30 July 2010

Urge Congress to Pass the Child First Act!

Ms. Foundation grantee The National Women's Law Center wants you to ask your member of Congress to support the Child First Act of 2010 -- and so do we!

What is the Child First Act? According to NWLC's Womenstake blog, it's a crucial piece of legislation that would,
...increase child care funding through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) by $800 million a year over five years, with an adjustment for inflation. The increased funding would allow approximately 117,500 more children to have access to safe and affordable child care.

In addition, the Act would ensure that the minimum child care health and safety standards required for providers receiving Child Care and Development Block Grant funding also apply to providers receiving funding through TANF.

Finally, the Act would ensure that states could not withhold or reduce cash assistance to a single parent with children under age 13 who does not meet TANF work requirements because of the unavailability of appropriate, affordable child care arrangements. Currently, this provision only applies to parents with children under six, despite the importance of safe care for school-age children.

The act was introduced by Senators John Kerry and Blanche Lincoln and Congressman Joseph Crowley on Wednesday -- but if it's going to pass, it needs the support of many more members of Congress. Reach out to your representatives and senators today and urge them to support this important piece of legislation for America's children!

Check out how another Ms. Foundation grantee, The Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative, is working to provide quality childcare for children across the state of Mississippi.

VIDEO: National Women and Children's Advocacy Day

Video still: A girl testifies about
her mother's arrest
As protesters around the country -- and around the world -- continue to speak out against Arizona's divisive immigration law, we wanted to offer you the opportunity to hear some first-person testimony about the law's potential impact on women and families in Arizona, and beyond.

On July 15, National Women and Children's Advocacy Day, immigrant women and children gathered in Washington DC to testify at a special hearing on the impact of immigration enforcement policies on children and families. Sponsored by Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and organized in part by the Mother's Day Delegation, the event gave a voice to the fears of millions of children of immigrants, who -- thanks to SB1070 and other measures -- now worry more than ever that their families will be torn apart overnight.

Nat'l Women & Children's Advocacy Day - Ad Hoc Immigration Hearing (1 of 5) from ManSee Kong on Vimeo.

The entire hearing is captured on 5 separate videos. To see compelling photos from the July 29th protests, visit AltoArizona.com.

29 July 2010

Tribal Women Score Major Win on Capitol Hill

Nationwide, Native American and Alaska Native women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual violence and rape than non-native women. Yet, historically, the path to bringing their attackers to justice has been so complicated that the majority of perpetrators avoid punishment. Now, all of that is about to change.

On July 20, the House of Representatives followed their colleagues in the Senate in passing H.R. 725, the Tribal Law and Order Act, "a long overdue effort to address public safety issues in Indian Country," according to Amnesty International. The law seeks to "enhance the criminal justice system by improving coordination and communication between federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies," while also empowering "tribal governments to take more direct action in cases of violent crime." The goal is to ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence can no longer slip through the cracks in a system that previously left the line determining jurisdiction (federal? tribal?) over these cases dangerously blurry.

In addition to the law's attempt to reestablish tribal authority, it also provides for an increase and standardization of the collection of data in sexual assault cases. As Charon Asetoyer, Executive Director of the Native American Community Board (a Ms. Foundation grantee), noted:
Currently there are no standardized sexual assault protocols within Indian Health Service, meaning that victims of sexually violent crimes may not be given rape kits that obtain critical evidence to prosecute perpetrators. The Tribal Law and Order Act will remedy this, and underscore the importance of the need for medical staff that collect forensic evidence to testify in a court of law. It is a critical step toward ensuring that Native women’s human rights are recognized.
Now all that awaits is the President's signature. We're thrilled to congratulate Charon -- a 1991 Gloria Award winner -- and NACB on their successful efforts to ensure the safety of Native women across America. This is a win well worth cheering about!

[Update (3:00pm EDT): The President is scheduled to sign the bill into law at 4:50 this afternoon. Second Update The President's remarks at the signing.]

Arizona Judge Orders Hold on Controversial Immigration Law

Just one day before Arizona's divisive new immigration policy was set to go into effect, a federal judge issued a ruling that put many of the most contentious aspects of the law on hold -- if only temporarily.

Finding in favor of the federal government's case against the state of Arizona, Judge Bolton's ruling has prevented a number of the law's key provisions from taking effect while she finishes hearing the case. According to AZCentral.com, the following elements of SB1070 will be stayed while Judge Bolton continues to hear arguments:
  • The portion that requires an officer make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of a person stopped, detained or arrested if there's reasonable suspicion they're in the country illegally.
  • The portion that creates a crime of failure to apply for or carry "alien-registration papers."
  • The portion that makes it a crime for illegal immigrants to solicit, apply for or perform work. (This does not include the section on day laborers.)
  • The portion that allows for a warrantless arrest of a person where there is probable cause to believe they have committed a public offense that makes them removable from the United States.
Though the rulings are only temporary, and though eight other provisions of the law were allowed to go into effect, the New York Times suggests that this is a clear "preview" of what Judge Bolton's final ruling is likely to be, predicting that the federal government is poised to win in the end. However, top officials in Arizona are vowing to appeal the findings immediately -- so expect the fight on this one to last for quite some time.

