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.

24 November 2008

Sara K. Gould Offers Advice to Timothy Geitner in Real Deal Blog Posting

The Real Deal blog of the National Council for Research on Women has posted a Q&A with Ms. Foundation President and CEO Sara K. Gould as part of its "Dear Mr. Treasury Secretary" forum. In her responses, reprinted below, Gould provides recommendations to Timothy Geithner, President-elect Obama's choice for the position.

Linda Basch: What three recommendations do you have for Timothy Geithner, our next Treasury Secretary?

Sara Gould:
  • First, we must strongly urge that the next Secretary ensure that the $700 billion bailout and other actions designed to address the economic crisis prioritize getting relief to communities that need it most. It’s not enough to rely on support for large banks to trickle down to middle and low-income people who are disproportionately affected by the plummeting economy—particularly when the banks’ share of the bailout came with few regulations and the conditions it did come with are being defied (see Naomi Klein’s article in The Nation). Instead, the next Treasury Secretary should require that financial institutions use the bailout money for lending to consumers—instead of to boost the value of its shares. In addition to accountability and comprehensive regulations that apply to bailed-out banks and beyond, s/he should insist upon transparency and reveal exactly where the money is going and how it is being used.

    It is especially critical that the bailout money be used to help people who are facing or already in foreclosure—the majority of whom are likely women and people of color, as they were most likely to receive sub-prime loans in the first place. One promising option is to support FDIC chairperson Sheila Bair’s proposal to use $25 billion of the bailout to provide mortgage relief to homeowners. Her proposal would offer incentives to loan servicers to restructure mortgages, making payments more affordable.
  • Second, an economic stimulus should be passed quickly. It should include immediate relief such as the extension of unemployment benefits as well as programs like job creation and training that will ensure economic stability for low- and middle-income people over the long-term. Any economic stimulus package should be sure to address the urgent needs of those who have been most impacted by the crisis, especially low-income women, women of color and their families. Recent statistics show that women are losing jobs at twice the rate of men.
  • Third, we must return to a system of progressive taxation in which people with high incomes and net worth provide a larger share of tax revenues. New revenue should go towards domestic stimulus programs such as job training and infrastructure rebuilding as well as for key social and economic supports that have been eroded over the last two decades.

Linda Basch: During the economic meltdown, women and people of color were largely absent from the decision-making table, both on the corporate and federal crisis intervention teams. How do we ensure that there is true diversity in developing a new direction for moving forward?

Sara Gould: This is an uphill climb, and we must prioritize and step up all of the work to advance women and people of color into top-tier decision-making positions in all sectors. More women and people of color now serve in the second and third tiers of leadership; what will move them forward? We must use the election of the first person of color to the presidency of the United States to illustrate again the importance of breaking through barriers and striving to make our decision-makers, in both public and private settings, reflect the nation’s diversity. We should also support initiatives like the “Diversity in Democracy Project” that focus on identifying a diverse range of candidates for high-level positions. As well, we should continue to build the power and leadership of low-income women, women of color and others who are disproportionately impacted by economic insecurity and create a better leadership and communication pipeline from the grassroots to state and federal levels to ensure that their voices are consistently heard at policymaking tables.

Linda Basch: What kinds of regulations or checks need to be in place to prevent another economic meltdown or crisis, and how might we ensure that effective reforms and safety measures are followed?

Sara Gould: First, it’s unconscionable that the money given out so far as part of the $700 billion bailout package isn’t being closely regulated, particularly after a severe lack of regulation played a huge hand in creating the economic crisis we’re now in. That money, and the rest that follows, should be subject to regulations and accountability standards that ensure it goes towards lending to consumers to boost the economic security of those who need it most—not for mergers, dividends, or bonuses and salaries of corporate execs.

In general, all kinds of financial institutions, including banks, investment houses and hedge funds, must be subject to comprehensive regulations; they should all be playing by the same set of rules aimed at protecting borrowers and investors from the excesses of speculation and greed. Without a doubt, we should bring executive pay under control.

Finally, we must develop a far better safety net to protect women, families and communities from economic crises large and small. Such a safety net must include benefits that are easy to access and do not carry stigma, include automatic triggers that come into play during times of economic downturn, and be inclusive of immigrants. Without this, women and their families will sink deeper into poverty and be far less likely to recover from overwhelming threats to their economic security, like those they face today.

Ms. Foundation President Sara Gould Advises Geithner to Bail Out Responsibly
Real Deal Blog
November 24, 2008

Conference Call Report: Economy Hitting Women Hardest

In a summary of the Ms. Foundation conference call of November 19 [online audio, mp3 file], Brittany Schell of OneWorld US, wrote:

WASHINGTON, Nov 20 (OneWorld) - Women are being disproportionately affected by the U.S. mortgage crisis and economic plunge, said a panel of women leaders Wednesday, urging a strong woman-focused response from the federal government.

In Rhode Island, the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country, one woman has not been able to find a job for the past eight months and is losing her house to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Another, struggling to take care of her 14-year-old granddaughter because her own daughter is in jail, is a tenant in a building that is being foreclosed. She is being evicted by the bank, even though she is willing to pay rent.

These women's stories, told by Sara Mersha, the executive director of Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) in Rhode Island, are part of what she calls the "economic Katrina."

Mersha spoke along with other women's rights advocates at a teleconference sponsored by the Ms. Foundation for Women called, "Lifted Up or Left Out? Economic Stimulus Policy that Benefits Low-Income Women." The experts discussed the challenges facing women in the United States today and policies that could make a difference.

