Valentine’s Day was taken over long ago by cards and flowers, candy and dinners accompanied by gifts. It is now a cash cow holiday for merchandisers. In addition, for many, it has become a day to honor women and girls in a fresh way. V-Day, introduced to the world by Eve Ensler in 1998, demands an end to violence against women and girls.
Ask anyone and they would no doubt admit that they would love to be loved every day of the year, not just on one day. Ask anyone if they think violence is a way to show love and the answer would be no. Yet, one in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That amounts to more than 1 billion women and girls. These are your loved ones, friends, family, and those you will never know, but for whom we all care.
This Valentine’s Day, the V-Day movement is sponsoring One Billion Rising to spread awareness. One suggestion for all those participating in this V-Day Rising is to send a letter to lawmakers demanding that they prioritize legislation that protects women and girls from violence.
Our U.S. Congress considers how your tax dollars are spent. Even President Obama, in his inaugural address, exhorted that, “You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”
You might be weary of the sequester, fiscal cliff, deficit and debt palaver. But this is your chance to have a say in what you want saved in the federal budget. Many programs that protect women and girls are in that budget. Right now, the Violence Against Women Act is being debated. VAWA programs have enhanced federal, tribal, state and local responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking, and the Family Violence Prevention and Services and Victims of Crime Acts support lifesaving emergency shelters and services for domestic violence victims and other crime victims.
Does anyone doubt that domestic violence shelters, law enforcement, courts, rape crisis centers, children’s services, prevention, community outreach, and other state and local programs that provide services for victims and families are needed? Does anyone think that states or charities alone can organize, pay for and deliver all these services? In fact, states and communities depend on the federal funds to help support their local efforts. All of this is on the chopping block.
If we could end violence against women and girls, that would eliminate the need for these services and their costs. Even President Obama’s budget for 2012-13 is $26 million less than is needed to cover the needs, according to the Campaign for Funding to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.
For every service and cost today there must be a reduction in spending or a new tax. A new tax is unlikely at best, but reductions are possible. The Pentagon has made headlines for being out of control in its spending habits: cost overruns are legendary; a lack of an audit is incredible; unneeded weapons systems astonish us; high ranking military with huge staffs loom over the needs of veterans and force structure.
The problem is that Pentagon contractor lobbyists and CEOs are protecting their own oversized incomes and driving dollars to be spent on costly Cold War era weapons that even the Pentagon and military leaders dismiss as outdated and unnecessary. Instead, we need a smart defense that is sustainable and addresses 21st century security needs. With this smarter, fiscally responsible approach at the Pentagon, we could save dollars we need to invest in ending violence against women and girls.
On Valentine’s Day, I’ll join with the 1 billion people around the world, men and women, boys and girls, raising our voices against violence. I’ll also be calling on my congressional representation to make responsible budgeting choices that support 21st century security needs including an end to violence against women and girls.
Shaer is the executive director of Women’s Action for New Directions and cofounder of Win Without War.