Meanwhile, all over the state of Arizona, opponents (including Alto Arizona) of SB1070 continue to speak out about the dangers the law poses to immigrant families -- even in its newer, less drastic form. Today, July 29, has been named a National Day of Non-Compliance, with protests and other actions planned across the state, and across the country. If you, too, feel that Judge Bolton's ruling is a good start but ultimately not enough, take action: it's not too late to tell the president how you feel about immigration reform.

Photo: by Elizabeth Rappaport. (detail) Immigration Reform March in Washington, DC, 21 March 2010.

27 July 2010

President Urges Senate to Support Paycheck Fairness Act

On Tuesday July 20, 2010, President Barack Obama expressed his support for the Paycheck Fairness Act and urged the US Senate to pass the bill, which the House has already approved. In his written statement, the President noted:
In America today, women make up half of the workforce, and two-thirds of American families with children rely on a woman's wages as a significant portion of their families' income.

Yet, even in 2010, women make only 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. The gap is even more significant for working women of color, and it affects women across all education levels.... Paycheck discrimination hurts families who lose out on badly needed income. And with so many families depending on women's wages, it hurts the American economy as a whole. In difficult economic times like these, we simply cannot afford this discriminatory burden.


We cannot do this work alone. So today, I thank the House for its work on this issue and encourage the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, a common-sense bill that will help ensure that men and women who do equal work receive the equal pay that they and their families deserve. Passing this bill is one of the Task Force's key recommendations, and I hope Congress will act swiftly so that I can sign it into law.
Let's hope the President is successful in encouraging the passage of legislation that helps bring pay equality to all. It has been a long fight for this bill. We reported on its House sponsor Representative Rosa DeLauro [D-CT] (August 2008), and (June 2010), and on Ms. Foundation grantee the National Women's Law Center's fight for it in May 2010. For more on the NWLC's advocacy on fair pay, see its Womenstake.org blog.

22 July 2010

Judge Hears First Motions on SB1070

Today in Phoenix, a federal court judge will hear the first motions in legal challenges to Arizona SB1070, the discriminatory immigration law scheduled to take effect July 29.

According to AZCentral.com, more than 150 protestors from both sides of the issue gathered outside the courthouse this morning as Judge Susan Bolton prepared to take the bench. Bolton could rule on the challenges before her as early as today -- which might decide whether the legislation becomes the law of the land next Thursday or not.

A suit filed by the ACLU, and supported by Ms. Foundation grantee Legal Momentum, is the largest of the challenges Bolton will hear in terms of number of plaintiffs; the federal government will also present its case against SB1070 later this afternoon.

Since news of this legislation broke, it's been clear that immigrant women and children will have a special stake in seeing this law defeated. In conjunction with their other efforts to relegate SB1070 to history's dustbin, Legal Momentum has now contributed a much needed report on women and immigration reform. Written by Senior Staff Attorney Kavitha Sreeharsha, Reforming America’s Immigration Laws: A Women’s Struggle [pdf] offers an in-depth analysis of how lack of equal economic opportunity and exposure to various forms of exploitation puts women immigrants precipitously at risk, and calls for "comprehensive reform that considers how even [seemingly] gender-neutral laws create more hardship for immigrant women."

Keep informed
about what happens in Arizona over the next few days; for the people of that state, everything is on the line.

Six Months On, the Women of Haiti Fight Back

Last week marked the sixth-month anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, where more than a million people struggle to scratch a life out of the ruins of the capital city. With that anniversary came a slight uptick in the number of stories aimed at giving voice to the reality of life on the ground in Haiti -- but, much as we saw with Hurricane Katrina, now that the milestone has passed, the news cycle has moved on, leaving behind it millions of disenfranchised Haitians, still struggling to rebuild their homes, their schools, their lives.

Of particular note during these months of chaos has been the role women have played in this terrible story and the human drama that has rolled out on top of them. Just after the earthquake, the Ms. Foundation authorized emergency grants to four organizations working in the region -- the Global Fund for Women, Partners in Health, Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (Haitian Women in Miami), and Dwa Fanm (Women's Rights)-- because we knew two things: 1) that the women and children of Haiti would be disproportionately affected by the impact of the disaster, and 2) that these organizations were among the most trusted groups on the ground to begin delivering aid where it was needed.

Tragically, that support has been every bit as required as we imagined, and then some. Six months on, the people of Port-Au-Prince are still living a nightmare -- and no groups more so than the women and children, who are experiencing what may be record levels of physical and sexual violence, both in the makeshift camps they call home and elsewhere around the city.

Sexual and domestic violence is not a new phenomenon in Haiti. As Taina Bien-Aime, Executive Director of Equality Now and the daughter of Haitian immigrants, noted in the days just after the quake, local estimates prior to the disaster suggested that 72% of Haitian girls had been raped and at least 40% of women were victims of domestic violence. Unbelievably, those numbers are now likely on the rise.

