22 December 2008

Ms. Foundation Joins Scores of Organizations in Call for Cabinet-Level Office on Women

In a historical move, nearly 50 women's organizations representing over 14 million women sent a letter to the Obama-Biden transition team, advocating for the creation of an Office on Women. Sara K. Gould signed the letter (text and signers below) for the Ms. Foundation. [A PDF version of the letter is available from the National Organization for Women.]

December 16, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama
Vice President-elect Joe Biden
c/o Obama-Biden Transition Team
Valerie Jarrett, John Podesta, Pete Rouse, Dana Singiser

Dear President-Elect Obama and Vice President-Elect Biden:

As leaders of women’s organizations and advocates for women’s equality, collectively representing over 14 million women, we are writing to elaborate on the need for historic levels of women’s appointments and the need to restore and strengthen executive branch offices for women.

We applaud your initial appointments of talented women and we encourage you to further gender balance your White House, Cabinet, and executive appointments. The U.S., with women composing just 17% of the members of Congress, ranks 71st among the world’s parliaments in representation of women. With women so underrepresented in Congress, we believe it is crucial for women’s representation to increase dramatically at the executive branch of decision-making. Many of us will be submitting names of excellent and diverse women for your consideration.

Like you, we believe that we are at a time of real change in our nation’s history. Through both words and actions, you have encouraged and challenged the nation to think transformationally.

In this spirit, we urge you to create a Cabinet-level Office on Women that will deal not only with the status of women, but with the many inequities women face in our society, our nation, and our world. Such an office is even more necessary today, because of the increased disparities and backward movement of the past eight years.

Although many countries have a Cabinet minister responsible for addressing women’s issues and concerns, it would be another historic “first” for the United States to recognize the importance of solving inequities faced by women as well as further empowering women and girls to reach for their dreams. The Director would hold cabinet rank and report directly to the President, and the new office would be responsible for, but not limited to, the following:

1. Impact Evaluation and Strategic Planning. The Office on Women would seek new ways to bring to this great country the full potential of tens of millions of women and girls of all races and from all walks of life through policies, inter-agency coordination, budgeting and initiatives that will bring us closer to equality.

The new Office on Women would evaluate federal programs, initiatives and policies for their impact on women (addressing both opportunities and inequities) and improve their effectiveness through coordination and strategic planning. The Office would have leadership of the reconstituted White House Office for Women’s Initiatives and Outreach as well as the restored Interagency Council on Women. It would also be charged with preparing a coordinated budget for all efforts aimed at achieving the equality of women.

Because women, especially women of color, are differently affected by so many laws and policies -- from health care to labor to the economy -- it is critical that the impact on women be "part of the picture" as each and every critical decision is made. A cabinet-level office is the most effective way to accomplish this goal. Many of our federal programs were designed at a time when women's roles in our society were very different, and they should be reviewed and reconsidered.

The disparate treatment of women and the disparate impact of seemingly gender-neutral policies are so systemic that they cut across departmental lines and require an intersectional approach. More importantly, women need an advocate at the policy-making table whose specific
responsibility is considering and weighing in on the potential of decisions to positively or negatively impact women’s opportunities for advancement. We cannot expect the few women at the table to bear this responsibility in addition to the responsibilities of their designated agency.

2. Interdepartmental Coordination [Interagency Council on Women]. Currently, women's programs are housed in many different departments, including Labor, Defense, Health and Human Services, Justice, and many others. Some of these offices are focused on making sure women's needs are addressed adequately as each agency seeks to achieve its mission and deliver services, while others focus primarily on advancing women within the agency’s workforce. It is important that each government agency have an effective and strong office (or offices) on women that address both women as workers and women as clients of the agency. These offices could learn much from each other and could work together to bring more effective and timely change for women.

