28 July 2009

Another Kentucky is Possible - Kentucky Social Forum to Launch This Week

Ms. Foundation grantee Kentucky Jobs With Justice is the anchor organization for the first Kentucky Social Forum, taking place this weekend at Berea College 31 July - 2 August. Several other Ms. Foundation grantees, including Women in Transition, the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign and Project South will be participating as well. The Forum, a gathering of social justice organizations modeled after the U.S. Social Forum and the World Social Forum, is bringing activists together across issues, from across the state with the following objectives in mind:
    • To continue building a progressive movement in Kentucky by educating folks about numerous social justice issues using a human rights framework.
    • To bring together folks from rural and urban parts of our state to fight for our basic human rights more collectively.
    • To create strong, grassroots coalitions across the expanse of Kentucky.
    • To become more educated about such issues as: housing, hunger, homelessness, poverty, environmental justice, workers’ rights, youth advocacy and organizing, mountaintop removal, reproductive justice, immigrant rights, queer advocacy and organizing, media justice, non-partisan political mobilizing, economic justice...
Through workshops, a poetry slam and other events, organizers of the Forum hope to "develop viable communications networks, clear outreach strategies...[and to use] arts and culture, providing a space for spirituality, healing and more!"

We wish the participants a productive gathering and share an action opportunity from Kentucky Jobs With Justice on our Outrageous Acts site.

Support the Employee Free Choice Act

Ms. Foundation grantee Kentucky Jobs with Justice asks you to sign a petition in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research [pdf]:

Unionization raised women's wages by 11.2 percent "about $2.00 per hour" compared to non-union women with similar characteristics. Among women workers, those in unions were about 19 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and about 25 percentage points more likely to have an employer-provided pension.

Kentucky Jobs with Justice has committed the outrageous act of organizing the Kentucky Social Forum to take place late this week.

23 July 2009

Minimum-Wage Hike: Cause for Celebration?

This Friday, the federal minimum-wage increase--from $6.55 to $7.25--goes into effect. Is this cause for celebration? Especially for women, who make up the majority of minimum- and below-minimum-wage workers? Holly Sklar, senior policy adviser for the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, co-author of the report "Raise the Minimum Wage to $10 in 2010" and with Susan Wefald, Ms. Foundation executive vice president and COO, the book, Raise The Floor: Wages and Policies That Work For All Of Us, had this to say:
The minimum wage is stuck in the 1950s. With the raise to $7.25, the minimum wage is still lower than the 1956 minimum wage of $7.93 in today's dollars. It would take $9.92 today to match the buying power of the minimum wage at its peak in 1968, the year Martin Luther King died fighting for living wages for sanitation workers--and all workers.

The long-term fall in worker buying power is one reason we are in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In advocating passage of the federal minimum wage during the Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt called it "an essential part of economic recovery."

And so it is today. The minimum wage sets the wage floor. We can't build a strong economy with poverty wages and rising greed. In 1968, the richest 1 percent of Americans had 11 percent of national income. By 2006, they had 23 percent--the highest share since 1928, right before the Great Depression.

It's obscene that underpaid workers and responsible businesses are bailing out banks and corporations run by reckless overpaid bosses who milked their companies and our country like cash cows--and trashed the global economy. If the minimum wage had stayed above the nearly $10 value it had in 1968, it would have put upward pressure--rather than downward pressure--on the average worker wage. The Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign is calling for a minimum wage of $10 in 2010. It's time to break the cycle of too little, too late raises. A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it.

Guest Voice: Outsourcing Immigration Enforcement Threatens Communities

Today we share a commentary by Ms. Foundation friend Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. In "Obama's Expansion of Bush-Era Immigration Tactics Endanger Us All," Hincapié calls attention to a worrisome July 10 announcement by the Obama administration that it would expand a Bush-era agreement to use local police officers in the enforcement of immigration law. This must be a call to hold decision-makers accountable to policies of justice and inclusion and to prepare for numerous challenges as Congress returns to immigration reform.

In her New America Media commentary, Hincapié writes:
Some would argue that these minor, cosmetic changes with the 287(g) program are evidence of the Obama administration’s effort to create the political space for comprehensive immigration reform. Putting the burden of immigration enforcement on overtaxed, under-funded, and untrained local law enforcement is unacceptable. The bottom line is that with or without immigration reform, giving local law enforcement agencies the authority to enforce immigration laws is foolhardy and costly.