"When the guys don't have no money, their brain is not good," a leader in one of the camps told CNN in March. "When they have no work or food and just sit around, it is bad. When a guy is drunk, he will do anything [to a woman]."

Women around Port-Au-Prince are seeing the truth in those remarks every day. Though it is difficult to find comprehensive statistics, scan just a few articles written in the past few months on Haiti, women and violence and you will find reports of multiple gang rapes at many of the camps. 4 here. 2 there. 20 across the city. All in just a few days time.

How many times can we say it? This is not a new story. It's the story we heard in New Orleans after the Hurricanes. It's the story we hear on Indian reservations all the time. It is the particular and predictable result of systemic disenfranchisement come to a head, with women ultimately paying the price for the rage that so much disappointment engenders -- with either their bodies or their lives.

Despite the real dangers they face, the women of Haiti are fighting back, organizing to protect their own safety: they are distributing rape whistles in the camps, and setting up committees to address the needs of women when no one else will. They are standing in where pre-existing services (like rape crisis centers) have been destroyed. And they are finding ways to lift themselves and their families out of poverty by training for non-traditional jobs in industries like construction, which are slowly opening up to women workers.

Their fortitude and faith are the stuff revolutions are made of. As they rebuild their nation and seek to protect the voiceless from the violence that has plagued them for so long, we stand in solidarity with the women of Haiti -- today, tomorrow, and on all the other days when the media and the rest of the world have forgotten they exist.

20 July 2010

Senate Votes to Extend Unemployment Benefits; Committee Backs Kagan Court Nomination

We're pleased to note two positive events from Tuesday's business in the US Senate. Foremost, after Carte Goodwin (D-WV) was sworn in to succeed Senator Robert C. Byrd, the Senate broke a stalemate and moved the long-term jobless benefits bill forward by a 60-40 vote.

Following a final Senate vote, the House will take up the bill on Wednesday, and President Obama is expected to sign it into law by the end of the week. The bill will help states fund extended unemployment benefits to the millions of Americans who have been out of work for more than six months.

Kagan Nomination Approved by Committee
The nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court moved ahead when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13 to 6 to forward her nomination to the full Senate for consideration.

The vote was almost entirely along party lines, with just one Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, voting to support Ms. Kagan. The full Senate is expected to approve the nomination before the August recess. If she is approved, she will be the fourth woman to serve on the high court.

19 July 2010

NPR Spotlights Plight of Shackled Pregnant Women

Back in May, we alerted you to an important article written by Tonya Williams of SPARK Reproductive Justice Now on the practice of shackling jailed pregnant women throughout labor and delivery.

Now, after recent decisions in Washington state and Arkansas found that the practice violates the civil rights of incarcerated women -- and in light of a class action suit pending in Illinois involving as many as 150 female prisoners -- NPR has picked up story, running a piece late last week that quotes an expert in the field referring to the practice as "tantamount to torture."

You can also read a condensed version of the audio piece, featuring commentary from Malika Saada Saar of the Rebecca Project, a Ms. Foundation grantee working to raise awareness and reform policies like these that impact the human rights of women nationwide. Remember: reproductive justice is about more than just access to birth control and abortion; it's about ensuring that we are all free to make any number of decisions about our bodies, health and sexuality -- no matter what our circumstances.

For a limited time, your donation to support women of color-led reproductive justice organizations will be matched one-to-one. Make a gift of any size and double your dollars for reproductive justice. [Learn more about this unique opportunity.]

Bringing Abortion Back to the Doctor's Office

After last week's revelation that the Obama administration is banning abortion coverage for women in "high-risk" insurance pools, a little good news on the reproductive rights front was much needed. This weekend, the New York Times Magazine gave it to us with their in-depth look at progress being made to broaden the availability of abortion services nationwide.

After a decades-long decline in the number of OB-GYNs and family practice doctors providing abortions in their general practices, a push to encourage abortion training in medical schools has led to the emergence of a new crop of doctors who are willing and able to provide abortions -- and not just in the clinic setting, where protests and violence have become all too common.

Instead, this new trend could make abortion an organic part of family planning services around the country, offering more women access to safe abortions and removing a critical barrier for medical professionals, who may have otherwise steered clear of performing abortions out of fear that they would then be stigmatized -- and targeted -- as the local "abortion doctor."

It's a trend that's worth noting, not only because of its potential to make abortion more available nationwide, but also because it helps normalize both the idea and practice of performing abortions. It restores abortion to one of the services a family doctor might provide, along with contraception and preventive care.

"The surprising truth," author Emily Bazelon writes, "is that however embattled abortion remains in America at large, at the top of academic medicine, the structure built to support it looks secure." Still, there's a ways to go before this increased training translates directly into increased access for women: at present, just 2% of abortions are performed in doctors offices. But the hope is that with larger numbers of trained residents becoming doctors who routinely bring abortion services with them into private practice, that number will begin to edge northward. With so many attacks to reproductive justice registering on both the legislative and executive fronts these days, that possibility counts as very good news indeed.

