29 October 2010

Gender Pay Gap Takes on Added Significance in Tough Economic Times

Originally posted on The Hill Blog

By Sara K. Gould and Susan Wefald

While the gender wage gap has been a fact of life in America for decades, the issue rarely rises to the forefront in public policy debates – much less elections. That may be changing. As the economy has tumbled and more women have become the primary or sole breadwinners for their families, pay inequity may finally be getting the attention it deserves.

Last week’s White House report on Jobs and Economic Security for America’s Women featured the gender wage gap as a front and center issue. And a recent national poll of more than 1,000 adults conducted for our organization and the Center for Community Change by Lake Research Partners found that people rank equal pay for men and women as one of the most important issues for them personally and for improving the economy as a whole.

27 October 2010

Donor-Activist Barbara Dobkin Profiled in Wall Street Journal

It gives us great pleasure to report that on Tuesday, longtime Ms. Foundation for Women partner and friend, Barbara Dobkin, was profiled in The Wall Street Journal for her significant philanthropic efforts on behalf of women and girls around the world.

Identified (quite rightly!) by the Journal as "one of the first women to focus on giving with a lens toward gender," Barbara's impact on the field of philanthropy cannot be understated. Barbara is a founding chairwoman of the Jewish Women's Archive and Ma'yan, the Jewish Women's Project of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, and has been deeply involved in funding women's empowerment through the American Jewish World Service, the Women Donors Network, the Women's Funding Network and Women Moving Millions -- and has provided vital support to the Ms. Foundation for many years.

Her focus on promoting lasting social change -- and her understanding that the people facing any set of problems are those best positioned to come up with effective solutions -- have made Barbara a great ally of the Ms. Foundation for many years. The key to building a just and equitable society, she told the Journal, requires focusing on the outcomes that matter, and looking beyond the easy fix to push for systemic change. "We need to get to the core of the issues and fund solutions," she notes, "not just attack the problems."

Congratulations to Barbara on being chosen as the Journal's "Donor of the Day" -- and many thanks for your years of support and leadership. The women of this world are better off for all you've done.

Photo: American Jewish World Service

26 October 2010

Fighting for Affordable Child Care: Grantees Take Action

If you don't live in California you may not have heard the news, but more than 80,000 children and their families in that state are set to lose access to crucial child care subsidies as of November 1st -- leaving many families with no way to pay for child care, and wondering how they will be able to work to support their families.

The loss of these subsidies -- also known as Stage 3 state-subsidized child care funding, and offered to parents who have found employment after completing California's state-run welfare to work program (CalWORKS) -- comes as a result of a $256 million cut made to the state budget by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Though subsidies will continue to be available to current and recent members of the welfare-to-work program, parents who have been in the workforce for more than two years will have to find new ways to pay for the child care that allows them to remain in the workforce -- or as is often the case, they'll lose their jobs.

Ms. Foundation grantee Parent Voices, a California-based organization working to improve access to child care for all families in their communities, launched a campaign to fight back against these cuts -- which will, they point out, only increase unemployment and poverty levels (particularly among single-parent households, the majority of which are women-led) at a time when exactly the opposite is needed. Let's not forget: already, unemployment among single mothers has doubled since 2007 and is the highest it's been in 25 years!

Today, October 26th, Parent Voices is participating in a demonstration to demand that Stage 3 Child Care be immediately refunded. The protest is taking place outside of The Women's Conference in Long Beach (a project of the Governor's wife, Maria Shriver) and is expected to draw more than one thousand participants.

The hope is that "The Other Women's Conference" (as the protest is known) will highlight just how profoundly these cuts will impact low-income women and children and help push legislators to authorize bridge funding to keep the subsidies at least temporarily in place. Long-term, the goal of Parent Voices and other Ms. Foundation grantees is to create policies that recognize quality, affordable child care as an essential complement to quality jobs and indisputably necessary if women and families are to achieve economic security.

For more information on today's actions and future events to save Stage 3 child care funding (including a town hall meeting in Contra Costa County at the end of the week and a children's protest parade on Saturday, 10/30) visit Parent Voices.

