March is Women’s History Month, and this is an excellent time to reflect on the fact that in this country and much of the world, our history is not homogenous. You could say there is White Women’s History and there is Women of Color’s History.
For example, the right to vote. When the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, it legally enfranchised all women, white and black. However, within a decade, state laws and vigilante practices effectively disenfranchised most black women in the South. It would take another major movement for voting rights – the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s – before black women in the South would be effectively enfranchised.
Just as we acknowledge that we did not all reach our milestones at the same time, we also recognize that not all the milestones have been reached. Our two timelines are moving toward each other, but not rapidly enough and nowhere close to matching that of white men.
The wage gap is one example of slow progress. The Pew Research Group says for every one dollar earned by a white man in 2015, a white woman made 82 cents, a black woman made 65 cents and a Hispanic woman made 58 cents. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates if this pace continues, it will be 2059 before women earn as much as men.
As they break it down by race, the picture gets more depressing. It will be 2124 before black women earn as much as men, and a staggering 2248 before Hispanic women gain wage equality.
So as the Women’s March illustrated so well some two months ago, perhaps it is time that we concentrate on making history and moving forward to improve the lives of all women. Here at YWCA, we believe an empowered woman has the power to change the trajectory of her children, family and community. Financial education is part of our programs serving youth, single mothers, and homeless women working to get back on track.
But there is another area of our work in which women are disproportionately impacted: violence. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 82 percent of all juvenile sexual assault victims are female, 90 percent of adult rape victims are female and, according to the National Coalition on Domestic Violence, 75 percent of domestic violence victims are female.
Obviously, the goal is not parity but reduction. One very important tool in reducing the victimization of women has been the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA. Our domestic violence and sexual assault programs both benefit from grants through VAWA.
VAWA funding is essential for YWCA Woman’s Place continuing to serve victims of domestic violence. Since VAWA’s enactment in 1994, domestic violence has dropped 64 percent. That is a huge endorsement for the success of VAWA. Still, there continue to be far too many victims of domestic violence. In 2012, 40,645 incidents of domestic violence were reported in Missouri and 65,800 intimate violence incidents were reported in Illinois.
In addition, VAWA’s funding helps provide crisis intervention services when the YWCA Women’s Resource Center collaborates with local medical personnel and law enforcement to respond to victims of sexual violence. This is extremely important: Last year we responded to 598 victims of sexual violence in St. Louis-area emergency rooms and through requests from local law enforcement.
There is another piece of federal legislation that is possibly even more important to women’s safety: The Victims of Crime Act, or VOCA. VOCA funds rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, counseling programs, support groups, advocacy and case management services. VOCA provides financial reimbursement to victims of violent crimes for out-of-pocket medical expenses and mental health counseling. Nearly 4 million victims a year are served by local and state agencies (like YWCA Metro St. Louis) that are funded by VOCA.
There is speculation that both VAWA and VOCA may be on the new administration’s chopping block, and women’s advocates nationwide are horrified by that prospect and calling for constituents to tell Congress to continue to fund both of these life-saving acts. I urge you to add your voice to that call.
Adrian E. Bracy is chief executive officer of YWCA St. Louis.