Outsourcing immigration responsibilities to local law enforcement only makes communities more dangerous by marginalizing our most vulnerable members of society. The destruction of families, the criminalization of immigrants and people of color, and a growing distrust in a police force that needs community support to keep us safe are the wrong way to go. It’s time for President Obama to stop following in Bush’s failed footsteps, leave behind senseless immigration enforcement policies by suspending programs like 287(g), and lead the country toward achieving broad and humane immigration reform. Read full commentary

22 July 2009

Ms. Foundation President Joins Discussions on Women Immigrants

From Left: Silvia Henriquez, Executive Director, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; Sara K. Gould, President and CEO, Ms. Foundation for Women Last week, Ms. Foundation President & CEO Sara K. Gould moderated a discussion among leading immigrants' rights advocates--including current and former grantees--and ethnic media exploring the growing number and changing role of women immigrants in the U.S. and the ramifications for immigration reform. Ms. Gould also participated on a similar panel at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. in May. The sessions accompanied the release of "Women Immigrants: Stewards of the 21st Century Family," a poll published by New American Media.

[Photo: New American Media. From Left: Silvia Henriquez, Executive Director, Ms. Foundation grantee National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; Sara K. Gould, President and CEO, Ms. Foundation for Women at poll announcement at the National Press Club.]

Health Care Reform Updates from Raising Women's Voices

We wanted to share some helpful updates--some of which deserve applause, or at least a sigh of relief, and some a frightening "gulp"--from the blog of Raising Women's Voices, a Ms. Foundation grantee that's closely involved in and following developments of the heated health care debate:
Kucinich proposes single-payer amendment
Dennis Kucinich proposed an amendment in the House of Representatives committee on Education and Labor last Friday that would make states able to set up single-payer systems independent of the federal government. His amendment passed in committee, so it may end up in the conglomerate health care bill at the end of the line.

Successes for comprehensive sex education in the House Energy and Commerce Committee
Last night there were amendments to the Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 proposed and subsequently shot down by the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House of Representatives. These amendments would have expanded abstinence only education programs among other things.

The issue of abortion in health reform
This article from the New York Times gives an updated look into what the White House is saying about abortion coverage in health care plans in reform. Even though federal funds are explicitly excluded from funding non-rape, non-incest abortions for recipients of Medicaid, Republicans are worried about federal funds going toward abortions. This could potentially be the case, if subsidies given by the government to women of low income are used for abortion care.

Some of the quotes from the article are painfully out of date, with quotes from Kathleen Sebelius from April that are actually just wrong. She is quoted in the article as saying that most health insurance plans don’t cover abortion services. This isn’t true, and the Guttmacher Institute has found that about 89% of private insurance plans cover abortion care.

In other news...
RH Reality Check outlines the amendments put forward by Steve Buyer (R-IN) proposing higher premiums for those who engage in unprotected sex. Wow. Check out this other article ["Women's Concerns Often Missing in Health Care Debate"] from the AFL-CIO website that cites our own Amy Allina from the National Women’s Health Network, and this article that makes the case for including immigrants in health care reform.
Read more updates and continue to follow the health care reform debate on the Raising Women's Voices blog!

Outrageous Act: Be a Court Watcher

Court watchers make an enormous difference in domestic violence and sexual
assault cases. Become a court watcher in your community.

For more information on becoming an outrageous activist as a court watcher,
see Legal Momentum or Court Watching.

16 July 2009

Ms. Foundation Grantees in the News - Congressional Edition

Two Ms. Foundation grantees are in the news with testimony and advocacy to Congress on Veterans' Affairs and Health Care.

Anuradha Bhagwati, Executive Director of Ms. Foundation grantee Service Women's Action Network, testified before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs on the challenges faced by women in accessing health care and benefits, and in the processing of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) claims.

The Veterans' Administration routinely rejects claims for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Military Sexual Trauma (MST), regardless of the evidence a veteran submits.

Bhagwati's prepared testimony concluded with the following call for change:

Recommendations to Bridge the Gaps in Care for Women Veterans:
  1. Require that the VA remedy the shortage of female physicians, female mental health providers and MST counselors at VA hospitals nationwide. Also require that the VA provide the option of female-only counseling groups for female combat veterans, and female- as well as male-only counseling groups for female and male survivors of MST.

  2. Require the VA to implement a program to train, educate, and certify all staff, including administrative and medical, in federal Equal Opportunity regulations and MST, to reduce a discriminatory and hostile atmosphere toward women veterans.

