Samantha Aster, NWPC Legal Intern

After reading comment sections and posts responding to articles on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, it seems that one of the most prolific criticisms of the act is that it focuses solely on women. Many ask why women are singled out as a protected group when men are the recipients of domestic abuse, too. Some go further, suggesting a Violence Against Men Act.

Why does VAWA focus on women? Because up until the last 150 years or so, women were considered the property of their husbands, fathers, and brothers. And as property, women did not have very many legal rights and protections. Men could do as they pleased with the women in their households, including physically and sexually abusing them. While there has been some progress, the government has been slow to act on increasing certain protections for women. For example, the first federal law making marital rape a criminal act was not passed until 1993. And even still, many states have exemptions from prosecution for husbands who rape. Today, women continue to be the most frequent victims of domestic and sexual violence. VAWA was passed to help a group that has historically suffered violence combat continuing and future abuse.

But the Violence Against Women Act is not entirely gender specific. The spirit of VAWA is to help all victims of violence, and the bill gives prosecutors and police tools to help them, regardless of gender. Male victims who contact VAWA-funded groups are granted the same advocacy services as female victims.  Male and female victims have the same access to pro-bono legal services. VAWA increased resources for families who deal with domestic abuse, which helps both men and women in these families. In 2005, VAWA was expanded to fund and provide sexual assault programs that better meet the needs of male victims. And these protections work well for men: since the law passed in 1994, the number of men killed by an intimate partner has decreased 57%. These are just some examples of how men and women are protected under VAWA.

Ultimately, these criticisms of VAWA are unfounded. While VAWA was originally passed with the idea of helping women, the act actually works to combat violence against both sexes. VAWA must be passed in a way that maintains the important protections that already exist for both men and women. Domestic violence affects us all, so it is time for Congress to pass VAWA and protect us all.  

Class Matters: Why VAWA Needs To Be Re-Authorized

Guest blogger: Danielle Marryshow

As a college student, I must be especially careful in my own relationships because victims of teen and college dating violence, according to the Center for Disease Control, “may also carry patterns of violence into future relationships” as a result of their experience. As a child of domestic violence, I am more likely to exhibit increased tolerance for violence in my own relationships. As such, I must be especially careful not to fall into a “pattern of violence”. If violence is not prevented early, it is even harder for victims to escape their abuser—even if they want to.

The complexities of domestic violence hit me one day in November. I was leaving my work-study job to get to class. As I stepped out onto the street, a woman yelled out to me. In a shaking voice, she told me that she was attempting to get to a battered women’s shelter. She informed me that she was pregnant, her husband had locked her in a closet for the last three days, and she needed money to get a cab, as the shelter was not accessible by public transportation. She repeatedly kept assuring me that she wasn’t crazy, while looking around her suspiciously as if he were right behind her.

            I knew she wasn’t crazy, because I recognized the look in her eye. It was the same look I had seen on my mother’s face. It was the same look my mother had seen on my grandmother’s face. The look was one of fear.

            The bipartisan, Senate-version of the Violence Against Women Act must be re-authorized for several reasons, but one of the most important is its provision to ensure safe homes and economic security for victims. Though all women benefit from these programs, women from lower socio-economic backgrounds especially benefit from the added security.

            The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act revises eligibility requirements for transitional housing grants to specify that any victims of domestic violence are eligible. This would help make it easier for women to escape abusive relationships, by removing the risk of homelessness. These grants would allow the woman I met to have more time after leaving emergency shelter to find permanent housing.

            They also allow battered women to leave all at once, and catch their abuser off-guard rather than leave in stages and invite further danger. In fact, leaving in stages is only possible when, as in my mother’s case, you have a strong support system of people helping you escape the dangerous situation.

When my mother began divorce proceedings, my mother, father, brother and I continued to live under the same roof for several months while she found somewhere to live. Had my grandmother not decided to stay with us and my future stepfather not made himself a presence, we would have been in much more danger than we were.

            Many battered women aren’t that fortunate. Many women’s abusers have isolated them from their family and friends, leaving them utterly dependent. In order to leave, they often have to leave when their abuser is asleep or away and all at once. Transitional housing is necessary so that they have the time to secure permanent housing and get on their feet.

            The transitional housing grants aren’t just used for housing alone. They are also used for support services for victims to secure employment such as counseling and training. This is critical, as many victims are financially dependent on their abuser.

            The woman I ran into illustrates that problem. She was so financially dependent on her husband that she didn’t even have the $10 it cost to take a cab to the shelter. Guaranteeing the relative financial security of victims is crucial to getting them away and keeping them away from their abusers.