And if you want to learn more about the state of affordable child care across the US, Ms. Foundation grantee the National Women's Law Center will be hosting a conference call on Wednesday, October 27th (tomorrow!) on this very topic. State Child Care Assistance Policies: Current Challenges for Children and Families will address how advocates are working in their states on key challenges affecting low-income families as well as providers’ access to child care assistance.

The call begins at 3 PM Eastern; please visit NWLC's registration page to RSVP for this event (registration required).

Photo: Elizabeth Rappaport, Moore Community House

25 October 2010

Ms. Foundation on CNN.com: What's Pushing Women Away From Voting?

Read the following Ms. Foundation commentary published today on CNN.com:

What's Pushing Women Away From Voting?

By Sara K. Gould, President & CEO and Susan Wefald, Executive Vice President & COO, Ms. Foundation for Women
Special to CNN

(CNN) -- It's been a record year for women in politics. In 2010, 36 women -- more than ever before in our nation's history -- filed to run for U.S. Senate. Fourteen of them have won their primaries -- another record.

Historic gains also have been made on the House side, with 262 women filing this year to run for a congressional seat -- 40 more than in 1992, the so-called "Year of the Woman," when major records were set for women's participation in political races nationwide.

It doesn't stop there. According to the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University, 10 women in eight states have been chosen as their party's nominee for governor, tying a previous record. And whatever happens in Oklahoma and New Mexico on November 2, they'll be swearing in a woman as the new governor come January since both major parties nominated a female to run for the open seat.

With so many women candidates declaring their readiness and excitement to lead on a national stage, it's tempting to assume that women voters might be feeling similarly energized. But recent polling indicates that something quite different is happening.

In reaching out for the opinions of likely voters, CNN/Opinion Research Corp. found that 23 percent of women polled described themselves as "extremely enthusiastic" about voting in the upcoming elections, compared with 38 percent of men. This apparent lack of "enthusiasm" among women voters has been echoed in other national surveys as well, including a poll last month by The New York Times and CBS News.

So why are women registering lower levels of excitement about the midterm elections?

First there's the economy: Unemployment rates are going nowhere and governmental benefits seem perpetually on the brink of being axed. Women are increasingly finding themselves both overburdened (two-thirds of U.S. families now rely on a woman's earnings to survive) and out of work (the unemployment rate for single mothers has more than doubled since 2007 and is at its highest in 25 years).

And their growing despondency over the economic situation -- at home and at large -- may be dampening any desire to race to the ballot box.

Then there's the current state of American political affairs, with its take-no-prisoners, race-to-the-bottom mentality. With so many fires to put out in their own backyards, women -- and many men -- may finally have had enough of the adversarial, sometimes violent, rhetoric that our political contests have lately taken on.

In too many states, these midterm elections have devolved into little more than headline-grabbing "character wars." Instead of providing opportunities to talk about the policies we need to pull our nation out of its dismal state, campaigns and the media have frustratingly focused attention on tales of witchcraft and fluoride-fears, on purported marital infidelities and religious bona fides.

In a context in which 13.9 percent of women are now officially living in poverty (the highest rate in 15 years) and facing long-term unemployment, it's not surprising that women lack enthusiasm for voting. What's missing, for most women, are the political narratives about the things that matter to them: good jobs, clean air, health care and what it will really take to rebuild our national economy.

What our decades of work with thousands of grass-roots leaders across America have taught us is that women are impressed by solutions, not sound and fury. They want leaders who understand and take seriously the challenges that families of all shapes and sizes now face in trying to put food on the table; leaders who have a plan, for example, for ensuring that quality, affordable child care and health care are available to all who need it.

But however unenthused women may feel about these upcoming elections, from where we stand their participation is desperately needed.

As one of our grantees, the National Women's Law Center, recently pointed out, over the next few months Congress will make landmark decisions about "whether to extend unemployment insurance benefits, whether to repeal new provisions making it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, and whether to invest in families struggling to make ends meet." Women's votes have the power to influence how those decisions get made.

