30 June 2010

Take Action Now: Urge Senators to Pass Reproductive Health Act in NY State

Ms. Foundation grantee Family Planning Advocates is running an important campaign in New York -- and they need your support!

In mid June, the Reproductive Health Act (A.11484) was introduced before the New York State Assembly. The act seeks to update New York’s outdated 1970 abortion law and ensure a woman's right to an abortion if her health is jeopardized. At present, New York’s law does not contain an exception to protect a woman should her pregnancy pose a risk to her health. New York’s law protects a woman during pregnancy only if her life is in immediate danger.

But as Family Planning Advocates points out, there are many serious medical issues that can arise as a result of pregnancy that might put women in precarious situations. "Kidney failure, diabetes, stroke, extremely high blood pressure and cancer are just a few of the complications that can occur during a pregnancy," the group writes. "As a result, women and their families are put in the position of making difficult decisions."

FPA goes on to note that,
The Reproductive Health Act is consistent with the tenets of Roe v. Wade, and would allow abortion up to the time of viability and after that, only if there is a threat to the woman's health or life. And, contrary to misleading information being spread about this bill, it does not change state and federal laws that allow providers to refrain from performing abortions based on their moral or religious beliefs.
If you believe it's time to bring New York State's abortion law up to date, and you're a resident of New York State, contact your state senator and urge him or her to help pass the Reproductive Health Act. There's not much time left to make your voice heard on this one: the legislative session is about to end. Take action now!

29 June 2010

The Recession’s Deepening Toll on Women: Capitol Hill Briefing a Success

On June 24th, before a standing-room-only crowd, the Ms. Foundation and the Center for Community Change, together with Lake Research Partners, presented the results of a new nationwide poll [pdf] underscoring the recession's deepening toll on women.

Sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Linda Sánchez (D-CA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), this Capitol Hill briefing offered important perspectives on the need for job creation at the local level through, among other measures, passage of national legislation to create and save more than a million public and private jobs in local communities this year.

Celinda Lake, President of Lake Research Partners, kicked off the forum by presenting the polling results we've mentioned here before -- showing that a majority of Americans believe the government should play a larger role in shaping our economy and creating jobs, and highlighting how women are particularly affected by the failing job market. To that end, Representative Rosa DeLauro spoke about the increasing pressure women are facing as a greater share of them become co- or sole breadwinners in their households, making pay equity issues even more acute. Rep. DeLauro encouraged the support of the Paycheck Fairness Act, as well as the Local Jobs for America Act (HR 4812), noting that benefits to women will be substantial from the latter bill, as they are a large share of job holders in the education sector as well as over 60% of state and local government employees.

Representatives Linda Sánchez and Gwen Moore also held forth to lift up the need for job creation for women -- particularly low-income women and women of color, who are experiencing high unemployment rates across the nation (African American women: 12.4%; Hispanic women: 10.3%; white women: 7.4%).

Gail Cohen, Chief Economist for the Joint Economic Committee (JEC), spoke briefly on the results of a report called "Working Mothers in the Great Recession." The JEC has found that only in May did women gain almost the same number of jobs as men -- but only in temporary Census jobs. In the private sector in May, women lost 1000 jobs while men gained 42,000 jobs. Unsurprisingly, single mothers and African Americans have been hit disproportionately hard by the recession, the report shows. And part-time pay inequality remains a large concern, as many women are part-time workers.

Closing out the roster of speakers, Patricica Nalls, Founder and Executive Director of the Women's Collective, explained how the recession has affected her nonprofit, which serves the needs of women and girls with HIV. The economic downturn has resulted in a 30% loss in funding to her organization, forcing her to cut her staff from 25 to 15 employees. As a result, her clients -- HIV positive women and girls -- are missing out on much needed services. The Local Jobs for America Act, she pointed out, would allow her to rehire her staff and retain critical services to a community in need.

Learn more about the Community Voices on the Economy project: Read an Op-Ed by Ms. Foundation President & CEO Sara K. Gould and Deepak Bhargava, executive director of CCC, on how Americans want their government to behave in this new economic climate. Or download this mp3 file to listen to audio of a recent webinar explaining the poll's findings in depth.

Thanks to Susan Rees, Director of Policy and National Projects at Wider Opportunities for Women, for her assistance in capturing this information.