See how Ms. Foundation grantee SPARK Reproductive Justice Now is working to grow and sustain a powerful reproductive justice movement in Georgia.

15 July 2010

Anonymous Group Creates Fear by Distributing List of 'Illegal Immigrants' in Utah

A group identified as "Concerned Citizens of the United States" has distributed a detailed list of 1300 people it describes as "illegal immigrants" and called for their immediate deportation. The list, originally sent to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in Salt Lake City in April, was distributed this week to police, elected officials, and media. The details, according to the New York Times, include "address and telephone number to their date of birth and, in the case of pregnant women, their due dates." Democracy Now, in a report today (video below), presents an interview with Tony Yapias, the director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, who said:
Our community has been terrorized by this list. Throughout yesterday, we received dozens and dozens of calls, emails, requests, about whether or not their names have been on the list, from the members of the Latino community. And so, our community is in a state of fear.

Though the true origins of these names and the intentions of those distributing them are not yet clear, this episode -- combined with the immigration law SB 1070 in Arizona -- is part of a growing problem as states and local groups take action against immigrants. These assaults on immigrants' rights make clear the need for comprehensive federal immigration reform that provides equal treatment for all nationwide.

For more information on Utah and Arizona, see the New York Times report on Utah, including the letter sent with the list distributed this week, and our earlier posts on the SB 1070 immigration law in Arizona.

14 July 2010

NY Times Offers State-by-State Guide to the Gender Pay Gap

Ever wonder how your state stacks up against others when it comes to the gender pay gap? If you're looking for some answers, check out the New York Times' Economix blog, which now features an interactive map that shows just how the earnings difference between female and male workers breaks down, state-by-state. (The map is below and a bar graph of the same data appears at the end of this post.)

Where do full-time and salaried female workers earn the most relative to their male peers? The District of Columbia, where women earn 96.5% of what men do. At the other end of the spectrum is Louisiana, which comes in dead last; women workers there earn just 65% as much as male workers do (which is just one reason why the Ms. Foundation's strategy to raise the voices and power of women in the South remains so crucial).

The data used to create this map comes from a new report on women's earnings put out by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which we wrote about earlier this week.

We suppose this is great news for the women of Washington, DC -- but really: wouldn't it be remarkable if there were even one state in the nation where male and female earnings were exactly on par? Here's to the day when maps like this one finally have no shades of gray, and equality -- on all fronts -- really is the law of our land.

NCRW Speaks Out on 'Macho' Oil Industry Culture

Linda Basch, President of the National Council for Research on Women, has a great article running on AlterNet that looks at how the "macho culture" of the oil industry -- and BP in particular -- contributed to creating the mess that is STILL unfolding in the Gulf.

Quoting oil industry veterans and insiders, Basch highlights how BP culture has been driven by "the macho myth of big iron, big rigs, wild wells, and wild men" and suggests that greater diversity in leadership -- in this case, bringing women to the decision-making tables -- might have mitigated some of the larger mistakes BP made in regard to its drilling practices. She writes,
We can begin to understand the tendency toward machismo in BP with simple numbers: all of BP's executives are white males, except for one female HR leader... [Yet] countless studies have demonstrated that diversity in leadership produces better results overall. Women also tend to be more tempered risk-takers, which, among other things, could have shifted BP's decision not to use a safeguard device on the Deepwater rig, a potentially disaster-averting move that could have cost as little as $500,000.
Basch goes on to note that though women were noticeably absent from executive suites prior to the disaster, the folks being tasked with cleaning up this ecological nightmare are largely women. And she points our attention to the special health and reproductive risks that women in the Gulf may now face to thanks to the presence of potentially volatile chemicals in both the spilled oil and the dispersants used by BP to clean it up.

To us, what Basch has to say about women's experiences leading up to and after the Gulf crisis makes perfect sense. But as we noticed when we published an article with a similar theme in AlterNet a few weeks ago, commenters can be especially hostile to the notion that women's input and solutions might make a difference in the Gulf (and, frankly, everywhere).

If you feel strongly that women do have a place at these decision making tables, and that including women's perspectives from the grasstops to the grassroots is important to the functioning of our democracy, then let your voice be heard. Take a little time to leave a comment when you read articles on mainstream sites that support the inclusion of women's solutions. If the "comments" universe is ever going to move away from promoting the same "macho" attitude that sunk BP, we'll only get there when women dare to add their voices to the media mix.

13 July 2010

Homelessness on the Rise Among Female Vets

Did you know that women veterans are more than four time as likely as males to end up homeless? Or that over the last decade, the number of homeless women vets has more than doubled -- hovering right now at about 8,000 women nationwide?