Read the full story on Yahoo News. Read and post comments on OneWorld US.

20 November 2008

Testimony of Susan Wefald on Domestic Workers, Abuse, Insecurity, and Exploitation

Prepared testimony for New York Assembly Hearing on Domestic Workers Bill of Rights
21 November 2008

Good morning. My name is Susan Wefald. I am the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Ms. Foundation for Women. We support building women's collective power to ignite social change. We fund Domestic Workers United and their efforts to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. I am here to urge you to support this bill on behalf of this valuable work force. 

Domestic workers have long been an important part of our economy, and have become even more so in recent decades as more and more women have joined the paid workforce. This increase in women's workforce participation has been a significant factor in our economic expansion. Sixty-four percent of women with children under age 6, and 56 percent of women with infants (under age 1)-now work outside the home. A full seventy-seven percent of women with children age 6-17, and eighty-one percent of single women with children that age, are in the labor force. Significantly, seventy-six percent of employed mothers of children under eighteen work full time.[1]  

As our parents live longer, women increasingly find ourselves "sandwiched" between caring for our children and our parents. Already working a "double shift" of our day jobs and coming home to care for our children, we don't have any time left for housework. Without nannies to care for our young children, caregivers to care for our aging parents, and housekeepers to keep our homes clean, many women could not work, could not contribute to our society and our economy, as well as to their families' incomes. 

Why is it that domestic workers were deliberately written out of the Fair Labor Standards Act? Isn't this class of workers deserving of the protections afforded other workers? They work just as hard, their work just as valuable. Ask a parent looking for someone to entrust with the care of their precious young children, and you will be told what an important job it is. Ask an adult daughter or son looking for someone to care for their beloved elderly parent, and you will be told what an important job it is. Ask someone looking for a person they can trust to come into their home and clean and care for their valuable possessions, and you will be told what an important job it is. And yet this workforce often cannot afford childcare for their own children, cannot save for their own retirement, cannot even pay the rent on their own home.

We know this workforce is primarily employed by private individuals. Unfortunately there are private employers who take advantage of the fact that these workers have little power and visibility, and exploit them, pay them low wages, abuse them verbally and physically, require impossibly long hours, refuse to give them days off when their workers are sick. These workers need the protection this bill will offer, to give them redress when such exploitation occurs. At the same time, there are many private employers who would like to do the right thing, but don't know what that is. Having clear standards would be a significant help in letting people know what they should pay, and what benefits they should provide.

I speak not only as an officer of the Ms. Foundation, but also from personal experience. I am a single mother by choice. I decided to have children on my own when I reached my forties and didn't want to go through life without the joy of having a child. I won the fertility clinic lottery and wound up with twins, a son and a daughter, now 10. I feel extremely privileged to have a job that I love, and the ability to share my life with my wonderful children. Some people think I am a super woman raising twins by myself while holding down a full time job. But I could not have managed even one day of returning to work without the wonderful nanny I hired to take care of my two 5-month-old infants. And my 86-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer's, is able to continue living at home in Maryland with my 81-year-father because of the two amazing women my brother hired to help with her care. I used word of mouth and various online Brooklyn parents groups to figure out what a fair wage and benefit package was for my nanny. We new parents felt like we were winging it as new employers. A Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would help both worker and employer - those employers who are committed to fairness and justice. And those that aren't need the Bill of Rights to make sure they do the right thing anyway.

Thank you for your time.

1  Cited by the National Women's Law Center from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Employment Characteristics of Families in 2006, Tables 5 and 6, available at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/famee.pdf (last visited Jan. 16, 2008). These percentages understate how many women raising children are in the paid labor force because they reflect only women raising their own children, and do not include the many women who are raising grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, or other related children. Note that the labor force includes those who are working and those who are looking for work.

Media Advisory: Domestic Workers Testify to Mounting Crisis of Abuse, Insecurity, and Exploitation

Domestic Workers United
Ms. Foundation for Women

Ai-jen Poo, DWU (646) 529-7000
Joycelyn Gill-Campbell, DWU (646) 240-6881

New York Assembly Holds First Hearing on Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

New York, NY. Nannies, caregivers, housekeepers, and their employers will testify before the Labor Committee of the New York State Assembly in the Assembly's first hearing on domestic workers. The hearing marks a significant step toward passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (A638B), sponsored by Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem, which provides critical protections to the over 200,000 workers who keep New York families functioning and make all other work possible. Currently excluded from many laws that protect other workers, domestic workers are uniquely vulnerable to abuse and face a workforce crisis of mounting proportions.

What:A hearing of the Labor Committee of the New York State Assembly, sponsored by Assemblyman Keith Wright, on domestic work.
When:11 am - 2 pm, Friday, November 21, 2008
Where:Assembly Hearing Room, 250 Broadway, Room 1923, 19th Floor, NY, NY
Who:Exploited domestic workers; employers, advocates, researchers; Assemblyman Keith Wright (sponsor of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights), Labor Committee Chair Assemblywoman Susan John. Ms. Foundation for Women Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer will present testimony [prepared testimony]  in support of the legislation. **Workers will be available for interviews with the press**
Why:"With the financial crisis bearing down upon New York State, domestic workers are at the forefront of those affected by the downturn. They are being laid-off in record numbers, with no recourse of severance and minimal protection under the New York State labor laws. This is a disaster in waiting," says Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Social Services. "With the hopeful passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, domestic workers will no longer be relegated to an archaic classification that prevents them from reaping the benefits of honorable employment."
# # #

Audio Available: Lifted Up or Left Out? Economic Stimulus Policy that Benefits Low-Income Women

Ms. Foundation grantees and staff shared their experiences and expertise in a conference call that addressed the impact of economic conditions on low-income women and discussed policies that could make a difference. The speakers in the 19 November 2008 call were:

Nancy Duff Campbell, Co-President, National Women's Law Center
Ai-jen Poo, Lead Organizer and Founder, Domestic Workers United
Sara Mersha, Executive Director, Direct Action for Rights and Equality
Sara K. Gould, President and CEO, Ms. Foundation for Women

Listen with the player below, download the mp3 file.