Photo: by Elizabeth Rappaport, Kentucky Jobs With Justice, Louisville, Kentucky, March 2010

In the Gulf, Women Struggle to Maintain Sense of Balance

With so much "new news" to process each day (McChrystal, Petraeus, Kagan; Russian spies among us), it's easy to forget that down in the Gulf, life is still falling apart. Oil is still gushing. As of Tuesday, that's 70 days and untold millions of gallons of crude, poisoning the waters and destroying communities, both physically and psychologically.

But residents of the Gulf aren't forgetting. They can't. Their whole way of life has been impacted, and the emotional strain is taking its toll -- a fact that a new article published by Mother Jones lays bare. Focusing on the lives of five women who are married to Gulf fishermen, the piece offers a rare look at how families are dealing with the new wave of destruction, having never actually recovered from Katrina.

Mac McClelland, who wrote the article, is a Hurricane Katrina survivor herself -- which gives her an eye for the kind of detail most reporters, looking in from the outside, miss. Like the fact that you can't buy toilet paper with food stamps. Like the fact that the unknown, and the total absence of structure in their lives, is really what's unraveling people.

And then there are hard details like these, that few news agencies are mentioning:
In Plaquemines Parish, 11 domestic violence [calls] came in on one recent weekend, compared with 3 on a typical weekend... The mayor of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, says they've had 320 percent more incidents of domestic violence since the spill.... "The more people are out of work, the more trouble we're gonna have," [a domestic violence hotline worker] says. "Plaquemines Community CARE is offering help now, but we're gonna need some more counselors. In the coming months, I'm gonna see a definite increase." She says she is also seeing an increase in child abuse calls.
We've written before about how former Ms. Foundation grantees like Sharon Hanshaw of Coastal Women for Change and Brenda Dardar Robichaux of the United Houma Nation are working to address the needs of their communities during this newest disaster. And now our current grantee, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, is using citizen reporting to map the oil spill and change the face of disaster management in the process. These organizations are intervening where government and private industry won't -- and changing the landscape of recovery as they do.

Articles like McClelland's -- journalism that gives voice to the real experiences of women on the ground -- play a vital role in expanding the story about what this disaster "means" to communities across the Gulf. And they also underscore why the work of our grantees in the Southern region remains so important. Though the cleanup of the spill has been cast as a very "male" dilemma (think about who you see on those boats, and making speeches about who is to blame and how justice will be meted out), women continue to bear a heavy burden in this crisis. And their voices will be as important as any others in crafting solution for these communities, where now even hope -- the most abundant of human resources -- seems on the verge of running out.

Ms. Foundation grantees remain front and center as the Gulf Coast struggles to combat the oil crisis. Grantee Green for All sent Dan Martin, their Director of Operations, to the Gulf to Report on the economic and environmental impact of the disaster. Read his blog posts from the region -- and watch this moving video that shines a light on how the United Houma Nation has been affected by the spill.

28 June 2010

WATCH: Kagan Confirmation Hearings Live Online

Starting Monday, the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan are taking place on Capitol Hill. If confirmed, Kagan will join Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor to become the third woman sitting on the nation's highest court at one time -- a truly historic achievement.

If you're not near a television but want to follow the hearings closely, tune into MSNBC.com, which is running a live online video stream of the confirmation debate. And let's hope these confirmation hearings proceed with a level of fairness and civility that eluded the Senate Judiciary committee 19 years ago.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Americans Want More, Not Less, Government on Economic Issues

A major new nationwide poll conducted by Lake Research Partners for the Center for Community Change and the Ms. Foundation for Women shows that a majority of Americans are less concerned about the federal budget deficit than they are about rising health care costs, the lack of jobs with family-sustaining wages, and the affordability of every day expenses like food and gas.

And, not surprisingly, those hit hardest by the recession are those who believe most strongly that the government needs to play a more prominent role in protecting the economic interests of the many, not the few: 66 percent of African-American women and 68 percent of Latinas want increased government intervention. In April, unemployment reached 13.7 percent among African-American women and 11.1 percent for Latinas. And three out of four people surveyed said they believe policies that would create more jobs with decent wages and benefits for low-income families are important to them personally.

Things, it seems, are getting more personal by the moment: just two days from now, more than a million Americans will find themselves facing the end of their health and unemployment benefits -- unless congress takes immediate action to ensure a reprieve.

Legislation put forward by Democratic congressional leaders late last week would have provided more than $35.5 billion in funding to extend unemployment insurance for 1.2 million jobless Americans, as well as an extension of critical COBRA subsidies that have put health insurance within reach for many who have lost their jobs.