With so much about the future of our nation at stake this Election Day, women must show up at the polls and make their voices heard -- because when we do, we advance a vision of America where equality and justice are more than just catchphrases. The rhetoric of this political season may not be what we want or like, but times are simply too tough for millions of women to sit this one out.

Young Women Lead the Way in Immigration Reform

If you want an up-close look at what makes the Dream Act such an important piece of legislation, take the time to read Maggie Jones' piece "Coming Out Illegal," which ran in this weekend's New York Times Magazine.

Jones profiles a young, undocumented woman named Leslie: a senior at UCLA, who has taken on a prominent role advocating for passage of the Dream Act between studying for her classes and working multiple part-time jobs alongside her mother to help pay for her education. The act -- which has bipartisan support in Congress but failed to pass in September -- would allow students like Leslie, who came to this country illegally, to earn legal status by completing two years of college or military service after being in the US for at least five years and graduation from high school (or earning a G.E.D.)

The reality of Leslie's life -- and her future prospects without the Dream Act -- are heartbreaking: the constant fear that she, her friends and family will be deported; the knowledge that even with the sacrifices she's made to get herself a college education, she'll likely have to take a low-paying job because she still has no path to obtaining legal status. None of that, however, has stopped her, and other young women like her, from standing up, and risking their lives in the US, to push for passage of legislation that could change so much for so many.

And the fact that so many of the individuals on the front lines of this particular fight are indeed women doesn't go unnoticed by Jones. She argues that much of the movement for passage of the Dream Act has been "powered by women," noting that,
At recent sit-ins, two-thirds of those arrested were women, including founders and leaders of their local Dream organizations. Women have also stuck with the movement long after many men have dropped out or burned out. Lizbeth Mateo, co-founder of Dream Team Los Angeles, said she and other leaders tried to get more undocumented men to participate in a sit-in in McCain’s Arizona office this year. “We wanted to balance it out,” she said. But with one exception, the men said they were not ready.
We're not surprised that women may be leading the charge on these efforts. As Caroline Hotaling, program officer for National Policy & Strategic Opportunities put it, "Just as we've seen in other disastrous situations, like Hurricane Katrina, women are often the 'last men standing' in these battles to ensure justice. They rise to leadership in the face of these difficult situations because their options for avoiding them are much more limited. They can't for example, just move to a new city when there's an immigration crackdown -- they have children and elderly family members depending on them. So they stay, and they fight."

With the news that Georgia has now joined South Carolina and Alabama in barring undocumented students from attending public universities, Leslie's story is more important than ever. She is just one among more than 800,000 undocumented young people whose lives could be positively impacted the passage of this bill. Here's hoping the powers that be see to it that the "American dream" remains open to us all.

Ms. Foundation grantees the National Latina Reproductive Health Initiative and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights have both spoken out boldly on the need to pass the Dream Act. Visit their websites to learn more about their important work.

Grantee Report Reveals Critical Shortcomings in Use of ARRA Funds

Ms. Foundation grantee Community Voices Heard is holding the New York City Housing Authority's feet to the fire over stimulus money that was intended to save public housing and help put its residents to work, but as yet has done little of either.

In 2009, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Housing Authority was awarded $423 million to make essential repairs to Section 3 public housing, and to provide badly needed job opportunities to some of New York's more than 30,000 unemployed public housing residents. But almost two years later, few repairs have actually been undertaken and less than 7 percent of the jobs created by these planned construction projects have been awarded to the residents they were intended to support -- despite the fact that federal regulations stipulate that a full 30 percent of these jobs must be awarded to housing development residents.

In their new report "Bad Arithmetic: The Failure of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Recovery Funds to Create Jobs for Local Residents," [pdf] Community Voices Heard uncovers some troubling trends regarding how this stimulus funding -- 60 percent of which must be spent by March 17 of 2011 -- is (or is not) being used. Based on a community audit of more than 300 public housing residents in eight developments across New York City, they found that,
  • 81% of public housing residents were unaware that ARRA funds had been allocated to their residence
  • Only 1% of those surveyed were working on a Section 3 project
  • Just 7% of those surveyed knew anyone working on a Section 3 project
Moreover, the audit found that that "most NYCHA residents were unaware of federal regulations requiring contractors to hire residents when they receive money from HUD, and the vast majority had not seen or heard about job opportunities for the construction planned for their buildings."