18 November 2008

Guest: Post-Election Musings by Makani Themba-Nixon

The Ms. Foundation is pleased to present this guest commentary by Makani Themba-Nixon of The Praxis Project. It is part of our ongoing effort to share invited guest voices. 

Post-Election Musings 
By Makani Themba-Nixon

Closer to Home

I've always wanted to love this country. To feel that unalterable sense of home that no matter what it does, it belongs to me. I know people from Chile, Palestine, Rwanda, for example, who have literally lost everything—their parents and siblings murdered, their homes burned to the ground. Still, they fight for their homeland with a sense of ownership, a sense of deep connection that separates the place from the people who run it.

As a Black woman, I have always envied this sense of homeland. Although I changed my name, among other things, to try to make real my sense of Africa as my imagined home, I, like many others in this country, have long felt homeless in this respect.

On election night, for the first time in my life, I saw people gathered to say unequivocally that they finally feel at home in this country. I walked the streets of this nation's capital built by enslaved Africans until nearly dawn. Spontaneous gatherings were sprouting everywhere. I stood in the crush of thousands at the White House as people sang, "Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na. Hey, hey, hey. Goodbye…" They chanted, "Who's House? Our House!" And then I saw another first: the White House turned off every light—in the house and on the grounds. It was the physical manifestation of what they've done for the last eight years: sit in the dark and pretend we weren't there.

In Adams Morgan, a lively queer group brought some extra flava by leading 18th Street in the chant, "Obama for Yo Mama!" U Street was straight out of control. The Ethiopian clubs were bumping , and in the middle of the street a multinational dance-off converged that repped much of East and West Africa, frat boys and old school hip hop of all stripes. It felt like being in South Africa after Mandela was elected or in Venezuela after Chavez. It felt like anywhere but the US after an election.

I don't think many offices got cleaned that night. Folk were out in their jumpsuits, standing on the yellow line, just hooping and hollering to the sound of cars honking and people beating rhythmically on their car roofs. Downtown DC was full of smiling, crying people so full of joy and, yes, hope, that they would spontaneously talk to others, bursting with analysis. At the National Council of Negro Women, the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation had an old school party where people cried and danced and hugged each other and, yes, did the electric slide to freedom.

A New Progressive Coalition?

Earlier in the day, four hundred people stood in line at 4am in Woodbridge, Virginia determined to vote in a state that does not require employers to allow employees paid time off for voting. I spoke to a waitress in Alexandria who had just found out she had a shift change and was heartbroken. She would miss her first chance to vote after becoming a citizen last year.

There was a family from Culpepper, Virginia including a 62-year-old grandmother and three grandchildren in their twenties who were voting for the first time. And then there were the day laborers who moved from organizing around local conditions to organizing around national elections in less than a year. These brothers, members of Tenant Workers United, spent Election Day knocking on doors in the rain because they had come to see the connection between their lives and the elections. There are so many stories. I am too full to do them justice. They are each their own miracle.

Stories like these belied the neat red-blue dichotomy that so dominated network news later that night. The turnout was much more nuanced and often more raced. Over and over, Obama victories told a similar story: people of color and young whites were key.

Maybe now, as we examine further the turnout demographic in places like North Carolina, Indiana, New Mexico, Colorado and more, we can finally lay to rest this unsubstantiated worship of the soccer mom/NASCAR dad as the necessary foundation for progressive victory. No more "blueprints" that put money in every place but urban centers. No more colored people as after thoughts. No more Joe Six Pack or Joe the Plumber as the archetypal American story. Maybe we can face the fact that it was Jose and Shanequa and Mohammed who made the difference this season.

Sure, there was vote flipping, vote stealing and a biased voting system that held Obama back from an even more impressive win. I mean what kind of system won't mandate time off to vote or will allow Ted Stevens (R-AK) to run for Senate as a convicted felon but not allow our ex-offenders, who have done their time, to vote?

But this year, long-time warriors like the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Lawyers' Committee, NAACP and Advancement Project were joined by the Obama campaign, which organized voter protection teams in every state where funny business was expected. It was another historic first: a Democratic candidate that did not participate in the long-time, bi-partisan "gentlemen's agreement" to look the other way on voter suppression. In fact, Obama was the first major party nominee to implement a full-blown street operation that valued our communities' vote, and in doing so, bucked a century old tradition of paying "leaders" to "deliver" us.

Now What

Clearly, the eagerness of so many to translate their newfound activism and burgeoning political literacy into local action opens up new opportunities. I literally heard hundreds of people say to me, "This is not about Obama. He is just an agent. Now, we have to take responsibility to get involved where we are."

And that's what keeps me up at night. How do we keep from blowing this opportunity? What do we need to let go of and embrace in order to really see our way ahead?

I have friends who are deeply consternated by the elections. They are afraid of how hard it will be to move a progressive agenda because of the passion that people feel about Obama's candidacy. On the one hand, there is greater access and likelihood he will embrace some key issues. On the other hand, his "big tent" paradigm creates greater pressure to distance himself from many progressive issues including avoiding an attack against Iran. And then there's that "post racial" thing.

