By Amanda Litvinov
More than 80 percent of public school teachers are women, but that’s not the only reason educators care about women’s rights. Doing the best we can legislatively to support and empower women helps families, entire communities and the next generation. Here are four ways that our elected leaders could do better.
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1. Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act
Although the Violence Against Women Act has been credited with reducing domestic violence rates by more than half since its passage in 1994, Senate Republicans dug in their heels against the bill’s reauthorization this spring. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said he and his GOP peers simply did not believe that expanding the law to provide better outreach for underserved women — specifically, those who are immigrants, Native American or gay — is worth the money it would cost.
“The idea that only certain people are worthy of the full protections this law affords goes against all that we teach our students and our own children about American values,” said Lily Eskelsen, an elementary teacher from Utah and current vice president of the National Education Association.
The House version of the bill does not include the new protections.
President Obama has been unwavering in his support to end domestic violence, building protections into the health care reform and strongly urging Congress to reauthorize the Senate version of the VAWA. Vice President Joe Biden, who was instrumental in the original bill’s passage, issued a statement in September on the Act’s 18th anniversary, expressing his dismay that it has not been reauthorized.
“While women and girls face these devastating realities every day, reauthorization of a strengthened VAWA languishes in Congress,” he said. “VAWA is just as important today as it was when it first became law, and I urge Congress to keep the promise we made to our daughters and our granddaughters on that day — that we would work together to keep them safe.”
2. Don’t try to redefine rape
Ousted U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) and defeated U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock (R-IN) were among those who reminded us this year that critical ignorance about rape still exists. Voters held them accountable. After all, what we need from legislators is not a reimagining of what constitutes “legitimate rape,” but better ways to support all victims of this violent and devastating crime.
3. Get on board with health care reform
As portions of the Affordable Care Act have taken effect, women have gained remarkably improved access to health care and more choices are now in their hands rather than the companies that insure them.
Gone are the days when insurance companies could charge women more for their premiums just because of their gender. And the Affordable Care Act gives women unprecedented free access to eight crucial services that can help doctors catch and treat serious conditions in the early stages (including screenings for cancer, high cholesterol, and gestational diabetes). Before “Obamacare,” too many women would forgo these services because they could not afford the associated fees, and sought medical attention only when their medical problems had progressed to more dangerous stages (worse for the patient and a far greater drain on the system than preventive care).
A report issued in August by the Department of Health and Human Services states that approximately 47 million women will benefit from these preventive services alone.
But some GOP governors are still doing what they can to halt progress on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, passive-aggressively refusing to get to work on creating insurance exchanges or expanding Medicaid.
A recent report in The Hill shows mounting frustration with those governors who say they haven’t had ample time for implementation.
“It seems to me it’s just the latest attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) told The Hill. “Let’s not buy into this next line of attack that the law must be delayed.”
4. Take wage discrimination seriously
Women earn an estimated 77.5 percent of men’s annual earnings. In this tough economy, more and more families rely on women’s earnings, and unfair pay practices just make things harder.
The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would expand the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to address gender-based income disparity, was defeated in June in a party-line vote. The Act aimed to close loopholes that perpetuate wage discrimination and bar retaliation against workers who disclose their wages to coworkers.
President Obama called the legislation a “common-sense bill,” and yet there was not a single Republican co-sponsor. Can’t we do better in 2013?
If you have additional ideas about smart legislation that would support women and girls, please leave a comment!