But House Republicans have quashed multiple versions of the bill, fearing the impact of its cost on an already ballooning national deficit.

As a result, it now looks as if millions of families that are already struggling to make ends meet will be facing a more difficult future in the days to come. Moreover, the move to cutoff funding flies directly in the face of what our new poll indicates: that the majority of Americans actually want government to take a larger and stronger role in making the economy work for average Americans.

Legislation like the tax-bill currently languishing in congress is but one small step in the direction of helping hard-hit communities meet some portion of their needs; real reform would go further, addressing the deep and systemic inequalities that have left already struggling communities decimated as a result of this recession. But at least it's a step of some kind. Allowing another 1.2 million Americans to fall between the cracks in our political system is, at best, an illogical approach to stimulating this fragile economy -- and, at worst, suicidal. The clock is ticking. Congress must act before it's too late, and do what Americans want them to do: take a strong hand in building a better economic future for us all.

You can take action too: sign Ms. Foundation grantee The National Women's Law Center's petition urging senators to support struggling families by extending unemployment benefits.

Sara K. Gould on the Nomination of Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan. An accomplished attorney and legal scholar, Solicitor General Kagan -– the first woman to ever hold that title –- is a remarkably qualified candidate for the position of Supreme Court Justice. We call on the Judiciary Committee to move the hearings forward in a thorough, productive and fair manner.

Like so many others, we look forward to learning more about Solicitor General Kagan's positions on the issues that matter most in the lives of women: ensuring the health and well-being of their families and communities; protecting their reproductive rights; and upholding a commitment to justice as equally available to all of us, regardless of our gender, race, class or any other factor. The possibility of having three female justices on the Supreme Court, for the first time in our nation's history, is one we greet with great excitement, and we applaud President Obama for taking this unprecedented step.

We wish Solicitor General Kagan all the best throughout the confirmation process, and will be watching closely to see that both the media and the Judiciary Committee treat her with the fairness and respect she so clearly deserves.

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

24 June 2010

This Week: Get Yourself Tested!

National HIV Testing Day (NHTD): June 27Sunday, June 27th is National HIV Testing Day, and all this week around the country, cities are offering opportunities and events to help people get tested while learning more about the prevalence of HIV in America and its impact on our communities.

If it feels likes HIV/AIDS is a thing of the past, think again. A few facts on the virus:
  • Over one million Americans are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS
  • Every 9½ minutes, someone in the U.S. is infected with HIV
  • One out of five Americans living with HIV today doesn’t know it
  • The epidemic continues to have a disproportionate impact on certain populations, particularly racial and ethnic minorities, gay and bisexual men -- and women
The degree to which HIV has become a women's issue in the 21st century cannot be understated. Today women account for more than 27 percent of new HIV cases. Women of color are disproportionately affected at alarming rates: while Black women and Latinas compose 25 percent of women in the US, they represent 81 percent of AIDS diagnoses among women. In 2004, the last year for which data is available, HIV/AIDS was the leading cause of death among Black women aged 25-34.

These statistics make it clear just how big a stake the women's community has in making HIV/AIDS truly a thing of the past. Learn more about how our National Women and AIDS Collective is working to raise awareness and change attitudes about how the virus affects women. Watch Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's video message below about the importance of knowing your HIV status. And please take the time this week to go and get yourself tested -- because knowledge is power.

Today: Urge NY State Lawmakers to Enact the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

Progress on the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights may be thwarted if New York State government leaders do not act immediately. Bills have passed in both houses of the legislature and Governor Paterson has pledged to sign a reconciled version into law before the month's end. Lawmakers are expected to meet today. Join us and Domestic Workers United and make your support heard.

Call Today!
Governor David Paterson's office: 518-474-8390
Speaker Sheldon Silver's office: 518-455-3791
My name is _____ and I'm calling to express my support for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Domestic workers have been excluded from the labor laws for too long. They are not asking for special rights. They work alone and have no power to negotiate for better working conditions. Uniquely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, this bill is the only way that domestic workers can get what they deserve for the important work they do. New Yorkers want and need this legislation.
Help us push for a final bill that will guarantee basic benefits like paid time off and notice of termination for domestic workers. Make a difference today.

More on the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights from our blog.

Photo: by Elizabeth Rappaport. (detail) Domestic Workers United March, New York City, October 2008.