            My mother, in contrast, had a very good job and made a comparable amount to my father. She had her own bank accounts and assets her in name. Because of her financial independence, the added risk of not being able to support us if she left was nonexistent. When we finally did leave, she was certain that she would be able to find housing that she could afford and that she would be able to support us financially.

            The Violence Against Women Act has several provisions that help abused women (and men) get away from the terror that has consumed their everyday lives. The section that helps women secure homes and employment are critical in increasing the number of women who successfully make it out of an abusive relationship.

            Class should not be a prerequisite for safety. It is the government’s responsibility to make sure that its citizens are as free from harm as possible. Since 1994, the United States government has been committed to doing just that.

            The act expired in September 2011. For almost a year, these protections and many more have not existed for battered women. Women have had to consider the fact that by leaving they could become destitute. Many will make the calculation that they cannot afford to leave—when they really can’t afford not to.

Without its swift re-authorization, thousands of women will be trapped in relationships where they are physically and emotionally abused every day. As the House and the Senate square off, many more women will die in these toxic relationships. It is imperative that the House adopt the “gold-standard” Senate-version of the reauthorization, and help women create lives for themselves and their children, free from abuse.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Preventative Care: Protect the Affordable Care Act

Guest Blogger: Mallen Urso

Two years ago, with the passage of Health Care Reform, women across the country gained necessary and equal access to healthcare.  This groundbreaking effort has made women’s health a top priority, and for that we should celebrate. Young or old, sexually active or not, perfectly health or with a pre-existing condition, this non-discriminatory act is a huge step toward making it possible for us to begin and/or maintain healthy lifestyles.   Oftentimes women’s health falls to the bottom of the list, but it doesn’t have to anymore.  How did such fabulous progress happen in 2010 when in 2012 we have taken so many steps backwards?  It is hard to remember a time when we weren’t under such brutal attack, but we must remember: we owe this progress to women voters.  We got out, we voted, and we elected leadership that would make our healthcare a priority!

Once the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is in full effect, millions of women across the country will gain better, more encompassing service without unnecessary costs and obstacles.  First and foremost, gender discrimination is outlawed under the Affordable Care Act.  No longer will women be charged more money simply because we are women.  We are granted fair and equal coverage, regardless of pre-existing conditions.   Moreover,   we are now promised access to a well-woman package including annual OB/GYN visits that allow us to take care of our bodies and treat them with the respect they deserve.  These services get rid of extreme deductibles and even co-pays.  In addition, counseling for victims of sexual and/or domestic abuse will also be covered under the Affordable Care Act.  These are imperative services that women across the country need for rehabilitation, but have been forced to live without.  The ACA also eliminates a great deal of obstacles for women scheduling doctor’s visits.  No prior approval is needed for a trip to your OB/GYN.  Women can now directly access a health professional.  Not only is this easier, but this will give women a greater sense of independence. 
The key here is prevention, and I’m not just talking about contraception.  While contraception is a large part of preventative services, I am also addressing breast cancer screenings, mammograms, ovarian and cervical cancer screenings, and pap smears.  Women can now access a full spectrum of preventative healthcare that will potentially eliminate a great deal of financial and physical hardship.  It costs everyone less if major health problems are avoided.

Similar to most other policies that benefit women, the Affordable Care Act is under attack.  In January of 2011, Republican leadership introduced a bill to overturn the ACA, and though it easily passed the Republican controlled House, the Democratic controlled Senate blocked the bill just as easily.  Although this was a victory, we must defend healthcare reform once again. It is now up to the Supreme Court justices whether or not the ACA is overturned.   Since the ACA was passed, 26 states have filed suit against it.  On March 26th, the Supreme Court will begin oral arguments regarding the ACA and will vote just days later on March 30th.    This could lead to the reversal of healthcare reform, and thus reinstate legal gender discrimination on insurance costs, revoke women’s direct access to preventative care, and discontinue vital victim counseling services.  Women’s health could be further suppressed if the Supreme Court chooses to overturn this decision.    