Our work will be even harder, they say, because it will be difficult to hold him accountable. Sure, but how well did we hold Bush accountable? And is accountability the end game or is it power to govern, to move our agendas? And what is the strategic relationship between the two?

If it's the latter, we might not need to start the public conversation with an Obama critique, although there are many legitimate and important ones to make. Perhaps we start with building the infrastructure to support progressive, local work that helps channel this new activism—particularly in African American communities, where progressive institutions remain severely under-resourced.

Perhaps we also ask how we bring people closer to a concrete political framework that solves problems, broadens the imagination and deepens the analysis. What are the necessary reforms, frames and institutional changes that will help facilitate this larger project? And what new stories can be told, new dreams inspired?

I have long believed that no one ever takes anything that they don't somehow believe they are entitled to. It is at the core of what made me uncomfortable with such concepts like "Take Back America." How can I take back America when, as Langston Hughes wrote so eloquently, it never was America to me?

Which brings me back to where I began. Today, there are many more folk for whom America is closer to being "America" to them. I can either dismiss this as wide-eyed ignorance or I can work with others to leverage this new confidence to advance change we can depend on. Perhaps it will require me to give up my perception of myself as a "captive in Babylon" and embrace the project of making this country truly home -- in every sense of the word -- for the people who built it and keep it going every day.

Makani Themba-Nixon is Executive Director of The Praxis Project, a nonprofit organization helping communities use media and policy advocacy to advance health equity and justice.

07 November 2008

Join Us for Nov 19 Conference Call: Economic Stimulus for Low Income Women

Join our Conference Call on Wednesday, November 19
Time: 1:00-2:30 p.m. EST

Lifted Up or Left Out?
Economic Stimulus Policy that Benefits Low-Income Women

As our nation faces the challenges of a once-in-a-century economic crisis and the opportunities of a new presidential administration, our conversation will address the impact of economic conditions on low-income women and discuss policies that could make a difference. Ms. Foundation grantees and staff will be sharing their experiences and expertise in a conversation which will include:

Nancy Duff Campbell, Co-President, National Women's Law Center
Ai-jen Poo, Lead Organizer and Founder, Domestic Workers United
Sara Mersha, Executive Director, Direct Action for Rights and Equality
Sara K. Gould, President and CEO, Ms. Foundation for Women

Register by Monday, November 17. To register, or for more information, please contact Kara Elverson at kpollardelverson@ms.foundation.org or by phone at: 212-709-4424

    05 November 2008

    Sara K. Gould Comments on Historic Election

    We join you in celebration of an historic moment in our nation - the election of Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States! The American electorate’s embrace of a vision that calls to all to renew our democracy, and lifts up the participation of women and men who live now at the margins of our society, is a moment of enormous hope and possibility for us all.

    It is also a moment for bold action. All of us who seek change that prioritizes racial, economic and gender justice must redouble our efforts at building powerful constituencies capable of holding our elected leaders accountable. We must join diverse constituencies together, creating new – and renewing old – connections across issues, movements, geography and levels of activity.

    In particular, this moment holds great promise for making strong and strategic connections between women’s and other social justice organizing.

    These new connections will raise the voices, vision and visibility of women leaders in low-income communities and communities of color. We know that when women who now face exclusion based on race, class and gender truly gain access and agency in our society, solutions to pressing problems will emerge that benefit not only women, but all people, families and communities.

    Thank you all for everything you do to create a better world for us all.

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

    28 October 2008

    The Big Five - Learn More About Five Issues Important to Women: Economic Security, Health, Immigration, Violence and Education

    The Ms. Foundation is proud to be a co-sponsor of The Big Five, a public-information campaign launched by the National Council for Research on Women. Based on the work of 2,000 scholars in the 115 research, advocacy and policy centers in NCRW's network, the campaign focuses on five issues important to women: economic security, health, immigration, violence and education. You'll find the facts, along with in-depth analysis and proposals to develop effective policies and programs at ncrwbigfive.org

    Help us spread the word! Together, we can make a difference, not only for women and girls, but for society as a whole -- in the U.S. and around the world.

    To find out about how the Ms. Foundation's more than 150 grantee organizations are igniting critical policy and culture change on behalf of women, families and communities, visit us at ms.foundation.org and sign up to receive our blog postings by email.

    24 October 2008

    Join the Ms. Foundation for a Special Showing of "Pray the Devil Back to Hell"

    The Ms. Foundation for Women and the Global Fund for Women are Honored to Present

    Pray the Devil Back to Hell
    A film by Gini Reticker and Abigail E. Disney

    Liberian women demonstrate at the American Embassy in Monrovia at the height of the civil war, July 2003. [Photo credit: Pewee Flomoku]
    Liberian women demonstrate at the American Embassy in Monrovia at
    the height of the civil war, July 2003. [Photo credit: Pewee Flomoku]

    Host: Sara K. Gould, President and CEO, The Ms. Foundation for Women
    Date: Saturday, November 8, 2008
    Time: 8:00 pm
    Location: Cinema Village [site]
    Address: 22 East 12th St., Manhattan [map]

    Pray the Devil Back to Hell chronicles the remarkable story of the courageous Liberian women who came together across faith to end a bloody civil war and bring peace to their shattered country.

    The Ms. Foundation for Women builds women's collective power to ignite progressive change. As the leading national women's fund, we support over 150 local, state and national organizations working for social justice across the United States. President and CEO Sara Gould will host a conversation with the filmmakers and discuss the importance of linking women's struggles around the world.