Those aren't statistics you're likely to read on the front page of your local newspaper, but they nonetheless speak to the challenging experiences of thousands of women soldiers returning home from our multiple wars. A weak economy has left them jobless; health issues and emotional traumas have left them vulnerable to drug abuse and feelings of alienation from society at large. As a result, the numbers of women vets who find themselves homeless, living in cars and on the streets, is decidedly on the rise.

As NPR reported this week, the US Department of Veterans Affairs has begun to address this demographic shift by targeting women, particularly those with children, for "priority funding." They're also strengthening their outreach efforts by deploying staffers to tour communities and encourage homeless women vets to take advantage of transitional housing programs the VA has set up to meet their specific needs.

But the government isn't doing this work alone. Community organizations are also playing a vital role in helping women find security after their service has ended.

Take Ms. Foundation grantee SWAN for example. SWAN (Service Women's Action Network) was established in 2007 to provide women vets with the resources and community support needed to heal their wounds and readjust to civilian life. Today, SWAN runs two peer-staffed helplines to address service women's diverse needs; offers free trainings, workshops and activities designed specifically for women veterans; and advocates for all military women, to increase their visibility and access to equal protection, opportunities and benefits.

Led by Anuradha Bhagwati -- who is a veteran herself -- SWAN is dealing firsthand with the challenges service women face, and helping to ensure that women vets are not forgotten once they're no longer in uniform. We're proud to count ourselves among the many supporters of their work.

Tell Your Senators: Ratify CEDAW Now!

If you believe that women's rights are human rights, it's time for you to urge the US Senate to ratify the CEDAW treaty.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is an international agreement, adopted by the United Nations in 1979, that "offers countries a practical blueprint to promote basic rights and open opportunities for women and girls in all areas of society." Its purpose, as the name indicates, is to help eliminate gender-based inequalities by affirming principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around the world.

To date, 186 of 193 countries have ratified the agreement. The United States has not. (The other holdouts? Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Nauru, Palau and Tonga.)

Though the US signed the treaty in 1980, the US Senate has not formally ratified the agreement. US ratification remains important for many reasons. As the ACLU points out:
Ratification would allow the US to lend its expertise to other countries that seek greater equality for women and girls and to benefit from experiences elsewhere. Women of the world are calling for US ratification of CEDAW as a strong signal to their governments that promoting rights of women is a priority.
And we in the US would likely feel the impact as well. From the ACLU's Blog of Rights:
Domestically, ratification of CEDAW would encourage the US to take stronger measures regarding issues such as gender-based and domestic violence, discrimination against women in housing and access to health care, education and employment. CEDAW [also] calls on countries to take special measures to end the marginalization of immigrant and indigenous women and women of color.
The Obama Administration has indicated that it strongly supports ratification -- it's a matter of getting Senate leaders to bring the issue to a vote.

You can help close the 30 year loop on this one. Tell your senators to ratify the women's rights treaty known as CEDAW, today. The women of the world are watching.

12 July 2010

'Friday Night Lights' and Women's Right to Choose

As a fan of the NBC show Friday Night Lights and a fierce supporter of a woman's right to choose, I was thrilled to see an honest and open discussion about abortion on last Friday's episode. The story has been covered by the New York Times, by Gloria Feldt in RH Reality Check, and on NARAL's blog, among others.

The episode highlights one character's unintended pregnancy and decision to get an abortion, in the face of the father's family's righteous indignation and parental notification laws that make it very hard for teens in Texas to get the appropriate information and support. The nuanced depiction of this difficult and often divisive decision was handled with grace and elegance. The result was a breath of fresh air in a major network mediascape filled with apocalyptic, sensationalized or ludicrous discussions surrounding unintended pregnancy and abortion.

However, the repercussions for this character and the characters that help her -- including a principal who offers her information about an abortion clinic and whose job is subsequently threatened -- underscore the ongoing challenges for women facing these decisions and the people that try to help them. Though it's easy to think otherwise given most media depictions of unintended pregnancy, access to abortion remains the legal right of every woman in the US; society must guarantee access to the information that will enable women to make a decision that best fits their life and situation.

The Ms. Foundation is committed to ensuring that these rights remain protected. Our grantee, the Texas Freedom Network, recently issued a report, Just Say Don't Know: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools [pdf], that found the state, a big proponent of abstinence-only education, is failing students and families: "Classrooms are perpetuating a 'conspiracy of silence' that robs young people of the reliable information they need to make responsible life decisions. Even worse, the information students do receive about sexuality and health is often grossly distorted or simply wrong."

Sexuality education is at the heart of a responsible conversation about sexuality, reproductive rights, and choice. We hope that with the right education young women will have access to information, support, and honest dialogue from role models and educators. Luckily for the young woman on Friday Night Lights she had access to all three. And luckily for us this show has sparked some much needed conversation about the state of media depictions of unintended pregnancy, state-level abortion policy, and the educator's role in this mix.

Do your part in support of reproductive justice and abortion rights! Donate now and a special matching grant will double your support -- dollar-for-dollar -- for reproductive justice organizations led by women of color. Help the Ms. Foundation ensure that all women have access to the information and support that will allow them to make responsible decisions about their own sexuality. Learn more.

