A Call to Action on Gender-Based Violence
by Laura L. Finley
Although I know many felt differently, I was not interested in protesting the inauguration of our new President. I support those who felt inclined to do so, but personally have felt that other creative and strategic organizing would serve us better as we transition to a new administration that is
concerning, at best. As such, I debated whether to attend the Women’s March in Miami on January 21, and grappled even further when I was selected to speak at the event. I ultimately decided to do so, not to protest our new leader but instead to issue an important call to action for us and for President Tr$mp. This piece is an adaption of the speech I gave, and, given his first few days in office, I remain even more concerned and committed to this issue.
Globally, an estimated 100 million girls are missing. How can that be? Because females are still so desperately undervalued, in many places couples will have a sonogram and decide to abort a female baby. Or they will pay someone to murder their baby girl and dispose of her body immediately after the birth. One-third of the world’s women will endure an abusive relationship, and men’s violence against women kills more women ages 15-49 than cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined. An estimated 27 million people are enslaved today, with many of them women or girls who are trafficked for sex. In the U.S, men are able to perpetrate sexual assault with virtual impunity, as evidenced by the fact that every 98 seconds an incident occurs yet only 6 of 1,000 perpetrators will spend a day behind bars. These are just a few of the statistics that disturb me and that require not only our attention but the attention of our leaders.
While gender-based violence remains a significant concern, much progress has been made, with some of that occurring under the Obama administration. In particular former Vice President Joe Biden should be applauded for his efforts. The first legislation President Obama signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which helped address gender pay disparities that contribute to the marginalization of women and girls. The Obama Administration also created the White House Council on Women and Girls, issued a White House letter to campuses on handling sexual assault cases and initiated a sexual assault prevention campaign.
Further, the Obama administration launched the Sexual Assault Rape Kit evidence, helping to end the backlog of rape kit analysis that has made it difficult for survivors to receive justice. The Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized under the Obama administration, providing much needed services to victims of domestic violence around the U.S. Importantly, the Affordable Care Act prohibited insurers from considering domestic violence a preexisting condition and considered domestic violence healthcare screening to be preventative. These and other initiatives have moved us in the right direction to end gender-based violence, and we cannot let these gains slide under the Tr$mp administration.
Beyond the very obvious concerns about Mr. Tr$mp’s comments about and behavior towards women, we should be concerned about the people he has selected as advisors. Tr$mp was accused of marital rape by former wife Ivana Tr$mp, and his first appointment was of Stephen Bannon to be his senior counsel. Bannon, an obvious racist, was charged with domestic violence in 1996 but charges were dropped after he threatened his wife if she participated. Police were called twice to the home of Tr$mp’s pick for Labor Secretary Andy Puzder. Betsy Devos, Tump’s nominee to lead the Department of Education, has not committed to continuing the Obama administration’s efforts related to campus sexual assault.
President Tr$mp has also taken steps to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which might roll back the gains made related to domestic violence and has been largely silent on what he would do related to gender-based violence. Further, Tr$mp has pledged cuts to the federal government that might include reducing or even eliminated grants for domestic violence services administrated by the Department of Justice. Funding for such services is already woefully inadequate, resulting in thousands of victims being turned away from shelters or denied the help they need to obtain safety. One of his first actions as president was to reinstate the global gag rule, which prohibits organizations receiving U.S aide from even discussing abortion, which will affect an estimated $9.5 billion in foreign aid that helps address AIDS, malaria, maternal and child health, and a host of other issues that are interrelated with domestic and sexual violence.
So, what can we do? We must remain tireless advocates for ending gender-based violence. We must demand that the Tr$mp administration take seriously these issues and denounce gender-based violence in all its forms. We need to pressure the Tr$mp administration to maintain the Affordable Care Act’s provisions relevant to domestic violence screening and healthcare coverage. We must demand that Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act in 2018 and push the administration to continue and even expand the White House programs mentioned previously. We must remind the Tr$mp administration that gender-based violence is a global issue and therefore encourage international cooperation to better the lives of women and girls everywhere.
We should use the slogan from the Obama administration’s sexual assault prevention campaign, It’s on Us, to demand action and to hold our leaders accountable. The Women’s Marches were an important step in doing so, not because such work wasn’t happening already but because it absolutely was. Rather, the marches, which were perhaps the largest coordinated political gatherings in history, brought together activists, advocates, allies and persons interested in becoming those things. We got to raise our voices, learn where we can plug in, organize ourselves, and share strategies. They reminded us that we need to creatively but powerfully agitate to assure that women and girls are safe from domestic violence, sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence. For those reasons, I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of one of the many Women’s Marches and am hopeful for the prospects that emerged.
Laura L. Finley, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Barry University, a syndicated columnist, and an active member of many social justice and human rights organizations.