    "We believe that women who are most affected by flawed policies and institutions have solutions that benefit everyone," says Sara Gould. "As demonstrated so powerfully in Pray the Devil, women have the courage and deep commitment to pursue just solutions against all odds. We must create connections with women's movements across the globe, to be inspired, and to learn from and support one another, as we build the collective power of women to create a better world."

    For more information, contact Lulu Roller at 212.709.4430 and lroller@ms.foundation.org
    For more information on the film see PraytheDevilBacktoHell.com
    For more information on the Global Fund for Women see globalfundforwomen.org
    For more information on the Ms. Foundation for Women see ms.foundation.org

    17 October 2008

    Ms. Foundation Grantees Collaborate in Opposition to Colorado Amendment 48 Declaring Personhood Begins at Fertilization

    Two Ms. Foundation grantees, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), and the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) are working together to oppose the "Definition of Person" amendment to the Colorado State Constitution. Amendment 48, on the ballot before voters on November 4, declares that the term person includes "any human being from the moment of fertilization" and would grant that person "inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law."

    As noted on COLOR's web site, the amendment (emphasis added)
    goes too far by outlawing all abortions, even in the case of rape, incest, and to save the life of the woman. The amendment does not respect family decisions and puts women's health at risk. Even though many Latinos would not choose abortion for themselves, we respect other people's decisions and believe that family decisions should be private.
    In a letter to the editor in the New York Times, NAPW Executive Director Lynn M. Paltrow, writing about the Colorado amendment and related ones in California, and South Dakota, noted:
    Measures that outlaw abortion and recognize fetal rights are routinely used to hurt all pregnant women, including those going to term. Such measures are used to control, and sometimes punish, women who do not want unnecessary Caesarean surgery; who want to have vaginal births after previous Caesarean surgery; women who love their children but can’t necessarily overcome a drug or alcohol problem in the short term of a pregnancy; and women who suffer unintentional stillbirths.

    In collaboration, NAPW and COLOR have prepared a one-page fact sheet in English and Spanish that is part of state-wide education efforts and COLOR's grassroots door-to-door canvassing. Both organizations are also pursuing public information and voter education campaigns. Lynn Paltrow, of NAPW, in collaboration with Indra Lusero of the Luz Reproductive Justice Think Tank, wrote a commentary that has appeared in numerous local papers including the Vail Daily. Lynn Paltrow's speaking visit was covered in the Denver Daily News with an exploration of the opposition to Amendment 48.

    07 October 2008

    Ms. Foundation Announces Emergency Grants

    Crisis continues on the Gulf Coast:
    FEMA fails thousands again; ICE raid threatens immigrant workers and families

    Today, the Ms. Foundation announced that it has made special grants to the United Houma Nation Relief Fund, the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation and the Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance—all either current or past Katrina Women’s Response Fund grantees—to meet the urgent needs of women, families and communities in the Gulf Coast.

    One month after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike ravaged rural, low-lying coastal areas of Louisiana and forced the evacuation of New Orleans, entire communities remain in crisis. FEMA is repeating past mistakes and a severe housing emergency looms.

    Throughout the bayou, homes were thrust off of their foundations and strong winds left only a few beams standing. FEMA has offered emergency housing vouchers, but for nonexistent rentals and hotel rooms already taken up by representatives of the powerful oil and gas industry.

    Since Gustav, Brenda Dardar Robichaux, Principal Chief of the United Houma Nation and a recipient of the Ms. Foundation’s 2008 Women of Vision Award, has been blogging about Gustav and Ike’s devastating impact on her People—and the failure of the media or policymakers to pay attention. You can read her entries here. She also set up a relief center again, just like she did after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, to offer emergency food, supplies and assistance with FEMA applications.

    In New Orleans, people are still struggling to recover from unexpected costs and lost wages sustained during a city-wide evacuation. The displacement was especially burdensome for low-wage workers—most often women—who frequently lack benefits or leave policies that might serve as a buffer in times of emergency. LDRF is working to help offset their expenses and restore some sense of economic security—already fragile before the recent storms—to their lives.

    In Laurel, Mississippi, just before Gustav hit Louisiana, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained nearly 600 immigrant workers in the largest workplace raid in U.S. history. Since then, families have struggled to pay rent or purchase basic necessities like medicine and food. MIRA acted quickly to protect the legal rights of the detained workers’ and their families and to establish a relief fund to meet people’s basic needs.

    Sara K. Gould, President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, shared this: “We are proud to support the relief efforts of our Gulf Coast grantees as they work to meet people’s immediate needs and to address new levels of devastation brought about by recent hurricanes and ongoing government failure, discrimination and neglect. We hope to continue to raise the visibility and leadership of those who are most impacted—namely, low-income women, women of color, and immigrant women—who, because of their disproportionate and direct experience with these crises, have the most just and sustainable solutions to the short- and long-term challenges their communities face.”
    Photos: Gustav Damage, 9/16/08
    Brenda Dardar Robichaux
    Credit: United Houma Nation

    22 September 2008

    Proposed federal rule poses dangerous threat to reproductive rights of low-income women and women of color

    The September 25 deadline for public comment on a proposed HHS rule that would allow healthcare providers and pharmacists to liken birth control and other forms of contraception to abortion and would further undermine women's right to sexual and reproductive health and justice, is fast approaching. (See last Friday's New York Times op-ed by Hillary Clinton and Cecile Richards.)