Women and Work: The Numbers Are In

From the world of research on women in the workplace, two new interesting sets of data you may want to take note of.

The first comes from the U.S. Department of Labor, which just released 2009 earnings numbers [pdf] for men and women in the US. According to their report, women under 35 are, for the first time, earning more than 90% of what their male peers earn for full-time, salaried work.

That's great news -- and the hope is that this points towards a future where full parity is actually visible on the horizon. But troubling signs remain, including that women over age 35 continue to find themselves earning just 75% of what their male colleagues take home. That number has barely budged in decades, and it doesn't take too much effort to figure out why. As the New York Times suggested:
Women who are older are probably more likely to have dropped out of the labor force at some point to have children, and years spent away from the job reduce an employee’s potential pay. Plus, perhaps age 35 is around the time when employers start seriously looking at workers for potential promotion to higher-paying jobs, like management positions.
In other words, women over 35 continue to pay the price both for our country's lack of quality affordable childcare (which is generally why women feel the need to "drop out" of the workforce in the first place) and for the persistent sexism that keeps most women out of executive and managerial positions.

Will the creep towards parity among younger workers be enough to overcome both of those realities? Nobody yet seems sure. But another set of data, from the Center for American Progress, offers a few other hopeful signs about American attitudes on women and work.

This new study found "strong majorities of men and women agreeing that the rise of women in the workforce is a positive development for society -- a belief that crossed partisan, ideological, racial and ethnic, and even generational lines." Notably, it found particular support for the "rising status of women in the workplace" among the Latino population.

Among other trends, the poll suggests that Latinos are among the strongest proponents of new policies that improve work-life balance, are more progressive than other groups on the issue of women and politics, and are much more likely to say that it is important to them that their daughters have access to interesting careers.

In some ways this isn't too surprising. As our recent poll [pdf] with the Center for Community Change found, Latinas have been particularly hard hit by the global recession, with two-thirds saying their personal situation has been affected by the country’s economic situation and more than half reporting that they or someone in their household has lost a job in the past year. With that much economic insecurity hitting their communities, Latinos are likely looking for new solutions, wherever they may come from. And women are the most underutilized resource this country has to offer.

If we have any luck, folks in all communities will follow the lead of our Latino brothers and sisters and support policies that make it easier for women to enter, remain part of and lead in the workplace -- not to mention get paid fairly for the work they're doing. Forty plus years into the second wave of feminism, it seems like it's about time.

08 July 2010

Arizona SB1070 Hits Court: Grantee Legal Momentum Joins Fight

As the restrictions on freedom created by Arizona's SB1070 immigration law become clear, including the potential effects on "women and familes subject to domestic abuse," we see signs of hope in the actions of our grantee partners. Legal Momentum is just one organization out of hundreds that is stepping up and speaking out for the rights of women and children in immigrant and undocumented communities. They have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a lawsuit filed in Arizona federal court by the ACLU and others that argues SB1070 "undermines federal civil rights protections for women and their families" who are subject to violence and sexual abuse.

Over the years the federal government has codified laws that protect immigrants and families from arrest and deportation when they seek to report violence or attempt to access programs or services that are necessary for survival, including shelter, emergency medical services, and victim assistance.

The lawsuit argues that SB1070 is a direct infringement on these federally protected rights. Under SB1070 women and families who seek federally protected support services and programs will be in constant fear of the random search by law enforcement that could lead to incarceration or even deportation. Furthermore, the law no longer ensures protection to victims of violence and abuse, but instead punishes victims, producing an environment where fear of persecution accompanies any attempt to report a crime. According to the Legal Momentum, "In their pursuit of detaining undocumented immigrants, Arizona law enforcement is even allowed to stake out rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters, locations even federal law enforcement are strongly cautioned against operating in."

Luckily for these women and all of us, advocates like Legal Momentum are going to court to ensure that women, children, families, immigrants and undocumented people retain the rights they have been granted over years of legal precedent and federal law.

On July 6th the New York Times reported that the Justice Department has initiated legal proceedings against SB1070.

No-Cost Contraceptives a Possibility Under New Health Insurance Rules

Each year, 3 million unplanned pregnancies occur in the United States. Though there are any number of complicated reasons why women find themselves facing parenthood unexpectedly, one of them is quite simple: the cost of contraception.

With the roll out of new health-care mandates in the fall, however, an opportunity may arise to finally take the cost burden out of the picture for many women. The overhaul will force new insurers to provide a number of preventive care services to women at no cost -- and according to a recent Washington Post article, activists for reproductive justice are working to ensure that contraception becomes one of the no-cost services every insured woman qualifies for.

