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Column: Women made strides in 2018, but we still need to march — and pay attention

Column: Women made strides in 2018, but we still need to march — and pay attention
Protesters at the 2018 OC Women's March proceed down Fourth Street in Santa Ana. The 2019 march will take place again in Santa Ana on Jan. 19. (File Photo)

Editor’s note: TimesOC plans to introduce new opinion columnists in 2019. Mona Shadia, who previously wrote “Unveiled,” which chronicled the Muslim American experience for the Daily Pilot, is the first.

I’ve had a long writer’s block. Two years long, to be exact.

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But when your old editor calls on you, you pour some wine, sharpen a pencil and get writing.

You may remember me from the columns I wrote for Times Community News and the Orange County Register on my life as a Muslim in O.C. I utilized those spaces to provide insights into Islam and Muslims. At the time I was also a journalist, covering local politics and various issues spanning several cities.

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I’ve since left journalism and made a jump into the world of technical writing, with the promise — to myself — to continue writing about the matters for which I am most passionate, such as women’s issues, civil rights, my travels — mostly solo — and maybe a little on my shopping habits.

So I’m back. And this time, I don’t intend on explaining my religion to anyone. That time has passed.

But many of my other core issues persist. On Jan. 19, I’m planning to attend the Orange County Women’s March in downtown Santa Ana, and what I want to talk about right now is how we can be more attentive citizens.

So let’s get to it, shall we? Last month, Congress allowed the Violence Against Women Act to expire as part of the government shutdown. Passed in 1994 after an unprecedented number of women were elected to Congress in 1992 (one year after Anita Hill’s testimony), the act allows the Department of Justice, along with the Department of Health and Human Services, to issue grants to various state and local programs that aid victims of domestic abuse and child abuse.

Some of the funds go toward educating and empowering victims of sexual abuse and some go toward providing shelter for victims of violence.

In 2013, the act was expanded to include all victims of domestic and dating violence, including Native American women, undocumented immigrants and LGBT individuals.

The act had been in limbo since September, hanging in through temporary extensions until it expired on Dec. 21.

A spending deal extended some funds to February, but because of the government shutdown, the act was not reauthorized, according to the Washington Post. This leaves the fate of future programs that aid victims of abuse and violence gravely uncertain.

For a nation that prides itself on protecting and respecting the rights of women, especially in comparison to other places I will not be mentioning, this is a failure and a disappointment — to say the least.

Certainly, the sexual, mental and emotional abuse women have been enduring in the workplace — spanning every industry, and in every aspect of our society — is more than enough reason to start re-examining where we stand as a nation on how we treat more than half of the population.

Look at what’s happening today. We’ve had a year of empowerment with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. The number of women elected to Congress in November beat the number of those who were elected in 1994. They are also from more diverse backgrounds, from both religious and nonreligious affiliations.

Yet this all comes on the heels of a major step back.

The key here is that we — women and men who truly care about women’s rights and what’s affecting us as a nation — must all become attentive citizens so that what is said by the government matches what is done. Without us, recently elected Congresswomen like Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Irvine’s Katie Porter (who beautifully beat Mimi Walters in the 45th Congressional District) will not get so far.

Or they’ll do some great things that could be weakened, erased or overridden 20 or 30 years from now.

So look for me at the Orange County Women’s March, one of the many ways to become attentive citizens. It’s a nonpartisan, peaceful, family-friendly march that aims to unite the many diverse communities in Orange County — independent from the national Women’s March organization, which will be holding marches on the same day.

The event in downtown Santa Ana is free. For more information or to RSVP, visit ocwomensmarch.org.

Mona Shadia is an Egyptian American writer who lives in Orange County. Follow her on Twitter at @MonaShadia.

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