Although I have heard numerous arguments for and against The Affordable Care Act, I am grateful that this measure has passed.  Women and men across the country are now able to be proactive when it comes to their health.  I am to proud live in a country where we value fairness, protection, and the quality of life for our citizens.  Access to healthcare is something that we just can’t afford to push aside.  The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not protected when we allow millions of Americans to unnecessarily suffer.  That is why I am excited to celebrate the 2 year anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act and will continue my support for this measure.   Now that women’s health has become a priority, we are receiving fair and equal coverage under the law.  Equal and fair shouldn’t feel so new and thrilling, but it certainly does.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Co-Pay for Birth Control? Not Under my Conscience Clause

Co-Pay for Birth Control?  Not Under my Conscience Clause
Blogger: Bettina Hager, NWPC Programs Director

The Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama Administration decision to provide universal coverage of birth control without co-pay deserves unrestrained applause and celebration.  Upon reflection, I do recall witnessing a moment on the day after the decision at a meeting when we cheered, applauded and celebrated.  That feeling, so distant now, was momentary and fleeting.

Almost immediately after the announcement, the backlash and public assault from the U.S. Catholic Bishops began.  The momentum quickly shifted and women’s rights advocates found themselves retreating to a defensive position.  Now it is difficult to remember that we actually won the fight.  We aren’t working to change the system or looking for support on an initiative.  We’re just hoping that we won’t be forced to take a step backward.

The facts in this case are simple.  Women are now guaranteed, under the PPACA (aka Health Care Reform), access to preventative care in the form of birth control without co-pay.  There really is very little to object to when you consider the benefits to women AND society that this new initiative creates.

It is extremely costly both to women’s lives and society’s resources to care for unplanned or unexpected pregnancies.  It is also unreasonable to expect that in times of financial destitution and struggle, such as we experience today, that all woman have access to the $600/ year that it currently costs to cover birth control. 

In essence, prior to this landmark decision, many women could not afford protection from unexpected pregnancy.  And unwanted pregnancies will continue to require--in one way or another-- resources that are just not there, possibly for another 18 years of life.  The resources won’t magically appear; the expenses won’t go away, and on and on.  This is called a cycle, and a vicious one at that.

Summing up the facts I’ve just presented, providing women with access to birth control allows them to have control over their body and their life.  It reduces unnecessary costs to be taken up by society.  Then why, you might wonder, are Catholic Bishops so upset?  Control.  Birth control gives women control and takes it away from such authority figures.

Claiming moral superiority on the basis of religious doctrine is by no means a new tactic.  Objecting to other peoples’ lives because they offend one’s personal “conscience” is not novel.  In government, however, it has no place.  This Nation was born on the principle of separation of church and state.  It is generous of the government to listen to these outcries, but really it should be only out of an attempt to placate.

Especially pertinent is that these views represent a minority objection.  The Catholic Bishops assert that institutions that are religiously affiliated should be exempt from providing birth control without co-pay to its employees, whom I’d guess aren’t all Catholic.  Even if they are, it’s statistically been shown that 90% of Catholic women use birth control.  Whose conscience are we protecting while infringing on these women’s rights?

The tactics aren’t new, they aren’t even clever.  Behind the fog of righteousness has always laid an ambition to control.  Women don’t have to stand for it and we shouldn’t allow a club of men to bully some of life’s most important decisions.  My conscience just won’t allow it.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fight Against the Catholic Attack on Preventative Healthcare for Women

Guest Blogger: Mallen Urso
After reading the countless responses and op-eds in opposition to the recent HHS and Obama Administration ruling on birth control, I can’t help but wonder: Why are Catholic Bishops so hell-bent on being in bed with women’s reproductive health decisions?

Under The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employer insurance plans are required to fully cover contraception for women.   With this mandate, women are now guaranteed control over their bodies.   This will lead to fewer unintended pregnancies, fewer abortions, and fewer painful decisions for women.  Total win, right?  Well, if it were up to a small, yet powerful, group of men adorned in long, white robes, it would not be for everyone.
Catholic churches across the country are outraged about the new mandate that requires all employers, including faith-based, to include birth control and other reproductive services in their health care coverage.  To be clear, Catholic institutions are NOT required to fund abortions under this mandate.  Moreover, if a company’s mission is primarily religious and the majority of their employees and clients share that faith; religious institutions do NOT have to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees.  This mandate respects religion, but also keeps it rightfully out of public policy.   As said by Senator Barbara Boxer, “The truth is, the president's decision respects the diverse religious views of the American people, who deserve the right to follow their own conscience and choose whether to obtain contraceptives, regardless of where they work.”   
We must consider the women who work for faith-associated organizations but do not necessarily share in that faith.   Why should these women be penalized?   Virtually all women have used birth control at some point in their life (including over 90% of Catholic women).  The reality is that these women are most likely using birth control and would be denied of their right to preventative healthcare simply because of their place of employment.  Let’s not forget-this mandate isn’t only for contraception.  It provides necessary preventative healthcare on all levels, including annual exams and HIV screenings.  What’s more, Catholic Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, is imposing this ruling with the full support of Catholic vice president, Joe Biden.  Clearly, not all Catholics are appalled by this ruling.  In today’s society, we simply can’t turn a blind on to the needs of our people in the name of religious ideals.      
Birth control can cost up to $600/year.  Have we forgotten about those women and families that are struggling just to pay their bills from month-to-month?   Realistically, they do not have the spare $600 to protect themselves from unintended pregnancies.  In fact, one third of all women voters report struggling to pay for their birth control.   Not providing contraception leads to greater issues and larger costs.  Why not handle this preventatively—make birth control accessible!
From Arizona to Maine to New Orleans, Catholic Church leaders are urging their parishes to fight this “violation of their rights.”  They are demanding exemption for businesses owned by religious interests, such as hospitals, universities, insurance companies, and social service agencies.  They fail to see the importance and necessity of this mandate.  We are a country based on religious freedom and separation of church and state.  Let’s not further marginalize women by letting a widely unpracticed religious ideal subject woman to unintended pregnancy and severe health risks.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Combating Domestic Violence: A Call to Reauthorize VAWA