Tired Americans Want Government Help

Deepak Bhargava and Sara K. Gould
By Deepak Bhargava and Sara K. Gould

The tea party movement insists that a growing majority of Americans want less government and endorse an "everyone for themselves" mentality.

But these tea-party-infused sound bites turn out to have little to do with most Americans' actual beliefs.

A majority of people want government to take a larger and stronger role in making the economy work for average Americans, according to a new nationwide poll conducted by Lake Research Partners for the Center for Community Change and the Ms. Foundation for Women. Roughly 52 percent of respondents agreed with that statement.

This government role could include creating jobs and training programs, helping cut health care costs and combating corporate greed.

These attitudes were particularly pronounced among groups hit hardest by the recession. For example, 66 percent of African-American women and 68 percent of Latinas want government to play a larger role. In April, unemployment reached 13.7 percent among African-American women and 11.1 percent for Latinas.

Those polled are less concerned about the federal budget deficit than they are about rising health care costs, lack of jobs with family-sustaining wages and the affordability of daily expenses such as food and gas.

How do we interpret these findings, given such persistent voices to the contrary?

It is true that most Americans view individual responsibility as vitally important for improving one?s life. But this is not the "everyone for themselves" individualism of the tea party movement.

For a majority of those surveyed, individual responsibility cannot be separated from responsibility toward one's family, community and the economy as a whole. Nine out of 10 agree that government and corporations should join with individuals to place the common good above greed.

The vast majority questioned the values our economy rewards, particularly the "everyone for themselves" mentality. When given a choice of values they want the economy to reward, they ranked "everyone for themselves" last. Unfortunately, they also said that value best describes the economy today.

This seems to contradict recent polls that show Americans have all but given up on government's ability to do the right thing. Most of these surveys, however, reflect a disconnect from a vast and amorphous federal government.

At the local level, people clearly feel differently about the governments in their own communities and the vital role they play in promoting healthy and productive families.

It is also clear, despite messages from the far right, that most Americans do not think government should withdraw support for communities in need.

Three out of four people surveyed say policies that could create more jobs with decent wages and benefits for low-income families are important to them personally. Even more -- 88 percent -- agree they would be good for the economy.

Our data underscore what many Americans have been saying for some time about an "economic recovery" that they consider has helped Wall Street and bypassed them.

For large segments of the population, the recession shows little signs of abating. Slightly less than half of Americans still worry that they, or someone in their household, will be out of a job in the next year. More than half worry that they, or someone in their household, will not work enough hours to make ends meet.

These views are most evident among those hurting long before the recession began -- particularly single mothers and minority women.

Though the downturn has been labeled a "mancession?" -- because of the large number of men who lost jobs -- recent evidence shows women are actually faring worse.

From October 2009 to March 2010, according to a Joint Economic Committee report, women lost 22,000 jobs while men gained 260,000 -- as more private-sector employers started hiring again.

And women, who make up 60 percent of state and local government employees, are hit hard by the state fiscal crisis and resulting layoffs.

Latinas also have been hard hit. Two-thirds said their circumstances have been affected by the country's economic woes, and more than half said they or someone in their household has lost a job in the past year.

These findings underscore the need for bold action to address structural problems that lead to long-term unemployment.

That means passing legislation such as the Local Jobs for America Act, introduced last week in the Senate and earlier this year in the House.

The bill, which could save or create 750,000 jobs in local nonprofits and governments, targets funds to communities with high rates of unemployment and poverty.

It also means addressing fundamental inequities. Three out of four of those polled, for example, say that equal pay and benefits for men and women are personally important to them. Even more say such parity is a vital component of a healthy economy.

As our poll demonstrates, this is not the time for political leaders to skimp on investments that could bring large payoffs for families, communities and our economy.

Taking a stand against government spending may play well for the tea party but is unlikely to play as well among those wondering when the economic recovery will come to their neighborhood.

Deepak Bhargava is executive director of the Center for Community Change; Sara K. Gould is president and chief executive officer of the Ms. Foundation for Women.

This piece originally appeared on Politico.

Learn more about the Community Voices on the Economy project.

23 June 2010

Women's Groups Take Fight Against Arizona's SB 1070 To Washington

On June 10th a delegation of women from Arizona traveled to Washington to show the Obama administration the true effects Arizona's SB1070 could have on women and children in immigrant and undocumented communities. The delegation met with representatives from the administration, including members of the White House Council on Women and Girls, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Homeland Security to share their experiences and express their desire for President Obama to address these issues head-on. The group also met with national women's organizations and advocates to plan further collaborations and organizing possibilities, and, as Ai-Jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance reports, "were energized to engage in a real strategy conversation and take action."

