Kelly White and Chris Grumm

(WOMENSENEWS)–On July 10, 200 anti-violence activists stood outside Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s Chicago office, demanding a restoration of funding to domestic and sexual violence services in the state budget.

For Chicago Foundation for Women, which supports social justice issues through grant-making and advocacy, the concern is what is going on locally.

The cuts have forced Rape Victim Advocates, one of the foundation’s long-time grantees, to significantly reduce capacity, worsening the effects of shrunken federal grants last year. Even as it struggles to keep the burden off survivors, the group’s waiting list for counseling is the longest in its history.

Another grantee, Women and Girls Collective Action Network, or CAN, does community organizing to end violence against women of all ages.

Now Women and Girls CAN is turning its attention to the state budget crisis through a partnership with the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, a membership organization of Cook County domestic violence agencies and allies.

Through rallies and survivors’ stories, these organizations are making the case for a budget with enough revenue to restore anti-violence funding. They say the “lump sum” Illinois budget passed July 15 may leave survivors behind, since it does not specify funding levels for services–and it includes no new revenue.

Add these cuts to the reductions in other state services–such as child care and substance abuse–and women are left with nowhere to turn.

National and Local Tipping Point

This is the local situation that Chicago Foundation for Women faces. The Women’s Funding Network–a global champion for women’s human rights that provides capacity-building services to more than 145 women’s funds–is in touch with this problem nationally.

Between September 2008 and April 2009, 75 percent of 600 domestic violence shelters reported that more women sought help, according to the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation in Dallas.

We are at a tipping point, nationally and locally.

Recently President Obama and Vice President Biden named Lynn Rosenthal as the first White House Advisor on Violence Against Women. We enthusiastically congratulate Rosenthal and thank the administration for selecting such a strong advocate.

Last year, as leader of the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Rosenthal helped maintain state funding for anti-violence services despite the worsening economy. Now, Rosenthal will have the ears of many federal departments and we hope they in turn prioritize funding for the obvious programs–namely the Violence Against Women Act and Victims of Crime Act–as well as human trafficking and sexual assault prevention.

Breaking the silence on violence against women is closely tied to the women’s funding movement. Women’s funds were the first to spotlight this problem and provide funding to address its root causes. Now more than ever, we need resources–including from the government–to ensure women’s rights to be safe, healthy and economically secure.

Funding Transforms Lives

Blanca, one of the 200 activists outside Madigan’s office, said through a bullhorn that she was sexually abused as a child and battered by her former husband. Anti-violence programs, many of them strengthened by women’s funds, helped Blanca transform her guilt and worthlessness into strength and passion.

What will communities look like without this support? In Illinois, for example, the domestic homicide rate could double or triple without restored funding, according to Dawn Dalton of the Battered Women’s Network.

And the economic impacts are just as worrisome.

When women have access to legal aid, counseling, emergency shelter and other services, they are more able to keep their jobs and have fewer expensive emergency health care needs. Women who lose state-funded child care may lose their financial independence, which may in turn prevent them from leaving an abusive partner.

Lynn Rosenthal, we hope you are listening. While Congressional appropriations continue this summer, join with us to ensure women’s human rights are a priority.

Kelly White is the executive director of Chicago Foundation for Women. Chris Grumm is the president and CEO of the Women’s Funding Network.

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