Once again, the people have spoken, and we say, “Vawa!”
Whenever a government body signs into law an act that directly addresses public concerns, it is testimony that the voice of the people has been heard and adhered to. And the voice of millions was heard in America on April 26, when the elected leaders of the U.S. Senate renewed the Violence Against Women Act. But that voice was not heard by all.
First passed in 1994, Congress reauthorized VAWA in 2000 and in 2005. The act’s 2012 renewal was opposed by Republicans.
According to congressional Republicans, the act should not have been extended, nor any of its mandated protections offered to same-sex couples, to battered illegal immigrants who claim extensions of visas due to a sexual or violent crime, or to gays and transgender minorities not considered a woman in legal terms.
For the past many weeks, VAWA was the subject of fierce and downright ugly haggling between Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats accused Republicans as waging a “war against women.” Republicans countered that the turn of phrase was Democrats’ effort to protect their edge among women voters in a presidential and congressional election year.
Republicans denied they tried to block VAWA’s renewal, even though many of them openly voted against the renewal. They said they wanted to lower the cap for visas of abused immigrants; remove any mention of protecting gays, lesbians and transgender people; and change provisions protecting American Indian women. To them, these populations do not fall under the auspices of an act meant strictly for women.
GOP lawmakers cloaked their agenda in complaints that the modifications above were designed to “distract voters” from issues “Democrats would rather not discuss” — general issues such as rising gas prices and the struggling economy.
They could not surpass the chance to chastise President Obama and his party as being too eager to protect their wide lead among female and minority voters. The Democrats, in return, chided the Republican stands on social policies, including those on Medicaid and contraception, as evidence of a “war against women.”
Despite the political mudslinging, something good came out of it for the people, despite the laden agendas of both parties — a human rights issue won and was upheld, despite opposition.
It is sad to think that, if put to a vote, many Americans would side with the Republican viewpoint that Congress should not allow same-sex couples or illegal immigrants the right to use VAWA, because they don’t meet the criteria of being a candidate for VAWA due to their legal, sexual or transgender orientation.
Violence, sexual and physical battery, whether committed against a female, male, transgender person, child, or illegal immigrant is still a heinous act that needs to be punished at all costs.
As a woman, an immigrant, and a minority who has witnessed violence all too well, I am happy that VAWA lives to see another few years of legitimacy. I hope April 26 will be just one of many birthdays for VAWA.
VAWA’s reenactment offers protection to those without a voice. It is frightening to think of living under a government that won’t allow it. After all, as a country, the U.S. is supposed to be a beacon of light for human rights in an otherwise dark world of slavery, violence, prostitution and woman bashing. Is it not?
• Samina Masood has lived in Tracy since 2004 and is among a select group of local Town Crier columnists in the Tracy Press. She is the director of Vinewood Center for Children and Families and has masters degrees in both journalism and clinical psychology.