The delegation was organized by a coalition including the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Jobs with Justice and the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, in support of a women's response to the devastating effects of Arizona’s SB1070. In mid-May the Ms. Foundation provided a rapid response grant to this group. Together with other social justice and women's organizations they are creating a powerful alliance of female-led opposition to the bill, as Ai-Jen Poo, said, "the voices, leadership and power of women's organizing [are] a vital part of the campaign."

The Washington visit concluded with the women sharing testimony in a packed congressional hearing, which was attended by Democratic Representative Raul Grijalva (AZ), co-hosted by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL), Rep. Gwen Moore (WI), with Congress members Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX), Jared Polis (CO), Mike Quigley (IL), Hank Johnson (GA), Lynn Woolsey (CA), Luis Gutierrez (IL) and Judy Chu (CA) as honorary guests, numerous witnesses and media outlets. Ai-Jen Poo reported that the "hearing … packed, beyond standing room -- with people listening in from the halls, sitting on the floors. Eight TV cameras, six members of Congress who stayed for over an hour, and a room full of press and people who were moved to tears again and again. There was a feeling all around that something different was happening, something extraordinary. An extraordinary shift."

Building on this success (see the slide show above), the fight against this legislation will continue. The law's potential to disrupt the lives of women and children, tear apart families, and legalize racial profiling must be countered. Stay up to date on action alerts and breaking news updates by reading our blog, and to help create a national "Women's Campaign to Stop SB1070" visit AZWomenRise. Let's bring an end to this devastating bill.

21 June 2010

HIV-Positive Women Lack Counseling on Pregnancy

A new study has found significant gaps in the counseling HIV-positive women receive about pregnancy.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recently conducted interviews with 191 HIV-positive women being seen at one of two Baltimore clinics. They found that though these women were taking proactive care of their health by regularly visiting a clinic (the best-case scenario), many had never had a direct discussion with their health care provider about their plans to have children -- or about what kinds of precautions they should take to prevent transmission to their partners and potential children. The study found that,
... among [HIV positive] women who intended to have a child, 56 percent had not had a personalized discussion about pregnancy with their health care provider. Of those who had done so, most initiated the conversation themselves.
Sixty-Six percent of the women interviewed indicated that they did indeed plan to have children -- and yet their health care providers were found to have remained silent on the critical issue of how women with HIV should approach pregnancy.

The reasons for that silence aren't totally surprising: the authors of the study suggest that there may be real discomfort at play in discussing the realities of pregnancy among HIV-positive women -- both on the part of patients and their health care providers. They note:
Given the stigma HIV-infected women may experience when considering childbearing, they may have a heightened fear of disapproval from their HIV provider. If communication is not initiated by the provider, it may only occur after pregnancy.
This fear of disapproval and lack of understanding from the medical community are two among many reasons that the Ms. Foundation's work around the epidemic of Women and AIDS remains so important. Our grantee organizations are meeting women where they are in the fight against HIV, and tackling issues like these -- that affect women's lives but rarely make front-page news (even in the medical community) -- head on.

Take our grantee partner SMART: this Harlem-based organization, founded in 1998, provides treatment, health and prevention education for women living with and affected by HIV/AIDS in a safe and supportive environment. SMART provides women with HIV the information, support, and confidence they need to avoid falling into traps set by their doctors' silence or their own fear.

Through their SMART University program, SMART offers women with HIV access to the tools they need to become informed participants in their treatment decision-making process, and helps build clients into strong advocates for themselves, their peers and communities. Along with other members of the National Women and AIDS Collective (NWAC), the first and only national policy network of organizations led by women living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, SMART and the Ms. Foundation are working to render the stigma of HIV, and the fear it engenders, a thing of the past. No woman should have to approach pregnancy too afraid to ask her doctor about its consequences -- for herself, her partner, or her unborn child. Learn more about how you can help NWAC and the Ms. Foundation address the unique and unmet needs of women living with and at risk of HIV/AIDS.

Thanks to Tatianna McKinney at RH Reality Check for the tip on this report.

18 June 2010

June 25th is Trans Day of Action: March to Support Justice for All

Earlier this week, we told you about the great work the folks over at the Audre Lorde Project are doing to help build power in the Trans and Gender Non Conforming community. Now here's a chance for you to step out and show your support for this communty's right to justice.