To effectively coordinate the work of the various federal departments and agencies, we urge that the work of the former Clinton-era Interagency Council on Women be taken up by the Office on Women. We recommend the council staff be composed of representatives of each of the agencies and departments who are "lent" to the Council. The work of the Council should be reviewing and assessing the work of all agencies and departments that serve women, coordinate government-wide women's initiatives, and ensure the various agency and departmental policies are in keeping with our national and international commitments to women.

3. Policy Initiatives, Outreach and Inreach [Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach]. The Office on Women should also include a restored and strengthened White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach. That office, under President Clinton, was very small and its director was a deputy assistant to the President. The purpose has been described as "outreach to keep women's organizations informed (and presumably supportive) of presidential initiatives, and 'inreach' to solicit views of national women's leaders for injection into White house staff offices as policy proposals were being formulated."

We believe the restored program should be strengthened in rank, staffing, and function, to include both a political function (interrelation with women elected officials) and a communications function (creating communications opportunities for the White House and providing support on women's issues and events).

It is crucial that there be a policy function to this effort addressing a full range of women's issues, including work/family balance and women's disproportionate poverty. This function would include review of new federal policies and budgets and their impact on women in a cross-departmental approach, in addition to the previous outreach and "inreach" functions.

4. Interrelation with Other Agencies. The Office on Women would interrelate with the Status of Women Commissions of many states, counties, and municipalities of our nation, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Status of Women Commission, as well as the women's ministries of many other nations.

Thank you for your consideration of these ideas. The extraordinary support you received from women in this election is testament to our confidence in your commitment to equality and change. We look forward to working with you and with the accomplished and visionary women and men who will bring new ideas and new initiatives to your administration.


Eleanor Smeal, President
Feminist Majority

Kim Gandy, President
National Organization for Women

Lorraine Cole, Ph.D., CEO

Lulu Flores, President
National Women’s Political Caucus

Dr. Elizabeth J. Clark, ACSW, MPH
Executive Director
National Association of Social Workers

Susan Scanlan
President, Women’s Research and Education Institute
Chair, National Council of Women’s Organizations

Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq., Chairperson
National Congress of Black Women

Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, President and CEO
Black Women’s Health Imperative

Nancy Ratzan, President
National Council of Jewish Women

Dolores Huerta, Founder and President
Dolores Huerta Foundation

Kimberly Otis, Executive Director
National Council of Women’s Organizations

Irene Natividad, President
Global Summit of Women

Hedy Ratner, Co-President
Women’s Business Development Center

Joan A. Kuriansky, Esq., Executive Director
Wider Opportunities for Women

Irma D. Herrera, Executive Director
Equal Rights Advocates

Martha Burk, Ph.D., President
Center for Advancement of Public Policy

Irasema Garza, President
Legal Momentum

Claudia S. Morrissey, MD, MPH, National President
American Medical Women’s Association

Jodie Evans, Co-Founder
CODEPINK: Women for Peace

Ashley B. Carson, J.D., Executive Director
OWL – The Voice of Midlife and Older Women

Faye Wattleton, President
Center for the Advancement of Women

Silvia Henriquez, Executive Director
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Marsha Zakowski, National President
Coalition of Labor Union Women

Marie C. Wilson, President & Founder
The White House Project

Rose M. Ditto, Ph.D., International President
General Federation of Women’s Clubs

Ilana Goldman, President
Women’s Campaign Forum

Loretta J. Ross, National Coordinator
SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective

Sara K. Gould, President and CEO
Ms. Foundation for Women

Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, Ph.D., Chair
CCEJ, Inc. - Sojourner Truth Forum for Interactive Justice

Wilma L. Vaught, Brigadier General, USAF, Retired
President, Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, Inc.

