Before Maureen went off to Nairobi, she went out to lunch with dad and got some good advice. Don't let the needs of women get sidetracked by the vagaries of international politics.
In Papa Reagan's words, "The business of the conference is women, not propaganda." He then listed the areas she and the others should address at the U.N.'s international conference on women. One of the top four was domestic violence.
At least two women in the Nairobi contingent would have been bemused by the president's luncheon palaver: Sharon Parker and Lois Herrington. These women, one a government outsider and one an insider, have become experts lately on just how easily propaganda can derail "the business of women" right here in the United States.
Parker is the new executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a group described as "THE voice for battered women in the country." The NCADV includes nearly 750 of the nearly 900 shelters for battered women and children. Herrington is the assistant attorney general who shepherds the Justice Department's task force on family violence. Under her guidance, the task force has taken a very strong law-enforcement stance against family abuse.
This spring Herrington supported, and the coalition was about to receive, a modest grant of $625,000 to fund a few programs recommended by the task-force report. The NCADV was going to announce the grant on June 13 at a screening of the television special, "Battered Women, Shattered Lives." To give you an idea of how "radical" this cause was, Ursula Meese, wife of Ed, and Phyllis Schlafly, head of Eagle Forum, both had seats at the event.
But the check was not, as they say, in the mail. The grant had been held up because of complaints to the attorney general by the tip of the right wing.
A honcho in the Free Congress Foundation, an alleged think tank in Washington, complained to Meese that the coalition was "pro-lesbian, hard-core feminists." Twenty-four members of Congress then signed a letter written by Mark Siljander (R- Mich.) that embellished the profile a bit. The NCADV people were now a "pro-lesbian, pro-abortion, anti-Reagan, radical feminist group."
All this understandably depressed the NCADV folk. At the last minute, the money was yanked and their image was distorted. In fact, the coalition is just that: a wide range of people -- including homemakers, social workers, ministers -- across the political spectrum who are dealing with abuse. The membership includes a small number of gay women, some the victims of abuse and others simply concerned about violence.
But lesbian-baiting was only the text, or maybe the pretext, of the attack on the grant-making. The money itself was allocated to a public-awareness campaign, a national referral plan and a program to train police workers. Indeed, the subtext of this attack was much more important: the familiar charge that shelters are the subversive creation of anti-family types who are really out to break up homes.
Shaken by the noise on the far right, Meese decided last week to "review" the grant. The $625,000 is, in effect, under house arrest for an indeterminate amount of time.
Herrington is fighting for its release. Instead of silence, she chose to write a reply to the Siljander letter. "They claim shelters are anti-family," she penned before taking off for Nairobi. "This is not so. Abuse is anti-family. . . . A shelter may only assure that in self-destruction a home dissolves rather than explodes. To blame shelters for the failure of marriages is like blaming firemen for arson."
Daughter Maureen offered her own farewell address for those people who, over the years, "refer to shelters for battered women as R&R centers for bored housewives." She said, "There are people in the United States and the world who take the idea that domestic violence comes with a marriage license. . . . The fact of the matter is there's a very serious problem with domestic violence."
Family violence isn't a left-wing or a right-wing matter. It's a crime. But somehow or other, uh, the needs of women keep getting sidetracked by the vagaries of national politics. The "propaganda" gets in the way of the "business of women." Maybe, just maybe, Dad Reagan should save some of his advice for the home front.