Combating Domestic Violence:
A Call to Reauthorize VAWA
Guest Blogger: Mallen Urso, NWPC PPAC Intern

Consider the statistics: 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have been raped in their lifetime; 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

Domestic violence is permeating our lives and the lives of our loved ones. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that anyone reading this knows of someone that has been a victim of domestic violence or has been a victim themselves. From mild instances to those resulting in death, no one deserves to be a victim of this brutality, and no one has to be. This is not an obscure issue that we can sweep under the rug. We have no more time to waste when further addressing domestic violence.

Senate bill S.1925, also known as the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011, is currently winding its way through Congress. VAWA was reauthorized in 2005 and guaranteed funding for VAWA services and programs through FY2011. S.1925 will guarantee funding for VAWA for another 5 fiscal years.

VAWA 2011 makes great strides to correct any and all issues associated with past versions of VAWA. The bill streamlines and condenses VAWA programs in order to enhance the quality of services and protection for victims. With fewer programs, service providers are held more accountable. Furthermore, costs associated with VAWA will be cut by approximately $160 million dollars per year. VAWA 2011 also makes a greater effort to include marginalized populations like colored women, immigrants, men and the LGBT community. With discrimination already stacked against them, these populations are even less likely to report acts of domestic violence. We must guarantee protection for these populations, and VAWA 2011 can do just that.

VAWA 2011 continues program services for the four core crimes associated with partner violence (sexual assault, dating violence, stalking and domestic violence). It does so by enhancing its primary formula—S.T.O.P. (services, training, officers, prosecutors). This formula is expanded through specific provisions that alter previous VAWA language that failed to fully address males, teens, elders, and those with disabilities.

Just to mention a few provisions, S.1925 targets teens by instituting Rape Prevention Education (RPE), updated programs for cyberstalking, and funding for campus outreach regarding domestic violence education and assistance. Title VIII of the bill provides highly specific language regarding mandatory services for immigrants including the availability of U-Visas and exemption from the public charge inadmissibility ground. Title IX of the bill specifically addresses Indian women by granting more money to tribal programs and services and further including Indian women in mainstream VAWA programs. This version of VAWA contains more inclusive and effective language than previous versions.

Yes, statistics on domestic violence have improved over the years and protections for women are increasing with the help of VAWA; however, protection for domestic violence victims is still under attack. For example, two bills currently in the New Hampshire legislature, HB 1581 and HB 1608, attempt to stop police from making a domestic violence arrest unless the officer witnesses the domestic violence firsthand. How probable is that? Victims of this type of crime rarely speak out, and when they do, it tends to be in secret because they fear for their lives. Laws like these dismiss the horrific nature of domestic violence and leave victims with very little protection. This is precisely why we need a reauthorized federal mandate regarding help and rehabilitation for these victims.

This Thursday, February 2nd, VAWA will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a mark-up. It is important that we recognize that this issue does not just pertain to the victims, the abusers, and women’s rights advocates. This is an issue that is pertinent to everyone across the country. We must offer protection to the people of America—women, men, young and old.

Get to know VAWA. Get to know the issue of domestic violence and how closely it pertains to your life. Take a stand with VAWA to protect the people of this country from lifelong suffering associated with domestic violence.

For a brief summary of VAWA, try this fact sheet:
Check out a section-by-section analysis here:
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