Leigh Wintz, Executive Director
Soroptomist International of the Americas

Carol Jenkins, Executive Director
Women’s Media Center

Linda Basch, Ph.D., President
National Council for Research on Women

Jill E. Adams, J.D., Executive Director
Law Students for Reproductive Justice

Melanie L. Campbell
Convener, Black Women’s Roundtable
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation

JoAnne Lyons Wooten, Interim President and CEO
Women Work! The National Network for Women’s Employment

Aisha S. Taylor, Executive Director
Women’s Ordination Conference

Julie Burton, Executive Director
Project Kid Smart

Sarah Harder, Chair
National Women’s Conference Committee

Pat Bakalian, Executive Director
Campaign for Gender Equality

Martha Allen, Ph.D, Director
Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press

Patricia Willis, Chair
Feminist Caucus of the American Humanist Association

Jennifer L. Pozner, Executive Director
Women in Media and News

Dr. Julia M. Watkins, Executive Director
Council on Social Work Education

Dr. Wynetta Frazier, National President
National Hook-Up of Black Women, Inc.

Ariel Dougherty, Director
Media Equity Collaborative

Wendy Pollack
Director, Women’s Law and Policy Project
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law

18 December 2008

Raise the Minimum Wage -- Now More Than Ever

The Ms. Foundation for Women, through its Raise the Floor Project, has long pushed for raising the minimum wage to enable minimum wage workers to support themselves and to bring the wage closer to the "minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency and general well-being of workers" promised when the rate was established 70 years ago.

Holly Sklar, co-author of Raise the Floor with Ms. Foundation COO Susan Wefald, recently released two useful documents [PDF] on raising the wage in tough times and getting the minimum wage to $10 by 2010. They are valuable resources as we face the current and growing economic crisis and seek answers for helping the working poor in particular and the economy at large.

[See also our previous post: Minimum Wage Woes.]

Ms. Foundation Request for Proposals -- Southern Strategy

The Ms. Foundation for Women is pleased to announce an open call for Southern Strategy proposals to support the social justice infrastructure in targeted southern states. Building upon our work in the Gulf Coast to support a just and equitable recovery after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Ms. Foundation is now crafting a broader strategy focused on the Southern region. Our focus on the South will address the connections across many systemic inequities based on race, class, and gender that are woven into the social and political fabric of the region and the nation. This strategy places low-income women and women of color at the center of driving policy and culture change toward a more just and equitable democracy.

11 December 2008

Ms. Foundation Grantees Achieved Important Electoral Victories

Grassroots organizing was not only key to electing our country's first African American president last month, but an essential ingredient in local and state efforts as well. With the election not far behind us, we wanted to take a moment to congratulate our grantees who employed innovative cross-issue, cross-constituency and community-based approaches to campaigns for progressive, and against regressive, ballot measures initiatives across the U.S.

Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) led a bilingual, social justice and coalition-driven campaign to oppose Colorado Amendments 46, an anti-affirmative action measure, and 48, which would have assigned "personhood" status to a fetus and severely undermined women's reproductive rights.

Amendment 46, the so-called "Civil Rights Initiative," was defeated by a mere 28,000 votes; while the margin of victory isn't huge, it marks the first time voters have rejected such a ban (similar ones have passed in recent years in California, Michigan and Washington and one passed this year in Nebraska) and points to the success of door-to-door grassroots organizing efforts undertaken by groups like COLOR. We hope this sends a signal to the sponsors of affirmative-action bans that they're ability to dupe voters into thinking they're voting for instead of against civil rights is on the wane.

Amendment 48, on the other hand, was rejected handily by Colorado voters by a 3:1 ratio. COLOR's strategic approach deserves much of the credit: COLOR conducted grassroots outreach to Latina/o voters and the only Spanish-language media campaign addressing the initiative; they made strategic connections between 46 and 48; and they built partnerships with key labor and racial justice groups across the state. Their campaign expanded the base of opposition to Amendment 48 and brought organizers and constituencies into the fold who weren't used to thinking about reproductive justice as "their" issue.

COLOR's partnership with another Ms. grantee, National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), was also critical. COLOR and NAPW, a national voice for pregnant women's rights, joined to produce and distribute English- and Spanish-language materials for outreach and education, including op-eds that were widely published throughout the state, and to deliver messages that framed the issue as one of birthing rights and familial health. NAPW also partnered with local groups to-successfully-oppose an anti-abortion ballot measure in South Dakota. See their New York Times letter to the editor and YouTube video about how these initiatives, including California's Prop 4 (see below), would have threatened the rights and health of all pregnant women, including those going to term.