To highlight these discrepancies and draw attention to the need for public housing residents to be more broadly included in the jobs created by ARRA funding, Community Voices Heard (CVH) held a press conference last week to insist, among other things, that "30% of the hours worked on renovation projects be done by workers who are residents" going forward.

As one of the Ms. Foundation's Gender, Jobs and Justice grantees, CVH understands that the ongoing economic crisis presents a critical moment of opportunity to advance social change. By putting those who are directly affected by the economic crisis and most marginalized from the centers of power (often women) at the forefront of creating powerful solutions, CVH is working to build a truly "new" economy -- one that takes seriously the needs of women and families, and values communities' contributions to solving the problems at hand.

Learn more about how CVH is pushing to improve and save New York City's public housing developments through their important Public Housing Campaign.

20 October 2010

Out Cry: Ending Violence Against LGBTQ Youth

This piece was originally published as a Women's Media Center blog exclusive.

Another week, another name to add to the list of gay children dead by their own hands. The newest entry: a young woman by the name of Aiyisha Hassan.

Aiyisha was nineteen years old. She was black, a former student at Howard University. Though media reports describe her as a lesbian, friends say she was struggling with her sexuality -- struggling to come to terms with expressing a sexual identity that could have left her ostracized. Acquaintances put her in touch with a group that might have helped her find a community of loving support, but for whatever reasons, Aiyisha Hassan still felt terribly alone. And last week, she became the latest headline in the rash of reports detailing the suicides of LGBTQ teens.

Aiyisha Hassan: Gay -- and dead at nineteen.

19 October 2010

Grantee Report Offers New View on Economic Security

A report [pdf] just released by Ms. Foundation grantee Wider Opportunities for Women takes a close look at what it takes to achieve real economic security in one region of America -- and the results show just how far short many Americans are falling when it comes to achieving that dream, thanks to ever widening gaps between the "haves" and "have-nots."

As a recent article in The Washington Post explains, WOW's "Basic Economic Security Tables" (BEST) for the Washington, DC Metro Area calculates the monthly income necessary for families to move beyond the poverty line and attain economic security -- covering a range of expenses like child care (which often ranked as families' largest expense), housing, health care, transportation, savings and retirement. The report is the first of its kind to factor savings into the mix (in the form of a small emergency fund) when calculating what it takes to achieve true economic security -- an effort to help policymakers understand what is required to get families beyond the point of "just scraping by."

18 October 2010

Lifting Up the Voices of LGBTQ Youth

The Ms. Foundation has been deeply troubled by the deaths of nine LGBTQ youths in the span of five short weeks. It is clear to us that our culture's unyielding adherence to a system of "gender norms," which sets strict rules for what makes a "man" or a "woman" this society, played a major role in encouraging these deaths, and the violent bullying that in many cases preceded them.

15 October 2010

On-the-Ground Leaders Explore the Economic Downturn

As we've repeatedly written, the effects of the economic downturn on women and families have put lie to the claim that we are suffering a 'mancession.' According to the National Women's Law Center and its analysis of 2009 Census data, poverty among women has climbed to 13.9 percent, the highest rate in 15 years, and rates are even higher for women of color and single mothers. More than 15.4 million children lived in poverty last year, over half of them with single mothers.

Last week in New York City, the Ms. Foundation brought together a group of dynamic grantee organizations working to address the urgent priorities of women and other workers who remain largely invisible in conversations about the economic crisis. Attending were Childspace CDI, Community Voices Heard, Jobs with Justice, LAANE, Legal Momentum, LIFETIME, Multistate Working families Consortium, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Partnership for Women and Families, the National Women's Law Center, Parent Voices, Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United), and Wider Opportunities for Women. Together they brought to the forefront the voices of women and families nationwide that have been rocked by foreclosures, job loss and insecurity, and cuts to essential social services.

Those solutions, they insist, must place gender and social justice at the center. In addition to examining the gender dimensions of the crisis, says Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Worker's Alliance, we have to "look at how gender actually opens solutions and pathways to power," and bring the strength of the social justice community and women's organizations together to form a larger base of support and build new power.

