Ponnada: Celebrate suffrage

BY SRI PONNADA | MARCH 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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It’s been 100 years since Alice Paul and tons of other women marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Without those women, women today may still be unable to vote, much less run for office.

It’s definitely something to celebrate — over the past few weeks local Democrats and Republicans held events to pay tribute to their ancestors and reflected on women’s rights.

The importance of women’s suffrage and the importance of women’s issues on the national stage are intertwined, as highlighted by the passage of the Violence Against Women Act.

Political rights aren’t the only rights that women have had to fight for in the past. There are hundreds of thousands of women who struggled just to stay safe and alive and just as many, if not more, that are still struggling now.

More than 1 million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner every year in America. Women aren’t even safe from family and friends.

So, people might ask, why are we celebrating suffrage when women are in danger across the country?

Because now, through the increase of the number of women in politics, we have the opportunity to change those statistics — to change the lives of women by bringing such issues to light and affording women the right to be protected. All of this we can do by having the right to vote.

The Violence Against Women act is landmark federal legislation enacted in 1994, when Congress finally recognized the intensity of violence against women in America.

Since 1994, the act has brought about numerous positive changes.

From 1993 to 2010, the rate of intimate-partner violence declined 67 percent; states have reformed their laws to take violence against women more seriously, and as a result, more victims report domestic and sexual violence to police — leading to more arrests.

In 2011, however, when the law was up for reauthorization, Congress irresponsibly let it expire. Fortunately, just this month, President Obama signed into law a new and improved version of the Violence Against Women Act — possibly the best one the United States has had so far.

The renewed Violence Against Women Act will serve to afford protection to even more women.

This time around, “women” includes female members of the LGBTQ community and Native American women.

It shields immigrant women as well by adding stalking to the list of crimes that makes them eligible for protection and authorizes programs to reduce the backlog in rape investigations.

The version of the law we now have was offered by the Senate, where it passed with 78 votes. There are a record number of 20 women in the Senate — all of whom voted to pass the law.

Can you see the link?

If we want to see some change in our lives, we have to make it happen ourselves.

“One of the biggest changes has been the role women played and continue to play in national government,” said former head of the Johnson County Democrats Dennis Roseman in an interview with The Daily Iowan. “We have a growing number of women as senators … and it’s really quite impressive.”

Without the votes of those women, the law would have passed with 58 votes — only 7 more than it needed.

What if it wasn’t renewed at all, as in 2011?

No one can feel our suffering, as women, more than we do. Thus no one will be more motivated to end it than we are.

It’s ignorant to blind ourselves to the power of our votes. Iowa is one of the four states that have yet to send a woman to Congress, and issues affecting women aren’t any less prevalent here than anywhere else.

So, I appeal to the women of Iowa City, and the rest of Iowa — celebrate suffrage, because suffrage can end our suffering.

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