In California a number of our grantees, including ACCESS/Women's Health Rights, ACT for Women and Girls, Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ), California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, the Dolores Huerta Foundation and Young Workers United (YWU) worked to successfully defeat Prop 4, the third "parental notification" ballot initiative to hit the state in four years. These groups built on the relationships and strategies that they had developed during past campaigns, including targeted outreach with distinct messages that would resonate in communities of color, immigrant communities and among youth. And many worked in partnership with statewide coalitions to ensure the voices of people of color were present and to insist upon building and mobilizing a broader base against this and future regressive measures.

Simultaneously, understanding the connections between issues and the combined threats ballot initiatives posed to their constituents, groups like ACRJ and YWU led cross-issue, grassroots efforts to oppose California propositions that aimed to increase the criminalization of youth, low-income people and people of color-Prop 6, which was rejected, and Prop 9, which passed-and to fight against the well-known Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage.

Finally, in Milwaukee, WI, Multi-State Working Families Consortium had a big win: they succeeded in placing a paid sick days initiative on the ballot, and won. [Read coverage of the win in the Chicago Tribune and Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel] The Consortium, a network of coalitions from 11 states, has had a good year: they won the passage of paid family leave in New Jersey and paid sick days in Washington, DC and have seen bills move through key committees and legislative bodies in other states. They've also put together a Valuing Families at Work agenda [PDF] for candidates and elected officials, an indispensible resource for President-elect Barack Obama and his economic advisors as they design and implement an economic recovery plan, which must place the security of women, families and communities at the center.

Community Forum on New York City Foreclosure Crisis and Impact on Women and Families

The Ms. Foundation and our President Sara K. Gould have been calling attention to the disproportionate impact of the financial crisis on low-income women and women of color. (See Sara's advice offered to Tresury Secretary nominee Timothy Geitner and our recent conference call on the economy.) Early next week, the New York Women's Foundation and New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service are presenting a community forum: 

The Impact of the Foreclosure Crisis on Women and Families in New York City

Priscilla Almodovar
President & CEO, New York State Housing Finance Agency and State ofNew York Mortgage Agency
"The State Response to the Foreclosure Crisis"

Sarah Ludwig
Executive Director, Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project
"Connecting the Dots: Women, Foreclosure & Predatory Lending in NYC"

Cathy Mickens
Executive Director, Neighborhood Housing Services of Jamaica
"A Community Response to the Foreclosure Crisis"

Date: Tuesday, December 16,2008
Time: 8:30 am - 12:00 noon
Location: 434 W. 33rd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues)

Space is Limited
RSVP to Wagner School

08 December 2008

Women's Foundation of California Creates Personal Finance Book for Girls -- Former State Treasurer Kathleen Brown Joins Book Launch

It's a Money Thing! A Girl's Guide to Managing Her Money, written by the Women's Foundation of California with a foreword by Kathleen Brown, provides a step-by-step guide that takes the reader from allowance to paycheck and beyond, including chapters about the stock market, philanthropy and starting your own business.

The book is a result of a collaborative effort to examine economic conditions of women and girls in Los Angeles headed by the Women's Foundation of California in partnership with the United Way, Girl's Inc., the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles, Junior Achievement and many other grassroots organizations serving young women and girls.

Book Launch Party
Former State Treasurer Kathleen Brown will be speaking about her personal journey with managing money to a group of 200 young women and signing copies of the book on December 14, 2008 from 2-4 pm at Finance Park in Los Angeles. See the Women's Foundation web site for more information and to RSVP.

It's A Money Thing! A Girl's Guide to Managing Her Money, published by Chronicle Books, is available from Amazon.com.