The article, which quotes spokespeople from the National Partnership for Women and Families and the National Women's Law Center -- both Ms. Foundation grantees -- notes that even the $20 -$50 co-payments currently required by many health plans that do cover contraception can often prove too much for young and low-income women. The goal, then, would be to remove cost barriers from access to birth control on the consumer side (as is done with "well-baby" visits for infants and young children, for example), which also protects the bottom lines of insurers and employers -- by helping prevent pregnancies that cost thousands of dollars to cover, versus the relative pennies contraceptives cost.

Predictably, religious and other conservative groups are opposing the measure, some on the basis that, "Fertility is not a disease to be cured." The final decision about whether contraception will make the grade as a covered service will be based on the recommendations of the Health Resources and Services Administration, which may take up to a year to come to a decision -- but from where we stand it's a no brainer: no woman should find herself facing an unwanted pregnancy because she can't afford birth control. The government has it within its power to make sure this is never the case; asking insurers to provide full coverage for contraception strikes us, quite simply, as the right -- and rational -- thing to do.

07 July 2010

Newsweek Crows: Women Will Rule the World

With so much economic talk circling around the myth of the "mancession" -- which casts men (incorrectly) as the primary victims of this recession -- it's rare to find an article that actually looks at where women stand in this world economy, and the contributions they will likely make in driving economic recovery here in the US and across the globe.

Which is why, despite their initial reliance on the same old myths that make men the "real" losers in this recession, we were so pleased to read Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison's piece in this week's Newsweek, enticingly titled Women Will Rule the World. The article offers a great deal of exciting evidence that women in the United States and other Western nations have a real shot at achieving economic parity over the coming decades, and offers some useful statistics about the economic power we currently wield. As the authors note:
American women are already the breadwinners or co-breadwinners in two thirds of American households; in the European Union, women filled 75 percent of the 8 million new jobs created since 2000. Even with the pay gap factored into the equation, economists predict that by 2024, the average woman in the U.S. and a number of rich European countries will outearn the average man. And she’ll be spending that money: American women are responsible for 83 percent of all consumer purchases; they hold 89 percent of U.S. bank accounts, 51 percent of all personal wealth, and are worth more than $5 trillion in consumer spending power -- larger than the entire Japanese economy.
Those are big numbers -- numbers worth celebrating and milestones worth committing ourselves to achieving in the coming years. And as the authors point out, there's also good news to be had on the global stage: in the developing world, the number of women attaining higher levels of education and entering the workforce is decidedly on the rise -- a significant fact not least of all because women are known to reinvest the vast majority of their income into community and family, providing one of the few viable pathways to ending global poverty as we know it.

But we're not there yet. For all of the happy news the authors have to share, it is also worth remembering that women remain at an economic disadvantage in just about every country in the world. Women and girls make up 70% of the more than 1 billion people living in poverty globally, and here in the US we still seem incapable of closing the pay gap that keep women earning 76 cents to every man's dollar.

Bennett and Ellison are certainly within bounds to conclude that achieving economic parity for women appears increasingly likely -- but it would be a mistake to assume that we've either reached the plane of inevitability or that these economic opportunities will come to all women in equal measure. Here in the US, factors like race, class, sexuality and disability will continue to play a role in determining economic power; despite this rosy forecast, the work to even the proverbial playing field must continue on.

Learn more about how the Ms. Foundation is working to ensure Economic Justice for women and families throughout the US.

Photo: by Elizabeth Rappaport, Women in Construction, Gulf Coast, Mississippi, December 2008

Cruel and Clueless: Conservatives on Vacation

In case you missed it this weekend, take a moment right now to read Paul Krugman's latest column in the New York Times, which looks at the current situation with joblessness in America, and the cruelty -- and "cluelessness" -- implicit in Congress' unwillingness to extend unemployment benefits for the millions who now are living without paychecks.

As Krugman points out, when it comes to alleviating the dire impact the economic crisis has had on millions of Americans, the conservatives have gotten it dead wrong, espousing beliefs that are both heartless and confused. Leaving town, refusing to pass extended unemployment before vacationing -- whether these moves were the result of cynical political calculations or a consequence of being completely out of touch with the terrible reality that millions of Americans now face, conservatives have clearly lost their moral compass.

Krugman cites some simple truths, which most Americans understand intuitively. First, cutting off benefits to the unemployed may make them increasingly desperate for work -- but they can't take jobs that aren't there (at present, there are five unemployed workers for every one job opening in the US economy).

Moreover, in Krugman's estimation, the amount of money these extensions would add to our national debt amounts to what he calls "penny-pinching" relative to the other issues that that have sunk us so far in the hole (see wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to start).

All of this refusal on the part of conservative lawmakers, as most of us can surmise, has a great deal to do with the fact that there's an election season looming in the near future. And many conservatives may be betting that saying "no" to more spending will cast them as the good guys in voters' eyes. But as our recent Community Voices on the Economy poll with the Center for Community Change makes clear, the majority of Americans aren't really thinking about the deficit. They're thinking about how to put food on the table. Our polling [pdf] shows that Americans are less concerned about the federal budget issues than they are about rising health care costs, the lack of jobs with family-sustaining wages, and the affordability of everyday expenses like food and gas.