  3. Require the VA to increase accessibility of fee-based care for veterans (both male and female) who have been diagnosed with Military Sexual Trauma.

  4. Require day-care facilities for veterans who are parents, as well as more flexible evening or weekend hours for working veterans and parents, at every VA hospital.

  5. Require the VA to conduct a study into what percentage of claims are denied with a breakdown by gender as well as type of injury/condition, including both combat-related PTSD, and PTSD or other conditions resulting from MST.

  6. Require that VBA claims officers undergo intensive training and education in MST and MST-related medical conditions.

  7. Require that the VBA’s submission requirements for MST claims reflect a reasonable standard, such as proof of MST counseling during or after service, and diagnosis of MST-related medical conditions.

  8. Require the DOD to conduct a retention study to determine the total impact of MST on re-enlistment rates of servicemembers.
Ms. Foundation grantee Raising Women's Voices is working to engage a broad array of women's health advocates in local, state and national health reform discussions to ensure that women's concerns will be addressed and the health care we get will be health care for all. They are cited for their mobilization in a Newsweek article about the negotiations on the subject of abortion and health care reform between Senators Grassley and Baucus. (See Raising Women's Voices and others in our earlier post Reproductive Health: Once Again, Ripe for Conservative Compromise.)

Ms. Foundation and National Women and AIDS Collective Submit Recommendations to Office of National AIDS Policy

This month, fourteen U.S. organizations working on issues related to human rights, women and HIV/AIDS, including the Ms. Foundation for Women and the National Women and AIDS Collective (NWAC), a project housed at the Ms. Foundation, submitted a series of policy recommendations to guide the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) and related agencies in their efforts to achieve better outcomes for women living with and affected by HIV.

Since 1996, the Ms. Foundation has been supporting HIV positive women at the grassroots level to advocate for policies that address their unique and often unment needs. Desiree Flores, Ms. Foundation Program Officer, says, "These advocates have done crucial work in their communities, and we're especially proud of the role they are now playing in bringing these local experiences to bear on policy advocacy at the national level. As they often say, 'If you want to end AIDS now, ask a woman how.'"

Let's hope this administration is all ears.

The policy recommendations are part of a newly released report, Critical Issues for Women and HIV: Health Policy and the Development of a National AIDS Strategy [pdf], which calls attention to the factors contributing to disproportionate rates of HIV among low-income women and women of color, as well as poor health outcomes for women living with HIV, and proposes concrete solutions that integrate prevention and delivery of care. The group identified six key areas of focus for better policy and practices:

  • Meaningful involvement by HIV-positive women in development of policy and monitoring and evaluation of programs;

  • Greater consideration of HIV-positive people’s civil and human rights;

  • Health disparities in the U.S. South and rural areas;

  • Health care access;

  • Integration of sexual and reproductive health services with HIV testing, prevention and care; and

  • HIV prevention.

“Involving the expertise of HIV-positive people and those working on the frontlines of service delivery is critical to improve prevention and care outcomes for communities impacted by HIV. We must use a human rights framework as we reform health policy and develop a National AIDS Strategy that will truly reduce HIV incidence and increase access to care for women,” said Naina Khanna, a member of the NWAC leadership team and recipient of a 2009 Ms. Foundation Woman of Vision Award. Naina Khanna is Coordinator of the U.S. Positive Women's Network and Director of Policy and Community Organizing at Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Disease (WORLD), a Ms. Foundation grantee.

In addition to the Ms. Foundation and NWAC, the report signers include several current and former Ms. Foundation grantees: African Services Committee, New York, NY; HIV Law Project, New York, NY; Sisterhood Mobilized for AIDS/HIV Research and Treatment (SMART), New York, NY; the U.S. Positive Women's Network, a project of WORLD, Oakland, CA; and The Women's Collective, Washington, DC.

Representatives from the fourteen organizations plan to meet with Jeff Crowley, Director of ONAP, and other key White House officials in the upcoming months to discuss their recommendations and the development of a national AIDS strategy. In fact, NWAC representatives have already had initial meetings with Mr. Crowley to provide him with concrete, tangible recommendations for including women as a priority population for outreach.

Download Critical Issues for Women and HIV: Health Policy and the Development of a National AIDS Strategy [pdf]

15 July 2009

Outrageous Act: Check Local Safety Standards for In-Home Daycare

Donna Wade, executive director of Ms. Foundation grantee the Idaho Women’s Network in Boise, suggests you check if local in-home daycare operates with minimum safety standards. If not, get active with local organizations, town councils and legislators.