Groups discussed the need to deepen their connections with the broader social justice community as well as how to deepen their connections with one another – across issues, organizations and geography. Ernestine Ward from ROC noted, "We are multifaceted and try to look at every aspect of the problem to see how it all relates. We must remember as we work hard on our different issues that there is a possibility of a strong collaboration with other groups."

These collaborations are already beginning to happen. The Excluded Workers Congress -- a collaboration among numerous groups including, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Community Voices Heard, Jobs with Justice and the National Day Laborers Organization, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United -- brings together nine sectors of workers (including restaurant workers, taxi drivers, work-fare workers, formerly-incarcerated workers, farm workers, guest workers, gas workers, domestic workers, and workers who receive less pay in the South) who are excluded explicitly or implicitly from labor laws. The congress unites traditional labor, workers' centers and social justice advocates to fight for a common dream of an economy that respects all work and offers justice to all workers. Sarita Gupta, of Jobs with Justice said, "We must get people to start thinking about broadening the worker rights movement and find collective ways in which to fight for an economy that works for working people."

It was gender-justice solutions like this that grantees then brought the following day to Reinvesting in Women and Families: Developing an Economy for the Future, a summit organized by the National Council for Research on Women. And as Sara K. Gould, Ms. Foundation President & CEO, said in her opening remarks at the summit, their expertise is crucial: "Those most directly affected by the problem have to be part of the solution."

We and our grantee partners know that women, families and communities must be at the center of the dialogue and that we must address the current economy with a holistic framework that takes into account a diversity of experiences, needs and solutions. Together, our grantee partners are creating new pathways to power and security for all workers and an economy that ensures justice for all.

Photos by Kasia Gladki. Ms. Foundation grantees meet to explore gender, jobs, and justice, October 7, 2010.

14 October 2010

Louisiana Grantee Uncovers ExxonMobil's Latest Disaster

A Louisiana refinery with a long history of putting workers in danger is responsible for the latest deadly accident along Louisiana's coast.

ExxonMobil's Chalmette Refinery, which allegedly averaged 83 accidents per year from 2005 - 2009, is now facing backlash after a worker died while trying to fix a dangerous hydrogen sulfide leak -- a leak that could have had grave impact on the community surrounding the refinery. Ms. Foundation grantee the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) broke this important story thanks to a citizen report submitted to the Chemical Accidents component of their Oil Spill Crisis Map; now they are playing a lead role in pressing for the release of further information about the leak -- which the local community was never informed of -- and about the death that transpired in the attempt to fix it.

13 October 2010

Grantee Races to Win Justice for Juveniles

This weekend, Ms. Foundation grantee Friends and Families of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) will join nonprofit groups around the country in a nationwide push to raise awareness about our flawed juvenile justice system and call for its reform.

On Sunday, October 17th, FFLIC will host its first National Campaign for Youth Justice 5K Walk/Run in New Orleans, with other races scheduled to take place in California, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin. FLLIC and its planning partner, The Campaign for Youth Justice, are hoping to use the walk as a platform to educate the public about the challenges youth face once they fall into the justice system, and about the very real links between growing up as a disadvantaged youth and winding up behind bars.

12 October 2010

Grantee Report Finds Too Many Restaurant Workers "Serving While Sick"

Thanks to Ms. Foundation grantee Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC), the battle to extend paid sick leave to all of our country's workers just heated up a notch.

In their new report, "Serving While Sick: High Risks & Low Benefits for the Nation's Restaurant Workforce, and Their Impact on the Consumer," [pdf] ROC found that 90% of workers in the restaurant industry lack paid sick leave and, as a result, 63% of those surveyed reported preparing, cooking and serving food while sick. In addition, 90% of those polled reported that their employers do not offer health insurance -- a reality that often leaves workers with little access to medical treatment when they do get sick.

07 October 2010

We'll Miss You, Sara! Share Your Own Tribute Online

With a healthy mix of sadness, gratitude and anticipation, we prepare for the departure of our beloved president and CEO, Sara K. Gould, who will leave the Ms. Foundation on November 19 to pursue an exciting new venture.