In other words, if lawmakers are really interested in pandering to voters, they'd be better served by helping them meet their daily needs rather than cutting them off from the only source of support many have left: government aid.

Continuing unemployment insurance is not only good for the economy, it's the right thing to do in a country that has too often been dominated by the "everyone for themselves" ethos (more than 90% of those polled rejected this mentality as being of value today). Clearing up lawmaker confusion about how to effectively treat a strained economy, as Krugman aims to do, is vitally important. But it's also critical that lawmakers and laypeople alike understand how little popular support there is for the hands-off approach conservative lawmakers are peddling. In these times, people both want and need a government that is willing to take a strong hand on the economic front; they want a government that can acknowledge that unemployment has been uneven in its effects (recent statistics put levels at 12.4 percent among African-American women and 10.3 percent for Latinas, but just 7.4% for white women), and that is willing to champion policies that create jobs with decent wages to the benefit of low-income communities.

Across party lines, our poll shows that Americans believe in the government's ability to influence the economy. And what most of us want, though we may differ in the details, is for the government to use that influence to shore up this nation's economic future. Leaving millions of jobless workers out in the cold while lawmakers quibble, and then head out on vacation without a resolution, does nothing to further that cause.

So enough already with the party lines; in the real world, families are at their wits' end. Americans want -- and deserve -- far better than this. It's high time lawmakers started delivering.

Sara K. Gould
President and Chief Executive Officer
Ms. Foundation for Women

06 July 2010

Arizona SB1070 Puts Abused Women, Reporters of Abuse, at Risk

Another entry into the debate about how SB1070 is going to affect the residents of Arizona -- particularly the women among them: According to representatives from the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which represents 35 domestic abuse centers and other organizations in the state, SB1070 is destined to jeopardize the safety of women and families subject to domestic abuse -- by dissuading them from seeking help for themselves and others out of fear that they might be deported as a result.

As Kendra Leiby, the Coalition's systems advocacy coordinator, told Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini,
The enactment of SB 1070 is absolutely going to prevent immigrant women from seeking domestic violence services. And not only are women going to be hesitant to leave abusive relationships, but they are afraid to make a call to report someone else's abuse.
So not only is the law likely to deprive women at risk of the ability to act to protect themselves, but it is also likely to prevent friends and neighbors from taking action on their behalf, because the consequence of reporting said abuse could be deportation -- even for the person who simply picked up the phone to save a woman's life.

Though the US does not have the kind of "good samaritan" laws that require people to act on behalf of others, as they do in other nations, this still constitutes a serious breakdown in our social contract -- and completely undermines the decades of work activists and organizers have dedicated to raising awareness about gender-based violence and the responsibility every single one of us has to bring the abuse of women to an end. If saving a life means putting your own family, and its livelihood, at risk, how many people can reasonably be expected to take action? The answer is far fewer than we need if we hope to make violence against women a thing of the past -- in the immigrant community or any other.

As July 29th (the day that the new law in scheduled to go into effect) draws nearer, more and more organizations and individuals from around the country are taking a public stand to denounce a bill that they see as not only discriminatory, but also life-threatening. To date, over 80 organizations -- including Ms. Foundation grantee Legal Momentum --have filed legal challenges to the bill, in support of a lawsuit initiated by the ACLU. And on July 29th, people from all over the nation will gather together in Arizona, and around the country, for a Day of Non-Compliance to protest this unjust law.

Stay tuned for more information about how to participate in upcoming events; in the meantime, check out the four actions Ms. Foundation grantee the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights suggests you take to stand up for the rights of Arizona's immigrant communities.

02 July 2010

NYS Governor David Paterson Marks Passage of Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

Governor David A. Paterson
The New York State Assembly and Senate have agreed upon a final form for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and on 1 July Governor David A. Paterson released a statement of support:
"Today, both houses of the Legislature passed legislation that truly deserves to be called historic. It would make New York the first State in the nation to enshrine in law the basic rights of a class of workers that has historically and wrongfully been excluded from such protections: the domestic workers who care for our children, clean our homes, and provide the elderly with companionship. Their work is of incalculable value, yet our laws have failed to recognize it. This bill would change that, and serve as a model for such change on a national scale.
The bill passed today reflects an agreement reached earlier this week between my office and both houses of the Legislature. I am glad to have been a part of this process, and congratulate the sponsors, Assemblyman Keith Wright and Senator Diane Savino, who should feel justifiably proud of their achievement. Most of all, I must express my gratitude to the thousands of individual domestic workers who organized and fought for this legislation. They provide all of us with an example of how individuals can, through struggle and dedication, bring about positive change in the face of skepticism and doubt. This achievement belongs to them, and I will be pleased to sign it into law on their behalf." [Source]
We appreciate the work of the Governor and the New York State legislature and congratulate our grantee partners, especially Domestic Workers United, on their victory. We look forward to the expansion of these rights to domestic workers nationwide.

[See our previous coverage on the New York State Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.]