There is much to celebrate as we enter Women’s History Month. When President Carter declared the week of March 8, 1980, Women’s History Week, later to become Women’s History Month, it was hard to find women in leadership roles in government, business, and most professional fields. Since 1980, we celebrate the presence of three women on the US Supreme Court, twenty-four women in the US Senate, 119 in the House of Representatives, 2,279 in state legislatures, and the first woman to serve as Vice President of the United States.
Now women in the United States Senate are not told they cannot wear pants suits, as was the case with Senator Barbara Mikulski. Senator Mikulski decided to challenge the unwritten law in 1993, and since that day women appear on the Senate floor wearing pants suits. While it is comical, it points to the long-held belief by men in power that they can decide what is appropriate apparel, education, or behavior for women.
We celebrate the passage of Title IX, enabling women in college to be protected against discrimination based on sex in education and athletic programs. Funding prior to this law provided large financial support for men’s athletic teams, while women suffered because of a lack of funding. Sadly, women in professional sports are still vastly underpaid compared to their male counterparts.
Fast forward to 2021. While progress for women has been made in certain areas, one troubling area of concern remains as a real threat to their wellbeing. Violence against women continues to occur at a record pace. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes in a year, and less than 20% sought treatment. At least 200 million women and girls have undergone genital mutilation in 31 countries, with the largest number in West Africa.
In 1994, President Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act. It has had several lifetimes, was renewed in the House in 2019 but stalled in the Senate because it included a provision to expand firearms laws to prohibit persons convicted of dating violence from possessing firearms. Interestingly, this provision would protect men as well as women.
Some objected to the provision for Native American women, which protects them by improving tribal access to federal crime information, reaffirming tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. This would protect Native American women and extend additional protections to children and the elderly as well.
The bill, if approved, would preserve and expand housing protections for survivors. It would update the SMART Prevention Program to reduce dating violence, help children who have been exposed to violence, and engage men in preventing violence.
As the old commercial said, “We’ve come a long way…” but we have a long way to go. Let’s continue to celebrate the progress made in women’s rights, and contact our senators, urging them to support the Violence Against Women Act. We could save a life!