An interfaith coalition representing nearly 250 organizations lobbied on Capitol Hill last week to convince members of Congress to end gender-based violence and become co-sponsors for the much debated but never voted upon International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA).
The Sept. 10 event – held on the 20th anniversary of the federal Violence Against Women Act being signed into law – was sponsored by the Interfaith Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the Coalition to End Violence Against Women and Girls Globally and was convened by Jewish Women International.
VAWA protects women in the United States. IVAWA would spread that protection throughout the world, making violence against women and girls adiplomatic and foreign assistance priority and give Congress the right to require reports from individual countries. IVAWA was first introduced in 2007 but has yet to be adopted.
While the lobbyists didn’t obtain even a single new co-sponsor, those partici-pating in the day-long event appeared optimistic, noting that they believed they were heard.
“As we all know, in this particular climate, it’s a miracle if any legislation passes,” said Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, director of social justice and interfaith initiatives at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, who then added, “I believe in miracles. Any progress puts us one step closer.”
Steinlauf, who visited four congressional offices, said she explained to congressional staff members that there is no cost involved and no new federal employees would be required. In her brief conversations, she said she stressed that when families are stable, “it is harder to recruit young people” into radical, violent groups. “This is a way to promote stable societies,” she said of IVAWA.
Patricia Werschulz, a member of the board of trustees of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said she found herself reassuring congressional staffers that IVAWA has nothing to do with
reproductive rights and that adopting the legislation “at the end of the day, it’s the morally right thing to do.”
Lawrence Couch, director of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd National Advocacy Center, told several congressional staff members that those against abortion should have no problem supporting the effort to end violence against women.
“I think the bill is neutral on this issue. It’s about violence and lack of justice afterwards,” he said.
The fate of several hundred Nigerian girls, who were kidnapped in April by the militant Boko Haram group, hasincreased awareness of the issue, several of the attendees noted.
IVAWA has 70 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, 57 Democrats and 13 Republicans. In the Senate, there are 27 co-sponsors, 24 Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent.
Several of the lobbyists credited IVAWA’s bipartisan support to the backing it has throughout the faith-based community.
The issue is personal for Donna Hakimian, representative for the Advancement of Women with the Baha’is of the United States. She left Iran with her family when she was a baby “because we were fleeing religious persecution. It just became a very tense environment.”
Because Iran confiscated her family’s home, “we can’t go back,” she said. While that leaves her with “a heavy heart,” she said seeing everyone from so many different backgrounds come together
to help women across the globe, “has been amazing. We are really one.”
While her day of lobbying didn’t produce any overt results, “we definitely did feel like there was progress being made. You need patience. It’s the marathon versus the sprint,” she said.”