By Gloria Lau, YWCA CEO
This Sunday, May 13, is Mother’s Day, an opportunity to honor mothers, daughters, sisters and neighbors across the country. It is a chance to remind ourselves how far we have come as women and – for some of us, as mothers. It is also an opportunity to rally together to ensure the legacy we leave for our daughters and granddaughters is not dismantled in the current political climate.
I have two stories I would like to share with you as we head into a weekend celebrating mothers:
At a recent White House event, a staff member shared with me that her mother had a YWCA story. Her mother came to Washington, D.C. in the 1950s. She searched far and wide in the segregated city for a hotel that would take her, a young African-American woman away from home in a strange city; she had no luck. That is, until she called the YWCA. The YW was the only place she could find in the nation’s capital that would provide her safe lodging. I remember the staffer’s words vividly – with the hint of tears in her eyes, she said, “My mother had no place to go except for the YWCA.”
I’ve also been told about a D.C. cab driver who years ago advised a young woman passenger who asked to be taken to a hotel in the District, “Don’t stay there – stay at the YWCA. That is a safe place.”
As I travel the country for the YWCA, I hear stories like these often. Every woman seems to have a YWCA story. Personal safety and freedom from fear are fundamental to empowerment. D.C. taxi drivers and most everyone else recognize this.
And the YWCA certainly knows this. The YWCA is a safe haven for women. These days, there are numerous choices for women travelers of any color to find lodging. But, there are not enough places for women brave enough to escape a violent home. The YWCA is the largest provider of battered women’s shelters in the country, serving more than a half million women and girls with programs that address violence. It isn’t surprising that D.C. taxi cab drivers recognize that YWCA’s are a safe haven for ALL women. This is a core guiding principle of our work – to provide a safe space for women and girls regardless of race, immigration status or sexual orientation.
Congress has an opportunity to build safe spaces for women and take steps to end sexual assault, domestic violence and rape in our communities by reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) after Mother’s Day. The best gift that Members of Congress can give to their neighbors, sisters, mothers and grandmothers is to support a bi-partisan bill that protects women from all backgrounds. Unfortunately, the Adams-Cantor (H.R. 4970) bill does not achieve this. It ignores the unique needs of immigrant, Native women, and LGBT communities. We are asking all Members of Congress to reject this bill and to pass a bill similar to the Senate version (S. 1925) sponsored by Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Crapo (R-IN) which passed with bi-partisan support a few weeks ago.
Whether it is a safe harbor from domestic violence, a mother seeking good child care or other avenues for safety and self-sufficiency, the YWCA is a place for you. So, we want to thank the mothers, daughters, sisters and neighbors who come through our doors and those who welcome them with a place they can call home. This Mother’s Day, we celebrate all of you. The YWCA – for every woman.