04 December 2008

Mississippi Immigrants' Rights Alliance Rallies at State Capitol

Amidst increased hostility to immigrants' rights, Ms. Foundation grantee, the Mississippi Immigrants' Rights Alliance, is holding a rally at the Mississippi state capitol today to call for the repeal of a bill that makes it a felony for undocumented immigrants to work in the state and an end to unjust workplace raids.

Southeastern Immigrants Organizations Rally: Repeal Racist Bill; No More Raids in Our Communities

Hard on the heels of two major ICE raids in Mississippi and South Carolina, immigrants' rights organizations from across the southeastern U.S. are demanding an end to the raids, and are standing in solidarity with Mississippi immigrants who request that Senate Bill 2988 be repealed during the upcoming 2009 Legislative Session.

Immigrant rights marchers will walk through downtown Jackson on Thursday, December 4th:

From the Regency Hotel, 400 Greymont Avenue
at 2:00 pm
To a press rally inside
The Mississippi State Capitol Rotunda
at 3:00 pm

The largest ICE raid in U.S. history and one of the most vitriolic anti-immigrant bills ever to pass in our nation's history have taken place here in Mississippi this past year. SB 2988 criminalizes immigrants for simply wanting to work in Mississippi, and will end up draining state coffers at a time when our economy cannot afford it. Raids victims here and elsewhere in the southeastern United States are now unable to work; migrants, who came to the U.S. to escape the economic slavery in their own countries, are too afraid to return to their home countries to face a worse fate.

"We are between a rock and a hard place," said one detainee, a young man with a dependent mother and siblings. "We can't work…yet every month we have rent to pay, and other indispensable things to survive. If we leave, we lose our case. If we stay, we suffer." Members of the raid-affected community will be present to discuss the impact of this dehumanizing law enforcement policy.

For Further Information:
Bill Chandler, (601) 968-5182
Alisha Johnson, (678) 333-4866
Read more about previous ICE raids and MIRA's work.

NYRAG Memo -- Emergency Measures: Foundation Communications in the Wake of a Disaster

In the November 2008 issue of the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers Memo, Ms. Foundation Communications Vice President Ellen Braune answered questions about foundation communications responses to disasters. The following is reprinted from the NYRAG web site. NYRAG members (with login) are invited to post comments on the article on the NYRAG site.

Emergency Measures: Foundation Communications in the Wake of a Disaster

How can foundations effectively respond to and communicate about fires, floods, and tornados—as well as man-made disaster? Diana Crawford, a consultant for the NYRAG Gulf Coast Recovery Task Force, puts this question to Rev. John Vaughn, Program Director at The Twenty-First Century Foundation, and Ellen Braune, Vice President of Communications at the Ms. Foundation for Women. Both have helped spread grantees’ stories in the aftermath of catastrophe.

Diana Crawford: What sort of strategic plan does each of your foundations have for disaster communications?

Ellen Braune: This is a big learning for area for us. One plan we have in place is to have someone on the ground gather information and get it back to us as soon as possible. The other is to have different kinds of contacts for people who are down there. We need to be sure our database is really good in terms of email, cell phones, and even land lines. But sometimes none of these work, which is why you really need someone on the ground. During Katrina and Rita, we suspended the entire Request for Proposal process and just got the money out quickly. We hope to learn what our colleagues are doing so we can collaborate, and to have a long-term communications plan so the wheels are already in motion and we can give voice to people engaged in the struggle on a national level.

John Vaughn: I’m not sure I would call it a plan, but we have a communications strategy that’s very relationship-driven. We’ve responded to Hurricane Gustav through three main constituencies: grantees, local funding partners, and the Gulf Coast Funders for Equity. Outlets like the Funders Forum and NYRAG are good vehicles for talking with other funders. One of the things that has been really helpful has been having two people on the ground. There is a lot of email and cell phone conversation.

We don’t see ourselves being in the disaster-relief business. This all got started because of the federal government’s lack of response in the Gulf Coast, so we’re really just continuing to support the grantees with whom we’ve already been walking the road.