For more information on becoming an outrageous activist, see the Idaho Women’s Network and its Activist Toolkit.

09 July 2009

Collapsing 'Universe' in Health 'Reform'

Framed as yet another "wedge issue," and superfluous to true health care reform, immigrants' rights joins reproductive justice on the Congressional chopping block. Excuse us, but what ever happened to the term universal?

Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, shares his thoughts on the matter in the Huffington Post:
All of the plans getting serious consideration in Congress would exclude undocumented immigrants. Many proposals would even bar access to community health centers and emergency rooms -- a historic shift from America's humanitarian tradition that in an emergency no one should be turned away. Some proposals would exclude legal resident immigrants who have been in the United States for less than five years. Unless the debate takes a different turn, millions of immigrants will be left out of the system.

We should not enshrine discriminatory principles into a new health care system. A "universal" health care program that leaves out millions of Americans is a fraud. Just as we stand up for other core principles in the health care debate -- quality, affordability, a strong public plan -- we need to stand up for immigrant coverage as an essential component of just and effective health care reform. Read more

08 July 2009

Reproductive Health: Once Again, Ripe for Conservative Compromise

With the health care reform debate in full swing, it's become frighteningly clear that key elements of reproductive health care are in danger of being barred from whatever package emerges from Congress. The National Women's Law Center, a Ms. Foundation grantee, today wrote, "Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee are demanding the introduction of health care reform language that will strip women's access to abortion." And it's not just Republicans. As Time Magazine reports, a group of conservative House Democrats sent a letter at the end of June to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stating that they "cannot support any health-care-reform proposal unless it explicitly excludes abortion from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health-insurance plan."

Anti-choice demands from both sides of the aisle would have dangerous implications for women--and their families, and their communities. They would further cement the deeply discriminatory Hyde Amendment, which since 1976, has prohibited the use of federal funds to cover abortion, with an overwhelming impact on low-income women and women of color. They could also prohibit coverage of abortion for millions of women who are now guaranteed it by their private health insurance.

So, once again, women's health and human rights are framed as a "wedge issue" and as such, considered ripe for compromise. And it isn't just women, of course. As Raising Women's Voices, another Ms. Foundation grantee at the forefront of the health care debate, writes, "If conservatives get their way on health reform, we will soon have quality, affordable health care for all --- except for women, terminally ill patients, gays and lesbians, people with HIV and anybody else conservatives don't like!" And let's not forget that women's health is intimately connected to the health and economic well-being of children, families and communities. Nobody can afford to let this pass.

The Senate Finance Committee is meeting this week. Take action by contacting your senator at help_comments@help.senate.gov if s/he is on the Committee (find out here) and urge her/him to refuse such politically-motivated exclusions and ensure access to comprehensive reproductive health services for all women.

06 July 2009

‘Hurricane Season’ Run in New York City Begins 10 July

Be an outrageous activist! See the acclaimed The Hurricane Season: The Hidden Messages in Water, and be inspired and informed to take action for simple justice in your community.Alixa and Naima, the creators of Ms. Foundation grantee Climbing PoeTree, hope “everyone who attends, walks away from Hurricane Season impassioned and empowered, with tools to put their highest visions and most daring dreams into practice.” They use a variety of methods to move participants to action including: a “solutions-cipher” a forum after each performance that “addresses the impacts of the issues surfaced in Hurricane Season on a locallevel, and illuminates solutions already underway.”

New York City performances of “The Hurricane Season” start on Friday 10 July
and run through Sunday 2 August.

“Hurricane Season pounds with intensity and fierceness and love. Naima and Alixa are truly forces of nature, delivering a performance that will move you to tears and to action.
—-Tia Lessin & Carl Deal, Directors of Academy Award-nominated “Trouble the Water,” Producers of “Fahrenheit 9-11”
Hurricane Season at the The National Black Theatre
10 July — 2 August, Fridays and Saturdays @ 7:30 pm, and Sundays @ 4:00 pm
Admission: $15-35
Information/tickets 212.722.3800 or Purchase tickets online.

If you commit an outrageous act for simple justice inspired by Hurricane
Season, please share it!

Alixa and Naima on Hurricane Season, the issues it addresses, and the
outrageous activists it inspires.

02 July 2009

Outrageous Act: Find and Support LGBT Queer Youth

At the end of LGBT Pride Month we share Paul’s request that you find LGBT
youth in your community and support them

For more information, see Ms. Foundation grantee FIERCE in New York City.