Please join us in recognizing and honoring Sara's extraordinary leadership by sharing a tribute to her online.

Tributes may take whatever form you choose -- personal remembrances or professional recollections -- to celebrate Sara and her legacy.

Help us thank Sara for her work and passion for the Ms. Foundation and her lifelong commitment to women's and social justice movements.

Submit your tribute. Read them all online.

We will miss you, Sara!

06 October 2010

Grantee Groups Join to Fight for Workers' Rights

A remarkable group of Ms. Foundation grantees has come together to fight for the rights of excluded workers -- and strengthen the US labor movement in the process.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance, the National Day Laborers’ Organizing Network and Jobs with Justice -- all Ms. Foundation grantees -- together with the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity, are uniting to "dramatically expand workers' rights to organize" across the US. Last week in Washington D.C., they brought together representatives from nine different employment sectors to outline plans for collaboration, form alliances and identify concrete measures to improve the ability of workers to unionize in all 50 states.

VIDEO: End the Sexualization of Girls in the Media

If you're concerned about how portrayals of girls in the media are affecting young women, be sure to check out the following video, which offers a powerful look at the destructive media influences shaping our young people every day.

Created by the forces behind the upcoming SPARK Summit -- an event designed to push back on the sexualization of women and girls in our culture -- the video features the remarkable testimony of high school senior Yanique Richards, who is fighting to help all girls "own the media -- and not have the media own them." (Right on, Yanique!) We can't say enough about how important it is to have the voices of young women front and center in this conversation, and as a lead partner in the event, we encourage you to join us for what is sure to be an exciting and productive day of activities.

The SPARK Summit will take place on Friday, October 22 at Hunter College in New York City. Registration is live -- sign up today!

05 October 2010

Ms. Foundation Grantee Speaks Out on Failure of TANF Extension

We've written a number of times on this blog about the importance of TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) and the critical need for the Senate to pass an extension to the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund, which allocated federal funds to create temporary jobs during the economic crisis. We're sad to report that last week, the Senate failed to pass the measure, falling just three votes short of the 60 needed to extend these benefits.

Take Back the Mic: Condemn Sexist Media Treatment of Politicians

Over at the Women's Media Center, they're running an important campaign to end sexism in the media -- a campaign you should be part of. Their goal is to hold media outlets accountable when they treat women candidates unfairly, and at the moment, they're dealing with a doozy.

Karen E. Polito is the Republican candidate for State Treasurer in Massachusetts. On September 20, radio producer Bill Cooksey of WRKO-AM radio, Boston, took to the air to give Polito his endorsement -- but not for any reason having to do with her stance on issues of merit, or her qualification for the job. No, Bill Cooksey went live on air to endorse Karen Polito because, in his words, "She's got a banging little body."

04 October 2010

Upcoming Event: Single Mothers and the Wealth Gap

For those of you in the New York City area, the Women of Color Policy Network at NYU will be hosting a discussion this Wednesday night that's sure to be informative.

"More Than a Paycheck: Single Mothers and the Wealth Gap" will feature a moderated conversation between Mariko Change, PhD, author of the new book Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can be Done About It, and Ida Rademacher, PhD, Director of Research for the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) in Washington, D.C. The event will also celebrate the release of WOCPN's forthcoming report, "At Rope’s End: Single Women Mothers, Wealth and Asset Accumulation in the U.S."

The discussion will run from 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm on Wednesday, October 6th, and will be held at 295 Lafayette Street in New York City.

For more details and to RSVP, visit: wagner.nyu.edu/events.

Been Harassed? It's Time to Hollaback! [video]

One Ms. Foundation grantee has been getting great press recently for their work using mobile technology to fight sexual harassment.

Hollaback! is an organization that rejects the notion that catcalls and other types of verbal and physical harassment are just the "price you pay" for being a woman in this world. Using mobile technology -- i.e., stories, pictures and videos from your smart phone, uploaded to local sites -- their goal is to create a "crowd sourced initiative" that will end street harassment for good, and make the world safer for all of us to walk in.