    The impact of the ruling would be far-reaching--it would affect nearly 600,000 hospitals, clinics and other health care providers nationwide that rely on federal financing for services. But it would impact low-income women and women of color the most. As Bethany Sousa points out on RH Reality Check,

    Low-income women and women of color who rely more on public programs will ultimately be hit the hardest. Significant percentages of Latinas, Asia Pacific Islanders and African-American women work in low-wage jobs that don't offer benefits and therefore, they lack health insurance of any kind. Public programs such as Medicaid and Title X fill that void by covering prenatal, pregnancy-related care and contraceptive services. The deeply flawed regulation fails to serve the needs of these patients by erecting new barriers to their obtaining reproductive healthcare. Read more...

    We talked with Desiree Flores, Ms. Foundation Program Officer for Health, who oversees the foundation's reproductive justice and HIV/AIDS advocacy funding. She added that the proposed rule is particularly troubling for low-income women and women of color because so many already receive substandard care and are often discouraged from questioning their healthcare providers about any information--or lack of information--they share. It would erect even more barriers for our grantees and their constituents--women who confront issues of access and discrimination on a daily basis--and place an immeasurable burden on women already struggling to navigate the medical system and advocate for their rights.

    The Center for Reproductive Rights, the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, a current Ms. Foundation grantee, are submitting joint comments to the HHS, focusing primarily on the impact on low-income women and women of color. You can read these comments and contribute your own here.

    Women's Leadership Critical in Building a Successful, Just Response to Economic Crisis

    Last week, Ms. Foundation CEO and President Sara K. Gould again reiterated the importance of women's leadership in the face of the market crisis and its potentially devastating aftershocks for middle and working class America.

    Her entire statement was published by the Miami Herald -- read it here on our blog.

    Ms. Gould concluded by saying that, "Across the U.S., women are too well-acquainted with poverty and economic insecurity. Because they know these challenges personally, however, they are often best positioned to develop the most effective strategies to address them.

    “Women must be better represented at policy tables; their perspectives and leadership are crucial to bring about long-term economic stability and well-being—for women, families and communities. So as we hold key members of the public and private sector accountable for our country’s worsening economic disaster, let’s turn to women driving change at local, state and national levels for economic-justice solutions.”

    Ms. Foundation for Women grantees are already pioneering strategies for addressing poverty and economic hardship in their communities and promoting grassroots and national policy alternatives that would improve economic security for low-income women and families. Here are just a few examples of how women leaders are advancing innovative strategies and solutions:

    • In Rhode Island, Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) is tackling the mortgage crisis' effect on low-income women and women of color in Providence, promoting people-centered development in the face of gentrification and displacement, and advocating for women’s budget and tax justice.

    • The Multistate Working Families Consortium is a network of state coalitions working for policies that value families by enabling workers to balance their jobs with their responsibilities as parents and caregivers. They have set paid sick leave, job-protected and affordable family and medical leave for all workers, and the right of workers to have greater control of their schedules, as priorities for federal action in 2009. Just this past spring, their members helped pass paid leave legislation in New Jersey.

    • Avery Institute for Social Change promotes community-driven solutions for ending health disparities while stimulating a grassroots movement for national health care reform. They’re currently working to galvanize the women's healthcare movement to support universal healthcare so that no one is forced to choose between paying their rent or paying for their child's visit to the doctor.

    • Domestic Workers United, an organization of caregivers, nannies, housekeepers and other in-home workers, is advocating for the NY Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights. The legislation would establish fair labor standards for domestic workers in NY State, including a living wage, health care and basic benefits. It would guarantee domestic workers basic labor protections which they’re currently denied, address widespread issues of abuse and exploitation to which they’re often subject, and pave the way for true economic security for those entrusted with the security of their employers’ children, families and homes.

    • Childspace, based in Philadelphia, works to improve the quality of jobs for historically low-wage childcare workers, and thus improve the quality of care for the children they serve. Through advocacy programs spearheaded by childcare providers themselves, they are calling for low-income workers' access to health insurance, higher state subsidies to support professional development and facility-improvement, and better management of the Pennsylvania's childcare subsidy program.

    Houma stories illuminate long-standing and urgent needs after Gustav and Ike

    Unfortunately, what remains of media coverage of the most recent Gulf Coast storms, continues to focus on urban areas hit by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, with little attention paid to rural, low-lying coastal communities. Brenda Dardar Robichaux, Principal Chief of the United Houma Nation, reminds us that more than two weeks out, Houma parishes in southern Louisiana continue to face the impact of both storms. Little known to the outside world, the destruction wrought by Gustav in Houma communities was compounded by massive flooding from Ike--reportedly worse for some than it had been due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. What's more, these storms came as people were still struggling to recover from Katrina and Rita. Brenda Robichaux shares an example of this below:
    I would like to share with you a story of a wonderful family I had known for years but became close to following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. They are an elderly couple who recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and who live along Shrimpers Row. They had their home flooded by Hurricane Rita and now again by Hurricane Ike. I had visited with them recently when I brought a reporter from Time Magazine to interview them for a story on the Louisiana wetlands. During his interview they described their love for the land and the attachments they felt for their home and their culture. When asked about seeking Road Home funds to elevate their home, they mentioned that they felt sorry for the people in New Orleans who had lost everything and did not want to take any money that might be used to assist these families.

    When they were later persuaded that they needed to file for these funds they did so and were scheduled to have their home elevated prior to the storm. However, the Road Home evaluation team found they had a faulty faucet attachment in their bathroom and denied them their funds until the problem was corrected. The elderly husband was unable to perform this task himself and the elevation of the home was cancelled.

