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Lawmakers Speak Out For Women

Originally published in:
Albuquerque Journal

By Wren Propp

Whenever she spoke publicly about her own time as a domestic violence victim 27 years ago, former state lawmaker Patricia Trujillo Knauer felt the silence of her peers the most.

Fellow lawmakers, both men and women, "looked at it like we had a disease ... But all of us have been a part of it," she said.

Knauer, deputy secretary for Gov. Bill Richardson's Aging and LongTerm Services agency, was one of four female leaders who kicked off a national campaign Sunday in Santa Fe on ending violence against women called "V is for Vote."

About 40 people attended the event.

Organized by Eve Ensler, founder of the V-Day movement to end violence toward women and girls and author of "The Vagina Monologues," the national campaign is focused on raising voters' awareness of violence against women and girls and getting the issue on the top of candidates' agendas.

"Violence against women and girls should be up there with health-care reform and education ... It should be said in the same breath," said Ensler, who is planning similar events throughout the United States.

In Santa Fe in particular, encouraging Latina and Hispanic women to vote and speak out against gender-related violence is a "tough nut to crack," even though they live in a state where the incidence of domestic
violence and rape is among the highest in the nation, said Lilia Olivas Whitener, a local children's advocate and educator who works with parents on family issues.

"We feel we are not entitled to speak out because we were born feeling not entitled, like the Anglo women have," she said.

Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, considered the
highest-ranking elected Hispanic woman in state government in the United States, said her national role is bittersweet, because so few others have achieved what she has.

"I like being the highest-ranking elected Latina; it's great, but it's sad, too," she said.

Santa Fe Municipal Judge Frances Gallegos said much of her motivation in her early life was to disprove the machismo tenet she grew up with- that women were not as good as men- and that's why she joined the military at 17 and had a tour of duty in Vietnam.

Gallegos and the other women speaking at the forum said teaching children about ending domestic violence and encouraging women to vote would help end violence against women.

For example, of the 55,000 registered voters in Santa Fe, nearly 54 percent are women, and yet only 14,000 or so voters go to the polls, Gallegos said.

"If we got women to vote, we could rule the world," she said.

Danielle Holland, a 22-year-old College of Santa Fe graduate and an intern with the campaign, said many of her once-apathetic friends are eager to register to vote.

The current administration, she said after the forum concluded, "is changing all of the legal language in regards to abortion ... What our mothers fought for is being totally chipped away."

Holland believes that male candidates probably won't embrace ending violence against women and girls.

"That's why we should encourage women to run," she said.

Ensler noted that in the six years since the first V-Day event, the movement has grown to 1,000 events globally with performances, speeches, protests and fund-raising events.

Many of the V-Day events, including performances of her play, occur on or around Valintine's Day.

She's hoping both women and men who speak out against gender-related violence will organize groups of 10 friends who register to vote, discuss presidential candidates and then go to the polls together.

Presidential hopefuls should also take on the V-Day agenda, she said. While V-Day hasn't endorsed any candidates, when V-Day organizers approached Howard Dean, one of several Democratic candidates for the party's presidential nod, he "asked us to teach him" about the impact violence against women and girls has on society.

Copyright 2004 Albuquerque Journal