As we commemorate the anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), I can’t help but reflect in a few different ways on these past 29 years.
First and foremost, it’s crucial to note the monumental strides this law made in the fight against domestic violence and sexual assault. When VAWA was signed in 1994, it marked the first time the federal government recognized its role in ending gender-based violence. The programs under VAWA help provide shelter, legal assistance, and counseling to survivors, as well as enhance legal tools to help survivors avoid additional abuse and exploitation. I know firsthand from the hundreds of clients I’ve represented how vital resources like these are to survivors and their families and how they can make the difference between life and death.
What a survivor needed in 1994 may look different from what a survivor needs now in 2023. Our understanding of the way other forms of oppression – racism, for example – intersect has also evolved, as it should. To accommodate this welcomed progress, every 5 years, VAWA is up for renewal. At Tahirih, we continue to advocate for the needs of immigrant women, girls, and all survivors fleeing violence. Just recently, in 2022, our advocacy efforts led to forced marriage being defined and recognized as a form of violence against women in the U.S.
But as we celebrate the accomplishments, we must also acknowledge the work that remains. Immigrant women and girls continue to face barriers in accessing the protections offered by VAWA, including language barriers, lack of awareness, and fear of retaliation.
This crucial piece of legislation must also go hand in hand with significant philanthropic investment in ending violence against women and girls, particularly women and girls of color, at a time when coordinated attacks on women’s rights and women in general continue to increase at a staggering rate. If we as a nation want to address issues like democracy protection, climate change, and social justice, then we need to do more to end violence against women and break down silos so that all people, regardless of their gender, have a seat at the table and are able to lead the way toward progressive change.
While we can’t ignore all that still needs to be done, we also celebrate all the work that brought us to this moment that deserves to be honored. We have come a long way since 1994 and I know together, we can build a future where gender-based violence is not just illegal but unthinkable. Everyone should be able to live a life free from fear and abuse.