    Prior to Hurricane Gustave, they had placed all of their treasured possessions in their automobile and had evacuated the community. When they returned, they replaced everything in their home, only to be caught unprepared for the quick rising waters which occurred with Hurricane Ike. All of their precious possessions were devastated by the floodwaters which covered their home.

    The amazing part of this story is the same thing we heard with flooding in New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish, Plaquemines Parish, and elsewhere. When the floodwaters begin to rise, they sometimes come up so quickly that escaping them is impossible.

    ...It is difficult enough to meet the needs of our Tribal citizens and even more difficult to write about these experiences. Although it is difficult to write this daily blog, I will continue to do so as I realize how important it is to share our stories with you. When I first began writing about our plight, it was healing as it helped me to organize my thoughts and plan my future activities. At this point it has become more difficult as the stories that need to be told are painful to describe and difficult to express with a degree of accuracy to equal their emotional significance.

    ...I am extremely grateful to have a loyal and understanding family and friends who have stood with me throughout this ordeal and who realize that this is just the beginning of a lengthy and trying experience for us all.
    Robichaux's blog remains one of the only sources of on-the-ground, up-to-date information about the urgent and long-standing needs of people in the Gulf Coast--particularly those whose priorities remain the most invisible: low-income people and people of color, in this case from primarily Indigenous, rural communities that bear the brunt of federal and state government failures to address key underlying issues like coastal erosion and poverty.

    We will continue to share Brenda's stories and insight into the urgent and long-term needs of the Houma Nation--we hope that you will spread them far and wide as well.

    Again, you can support the United Houma Nation and its Relief Center, which they were finally able to set up last week, through its web site. You can also make a gift to the Ms. Foundation for Women's Katrina Women's Response Fund, which provides immediate and long-term strategic grantmaking, communications, and capacity-building support to the United Houma Nation and other organizations and communities impacted by Gustav and Ike, as well as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

    "Hurricanes Gustav and Ike Reveal Need for Continued Attention to Gulf Coast Communities"

    The Ms. Foundation joins the Equity and Inclusion Campaign in calling on the federal government to confront poverty and inequity in Gulf Coast recovery. We recently signed onto their joint press statement, which highlights key issues laid bare by the most recent storms:

    Re: Hurricanes Gustav and Ike Reveal Need for Continued Attention to Gulf Coast Communities

    In the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, we, the undersigned Gulf Coast advocates and allies from the Equity and Inclusion Campaign, urge the federal government to renew its focus on building strong, resilient Gulf Coast communities. We are especially concerned about our region’s most vulnerable citizens who are the most impacted by the recent hurricanes as well as the unfinished recovery from the 2005 hurricanes.

    While the media has focused its coverage of the storms on metropolitan areas, recovery in seriously impacted rural areas, specifically the southern coastal parishes of Louisiana, will also require serious, sustained attention so that these communities may rebuild and the area’s natural barriers to storms may be restored. Families, who have lived safely for generations in southeastern coastal Louisiana, suffered from major devastation caused by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, as well as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Specifically, Terrebone and Lafourche parishes, where basic services such as power and clean water have been unavailable for more than two weeks, suffered a double blow from the two recent hurricanes. This destruction is invariably linked to the unnatural coastal landloss. Coastal Louisiana south of Houma, where Gustav made landfall, has been losing barrier islands and wetlands – its natural defenses from major storms – as consequences of the oil, gas and navigation industries. The area also lacks hurricane protection levee systems that protect residents in other parts of Louisiana. Despite this, coastal Louisiana provides a third of the nationʼs domestic energy supply. Also, Mississippi and Alabama’s barrier islands, which shelter fishing grounds and provide crucial storm protection and surge protection for coastal inhabitants, were severely eroded by Hurricane Katrina. We hope that the recent disaster motivates the government to reverse the Gulf Coast’s tragic story of coastal landloss and erosion.

    While we commend government agencies for improving their readiness and for being in place to mitigate Gustav and Ike’s effects, we ask them to address the impact of evacuation and displacement on those still trying to return and fully recover from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and now Gustav and Ike. Many people are still suffering financial, physical and emotional stress from the 2005 hurricanes. Their homes have not been rebuilt, their incomes have diminished while their expenses have increased, and their communities are still in disrepair. Evacuation and displacement make these citizens vulnerable to the new hardships created by the recent hurricanes, and they need immediate, effective assistance. Wage workers, who have no income when they cannot work, are especially vulnerable. Additionally, those still experiencing emotional trauma from the tragedy and loss of previous hurricanes are forced to relive negative experiences as they are taken to shelters with inadequate capacity and care.

    We appreciate the President's designation of Louisiana as a federal disaster area and FEMA's assistance to individuals who have been displaced by Gustav, but we ask that FEMA’s plan for assistance be redesigned to address its shortcomings. FEMA must provide compensations to those individuals who paid for hotel stays away from their homes and provide stipends for food and gasoline. Without recoupment of these extraordinary expenses, residents will not be able to afford rent, utilities and other basic expenses because they used these precious resources to fund their mandatory evacuations from their communities. Furthermore, without this incentive, we worry that our residents will not heed the call for mandatory evacuation in the future.

    Additionally, we urge the federal government to take action in providing federal disaster designations to Mississippi so that individuals affected by Hurricane Gustav may receive adequate assistance and begin the process of recovery. More than two weeks after the storm, comprehensive assessments of coastal communities in Mississippi have not yet been completed, creating financial uncertainty and undue suffering. Storm surges and floods in both states resulted in displacement especially for those living in temporary shelter since the 2005 hurricanes.

