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We are in the midst of an economic crisis, that much we know. October is national Domestic Violence awareness month, something fewer Americans know. And, we are poised to elect a new President who will address our social and economic needs. Are these related? Absolutely.
Earlier this month, my local abuse shelter and resource center, Abuse, Counseling & Treatment (ACT), did something it has never done before. The center’s director approached the local media, pleading for donations of food and other goods. Their shelves had gone empty by the second week of the month. My suspicion is that they are not the only community organization in this predicament.
As the economy continues to unravel, we can expect women and children to become even more vulnerable than they are right now. Women are more likely to live in poverty, work minimum wage jobs, work part-time, and thus receive fewer benefits despite also shouldering childcare and eldercare responsibilities. To boot, women overall earn less than men for the same work, and Black and Latina women earn even less (Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the U.S.: 2007).
Locally and globally, women and children are the most vulnerable, the ones more likely to suffer the harshest consequences of any catastrophe – caused by human error or nature’s fury, or both. Let us never forget the images of children in New Orleans during the post-Katrina disaster, or the realities faced by their mothers, grandmothers, and sisters. That historical moment signified the urgency of equal pay for women and wages that enable self-sufficiency, the urgency of equal access to quality education as anti-poverty policy, and the urgency of healthcare for all Americans, especially children.
Financial stress is correlated with higher levels of intimate partner violence, which disproportionately impacts women. Homelessness goes up in economic slumps, and we know women and children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless – much of this due to their escaping violent relationships.
As the economic crisis works its way from Wall Street to Main Street, we will see crime, violence, drug/alcohol abuse, and homelessness increase. As citizens we have the moral responsibility to support our communities. The needs of our local shelters, rape crisis hotlines, and women’s resource centers should be met by us with the same attention and pressure for action that our legislators turned towards the crisis on Wall Street.
Americans have a well-earned reputation of aiding distressed communities across the globe. Why is it so difficult to turn that attention inward, to face stark inequality and social ills in our own backyard? If our spirit of generosity is ignited by images of disaster, then we need to take a serious look around.
October marks the final weeks of the Presidential campaigns. With the economic collapse making social and economic policy more of a priority for the candidates, we should think clearly about their records on women’s issues, poverty, and domestic violence. For example, Senator McCain opposes equal pay for women, and opposes restoring family planning services for low-income families – key factors to reducing poverty. Thanks to our legislators in both primary parties, it also marks a turn in unregulated banking, corporate welfare, and denial of the effects of these on ordinary citizens. October marks the importance of understanding intimate partner violence, and upholding laws protecting victims (like Senator Biden’s Violence Against Women Act). What do these all have to do with each other? Clearly, everything.
KRIS DE WELDE is assistant professor of Sociology at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Re-printed from Girl with Pen, www.girlwpen.com.