As a new session of Congress gears up but many of the old problems still loom large, we want to reflect on one of Tahirih Justice Center’s core values—non-partisanship—and share why we have found that holding tight to that principle in the policy world is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.
We believe that supporting incredibly courageous women and girls who refuse to be victims of violence is a unifying issue, one around which all political perspectives can rally—and we have seen that mobilization happen again and again.
The original Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994 and Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000 had lead authors and co-sponsors from both parties. Subsequent VAWA reauthorizations passed by unanimous consent in the Senate, and by stunning margins in the House (VAWA 2005 passed the House by 415 to 4!). And, despite the political battle that has been waged over the last year on VAWA’s reauthorization, recent victories show that this is a bi-partisan space again.
On February 28, 2013 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the VAWA reauthorization bill (S.47) by a resounding bi-partisan vote of 286-138 and the week before, the Senate passed it by a strong 78-22 bi-partisan vote. This bill, signed by President Obama into law on March 7th, also renews the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Tahirih has been at the forefront of efforts over the last year to preserve and advance protections under VAWA for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and human trafficking. As co-chair of the Immigration Committee of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, we have also advocated to keep the VAWA discourse passionate and principled, but not political.
Over the last year, Tahirih repeatedly met with senior staff and key members from both parties and within leadership of both House and Senate, reaching out to over 30 Congressional offices. Our even-handed approach has opened doors for us and earned us willing allies. Provisions that Tahirih drafted to strengthen the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (“IMBRA,” a Tahirih-drafted law enacted in 2006 to prevent the brutal abuse and exploitation of so-called “mail-order brides”) were offered by a Republican leader on the Senate Judiciary Committee, accepted by the Democratic Chair, and then passed by a nearly unanimous vote during the full committee hearing on the VAWA reauthorization bill last February. Tahirih has a solid track record of garnering bi-partisan support for our legislative proposals; we also secured bi-partisan lead co-sponsors in both the Senate and House for IMBRA’s introduction in 2005.
Non-partisanship can be challenging to achieve in Washington, but at Tahirih, we strive toward this core value in countless ways, every day. Tahirih does not support any political party, or participate in campaign activity. That also means we do not allow party-bashing at staff meetings, in lunchroom conversations or in our communications. Tahirih representatives also do not attend candidate fundraisers and are reminded to uphold our non-partisan value at coalition meetings, at briefings and receptions, and especially in speeches and media interviews. We are always honored to be invited by a wide range of conservative and liberal groups to speak at their events, and we accept most such opportunities for public education—so long as we are not expected to be a mouthpiece for others’ platforms rather than our clients’ plights.
Tahirih has been fortunate to attract an incredibly diverse group of supporters to rally around our mission to protect women and girls from violence. Every year, Tahirih invites all members of Congress to show their support by joining an Honorary Congressional Co-Chair Committee for our annual national fundraising gala. And, every year we are grateful that dozens of Democrats and Republicans, committed legislators from across the political spectrum, agree to serve. And we have invited both Democratic and Republican champions of our causes to come speak at our gala and other events and members of both parties have graciously accepted.
Tahirih’s inspiring clients deserve every last one of the allies that we can muster and marshal for their protection.
Being genuinely non-partisan helps ensure that Tahirih can weather all the storms that pass through Washington and keep us effective no matter where the balance of power shifts. The moment we presume who our best friend or worst enemy is, is the moment we will fail to be the fiercest advocates we can be for the courageous women and girls we represent.