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Act protecting women gains local backers
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Act protecting women gains local backers

Jewish groups press lawmakers on bill to battle violence

Joining Sen. Robert Menendez in pressing for passage of the International Violence Against Women Act are, from left, Merle Kalishman, former chair of the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest NJ; CRC director Melanie Roth Gorelick; and Sen. K
Joining Sen. Robert Menendez in pressing for passage of the International Violence Against Women Act are, from left, Merle Kalishman, former chair of the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest NJ; CRC director Melanie Roth Gorelick; and Sen. K

With a push from local Jewish groups and others, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Dist. 11) is the latest local lawmaker to support the International Violence Against Women Act.

Jewish organizations in and outside of New Jersey are pressing hard for the measure, known as IVAWA. 

The bill — introduced in the House of Representatives on March 6 — would link foreign aid and international diplomacy to global efforts to end violence against women and girls.

Its prime supporters include Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

The New York-based American Jewish World Service has made the measure a priority. Locally, the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ organized efforts to persuade Frelinghuysen to join fellow Republican Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Dist. 7) in providing bipartisan support for the measure. 

Frelinghuysen is the 10th GOP sponsor of the bill.

“We worked with the National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah, and the American Jewish World Service to ask Rep. Frelinghuysen to come on board because we thought he was an important Republican voice, and we very much wanted this to be a bipartisan effort,” said CRC director Melanie Roth Gorelick. “We spoke with Frelinghuysen’s office and he responded to us immediately.”

Roth Gorelick cited statistics that one of every three women worldwide will be physically, sexually, or otherwise abused during her lifetime, with rates reaching 70 percent in some countries. 

AJWS is advocating for the passage of IVAWA as part of a national campaign to help end violence against women and girls, stop hate crimes against LGBT people, and empower girls to end child marriage.

“The critical element is getting Republicans on board, so we are ecstatic that Frelinghuysen and Lance signed on,” said AJWS executive director Ruth Messinger.

“This bill has been introduced and not passed four times before, and the strongest request from the Democratic sponsors of this bill asked those of us who are lobbying to get Republicans [on board]. We would like to claim credit together with our CRCs and other groups that Republicans are getting on the bill,” she told NJJN.

Although the act has yet to be introduced in the Senate, its passage was given a big boost by Menendez on March 15 as he presented the Evangelina Menendez Trailblazer Awards, named after his mother, to six NJ women “for their exceptional achievements.”

Speaking at Bergen County Community College in Paramus, Menendez said the act “will give our government the tools to react more effectively to epidemic levels of violence against women across the globe.”

“Every day, in every country, in every village too many women face horrific violence and discrimination. The IVAWA will make clear that ending gender-based violence is one of America’s top priorities. We are reminded every day that far from what we could even consider attaining equality, millions of women basically lack security,” Menendez said.

Calling its passage “a priority issue for us in this federation and a priority issue for other groups,” Roth Gorelick noted that it would authorize the U.S. government “to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls internationally.”

It would also make permanent the State Department’s existing Office of Global Women’s Issues and an ambassador-at-large for such issues.

In addition to Jewish groups, the IVAWA is supported by some 300 humanitarian, faith-based, human rights, refugee, and women’s organizations.

Joining Roth Gorelick at the Menendez speech was Merle Kalishman of Livingston, a former CRC chair. Also attending was Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a strong advocate for women’s rights and anti-violence issues.

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