    The threat posed by major storms has always been a fact of life in our region. As our communities begin the long journey to recover from Hurricane Gustav, we also prepare for the possibility of another disaster during this very active hurricane season. We urge our government leaders and the nation to consider Hurricanes Gustav and Ike as reminders that resources and attention are still required to strengthen communities across the Gulf Coast region, a region rich in natural resources and an irreplaceable asset to our nation's economy, culture and history.

    About the Equity and Inclusion Campaign:
    The Equity and Inclusion Campaign is a policy advocacy and public messaging campaign advocating for fulfillment of the federal commitment to confront persistent poverty and inequity during the Gulf Coast recovery. The Campaign draws together grassroots leaders from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to influence Congress and the executive branch so that historically disenfranchised groups have the resources and authority necessary to improve their lives and rebuild their communities.

    19 September 2008

    Sara K. Gould on the Economic Crisis and Its Disproportionate Impact on Women and Families

    Amidst the emphasis on solving the economic crisis facing Wall Street, the crisis crippling women and their families on Main Street continues unabated. Sara K. Gould, President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation, and an expert on women's economic development, warns that the plummeting U.S. economy will further threaten millions of women whose lives already hang in the balance.

    "Even at the beginning of the economic downturn, more women than men, and more African Americans and Latinos than whites, were caught in the sub-prime mortgage trap," notes Ms. Gould. "Now that the crisis has escalated, we must expect that the negative repercussions for women -- especially women of color -- will escalate as well.

    "Women across the U.S. are playing with the economic deck stacked against them. Taking into account longstanding pay inequities, insidious barriers to employment, record levels of inflation and ever-increasing childcare expenses, women and their families are struggling to keep up and get by. For women who confront the additional barriers of race and class, the obstacles are much greater and the economic straits even worse."

    Ms. Gould foresees that the current instability roiling Wall Street's markets will lead to an increasingly dire economic situation for women. "This is especially true," she states, "for low-income women, women of color, single mothers and others who have long experienced the disproportionate impact of flawed economic policies."

    Women faced challenges to their economic security before the recent turmoil in the stock markets.

    • The gender-wage ratio has not improved significantly for nearly two decades. Women are still paid only 77.8 cents for every dollar a man makes for full-time work. The disparity is even greater for women of color: African-American women make 63 cents and Latinas make only 52 cents for every dollar of white male earnings. [1] [2]

    • Women comprise the majority of low-wage workers: Women accounted for 68.4% of minimum-wage and below-minimum-wage workers in 2007. [3]

    • Most poor Americans are women and children, with women comprising a full 39%, children, 35%; and men, 26%. [4]

    • Accounting for 37% of families in poverty, the poverty rate for single female-headed households is higher than any other demographic group. [5]

    The current economic downturn will impact low-income women and their families the hardest, and drive even more into poverty.

    • Already, the sub-prime mortgage crisis is taking a higher toll on women -- especially women of color. 32% of women borrowers hold sub-prime mortgages vs. 24% of men; and African American and Latino homeowners were 30% more likely to have received sub-prime loans. [6] [7]

    • Poverty rates increase during economic downturns. With the increasing costs of even basic necessities of food, transportation and energy, the number of poor families is growing. [8]

    • Once a family has fallen into it, poverty is difficult to escape. An estimated 60% of families that are in the bottom fifth of income remain there a decade later. [9]

    "Across the U.S., women are too well-acquainted with poverty and economic insecurity. Because they know these challenges personally, however, " Ms. Gould points out, "they are often best positioned to develop the most effective strategies to address them.

    "Women must be better represented at policy tables; their perspectives and leadership are crucial to bring about long-term economic stability and well-being -- for women, families and communities. So as we hold key members of the public and private sector accountable for our country's worsening economic disaster, let's turn to women driving change at local, state and national levels for economic-justice solutions."

    About Sara K. Gould:
    Ms. Gould is a national authority on women's economic development and economic security, and a groundbreaking innovator in philanthropy. Ms. Gould was named to the NonProfit Times 2008 Top 50 Power and Influence List for her visionary leadership in advancing women's economic security, in particular her founding of the Collaborative Fund for Women's Economic Development, a pioneering grant-making initiative which leveraged over $10 million in the field of women's microenterprise development in the United States.

    1. "The Gender Wage Gap: 2007," [pdf] Institute for Women's Policy Research. August 2008.

    2. "Data Tables on the Economic Status of Women of Color in the United States: Key Data Points," [pdf] Women's Data Center, Institute for Women's Policy Research. May 20, 2008.

    3. "Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2007," [pdf] Bureau of Labor Statistics. March 24, 2008.

    4. "Living in Poverty: Vulnerable Women and Children," Headwaters Group for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. July 2008. p. IV

    5. "Living in Poverty: Vulnerable Women and Children," Headwaters Group for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. July 2008. p. IV. Based on the "Current Population Survey, 2007 Annual Social and Economic Supplement," U.S. Census Bureau.

    6. "Women are Prime Targets for Subprime Lending: Women are Disproportionately Represented in High-Coast Mortage Market," [pdf] Consumer Federation of America. December 2006.

    7. "Unfair Lending: The Effect of Race and Ethnicity on the Price of Subprime Mortgages," [pdf] Center for Responsible Lending. May 31, 2006. p.3.

    8. "Living in Poverty: Vulnerable Women and Children," Headwaters Group for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. July 2008. p. IV

    9. The State of Working America, [pdf] Economic Policy Institute. August 2008. p. 4.