Ellen Braune: We aren’t in the disaster relief business either, but we are developing a long-term Southern strategy plan, focusing on the issues that existed before Hurricane Katrina and were amplified by it. Through communications, we lift up those issues and talk about race and class and poverty—and about the intersection of gender and how women of color are sometimes the most deeply impacted. We try to lift up their leadership and policy solutions, rather than framing them as victims. We’re supporting the Gulf Coast Funders for Equity and the United Houma Nation, where the principal chief has been writing a blog. We’ve been posting it to our blog and distributing it through various online links, and we’re hoping to pitch those stories to break through the media blackout.

Diana Crawford: Looking back over the past three years, what are some examples of successful communications in the wake of a natural or man-made disaster?

John Vaughn: On one hand, we’ve done well in developing some communications approaches and relationships. However, relationships alone aren’t what this will take over the long haul. When you look at communications, it’s not just communications with your primary constituency. As public foundations, we need to communicate to donors or potential donors and also share stories of what’s going down. That’s part of our role as catalysts for change. It’s one of those places where there is a continual need for capacity building.

Diana Crawford: And do you think that’s also true of your grantees? Do they need capacity building in their communications, too?

John Vaughn: The majority of our grantees have small staffs and need communications and media, straight-up organizational management, and development, program, and leadership capacity. Some of that need can be filled by volunteers, and some of it is filled by staff. The problem is that foundations still want to fund projects. These organizations need investments in their capacity—larger amounts of money over longer periods. We can do all the training and technical assistance we want. But if we aren’t, as a sector, moving out of project support and really investing in organizations, we will continue to have concerns about things like the ability of grantees to communicate.

Ellen Braune: We use the word “sustainable" and we often provide general operating support rather than project support. The groups we fund are so under-resourced that you can’t overlay an agenda and say that they need to be doing media outreach or other communications activities. Strategically, we try to see what kind of support we can give that will lead to something sustainable.

The most successful thing with communications was that we had someone on the ground try to reach all the grantees and gather their stories. We posted these on our website, and this was also a way to communicate to funders, grantees, our peers, and the media. The stories we collected were posted on websites everywhere. We were able to do media outreach on a national level. Later, we brought down materials—the digital recorders and the professional-level mics. Grantees’ stories were on the radio, and one or two were picked up by the BBC. We put these on our website and other websites. Funders found the stories compelling, and this helped with our fundraising. What we learned is that all of this needs to be guided by a broader strategic communications plan that is deeply integrated with programmatic work. If not, it’s hard to make it sustainable. Ideally, you have repeated trainings with grantees that cover integrated communications in their programmatic plan and find ways it can support their work. We’re looking at mobile technology, which can be a powerful form of organizing. On our website, we’re putting what we call “Voices from the Field” on every page so grantees can write commentaries, do Q&As, and use that space whenever they want.

Diana Crawford: You’re both saying that it’s important to get grantees to communicate with each other, and I know from my work with NYRAG that getting funders to communicate with each other has been incredibly powerful. Have you been involved in the work of facilitating collaborations?

John Vaughn: There is less patience now with the affinity groups of old, which were about coming together and talking and networking. Today, there are groups like the Gulf Coast Funders for Equity and the NYRAG Gulf Coast Recovery Task Force, where people are actually bringing their strategies with them. People are finding new ways to collaborate and leverage other folks, and these are places where funders can look at the question of long-term sustainability. People are coming together less to learn, and more to figure out how to get the money out.

Ellen Braune: One way to help grantee collaboration is to support coalition work across issues. A second is to create conditions where people can actually meet face-to-face. A third is to use technology to create ways for people to meet. We’re creating a grantee extranet, through which our grantees can be in constant communication. If two or three of them want to issue a joint statement, this website will allow all of them to edit the same document right there online instead of emailing it back and forth. This is a place to meet, but you have to support it with some real training, and that can prove to be a challenge.

NYRAG members (with login) are invited to post comments on the article on the NYRAG site.