On Friday, June 25, 2010, Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color and allies will take to the streets of NYC for the 6th Annual "Trans Day of Action" -- and they are calling on all activists and organizers to march with them in solidarity as they demand justice for their communities.

The Ms. Foundation has signed on as an endorser of this event and we hope that you will lend your support, too. If you can gather a group of 5 people to join the march, you can be listed as a contingent in program materials; email Jennifer at jroman@alp.org for more details on how to organize a contingent.

And if you or your organization would like to join the growing list of endorsers for this event, email endorsetdoa@alp.org for further information. Details regarding the time and place of the march can be found on the ALP website; please take a moment to read their stirring Call to Action when you can.

We hope you'll join us in supporting this important work!

16 June 2010

The Gulf Coast Catastrophe: Let's Put Our Trust in Women's Solutions

Fifty-eight days. Sixty million gallons of oil. Despite BP's ongoing attempt to cover it up, there is simply no denying that the effects of the oil pouring into the waters, marshes and wetlands of the Gulf spell devastation for generations to come. The ecology of the Gulf (and beyond) has been changed forever by BP's malfeasance -- and so have the lives of the people who live there, many of whom make their living off these waters that are now closed for business.

That is no small matter to communities that are still recovering from the profound effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita -- and who continue to battle the longstanding history of economic injustice that is synonymous with the region. In the face of gross government neglect, grassroots organizations across the Gulf Coast that have spent the last five years rebuilding homes and business are now faced with the reality that entire economies may never come back. Fishermen and their families also stand at the front lines; a trade that has been passed down from generation to generation among Gulf Coast families may very well have seen its last days.

Brenda Dardar Robichaux, chief of the United Houma Nation, whose 17,000-plus members live along Louisiana's coastal marshlands, knows firsthand how ecological disasters can destroy the economic underpinnings of coastal communities. After the hurricanes, she worked alongside others to ensure the survival of her tribe. These days, as the crude continues to invade fishing waters, she sees a whole way of life on the brink of disappearing. In a recent interview with NPR's Michel Martin, she described the economic devastation her community faces:
People are not able to go out on their fishing vessels anymore. The season has been closed and that's the way that they earn their living. Where other people live check to check, we live catch to catch. Those fishing nets are not in the water, so they are not catching anything. And they're not able to provide for their families.
No fishing. No tourism. No jobs. Massive ecological impact. The problems propagating on the Gulf Coast are many, and multi-layered -- yet both the government and BP have proven they are sorely outmatched when it comes to taking action to save what is left of these communities and the natural environment they call home.

So what is left? Where can we turn to find the expertise needed to craft the solutions that will recover livelihoods and protect families and communities? If the aftermath of Katrina and Rita is any indication, the answer lies with women like Brenda, in communities all across the Gulf Coast.

In the days and months after the hurricanes hit in 2005, organizations led by low-income women and women of color -- who were disproportionately impacted by the hurricanes -- found ways to meet the urgent needs of their communities as few others could. They knew better than anyone the real problems families were facing -- in large part because they were from these communities themselves. They understood how disempowered and betrayed families who had lost everything felt in the face of inexcusable government neglect. They knew firsthand how the imposition of solutions and unjust policies from above further reinforced disenfranchisement in already marginalized communities. Despite their own profound losses they stayed home when they could have left and organized to ensure that representatives of their communities had seats at the table when decisions were being made about how to bring the Gulf back from the brink of disaster.

The power, expertise and leadership of women in these communities is something we put our trust in from the very beginning. Immediately after the hurricanes the Ms. Foundation for Women created the Katrina Women's Response Fund, and over time invested more than $3 million in 40 organizations led by low-income women and women of color across the Gulf. We used that money to help build the leadership and capacity of both existing and emerging grassroots and state-level organizations to advocate for a just and sustainable recovery -- and to promote the policy solutions of women across race and class.

We continue to see the wisdom of investing in women's solutions, and are moved by the conviction our grantees demonstrate day after day, as they show up and stand up, demanding seats at the table as decisions about their communities are made. Because of their commitment, lives were changed, and saved, five years ago -- and their work continues to have enormous impact to this day.

Now, as the Gulf Coast faces another disastrous summer, we must remember how crucial women's voices have been to improving the lives across the Gulf, and include them in this new recovery process as quickly as possible. Already KWRF grantees like Dardar Robichaux and former grantee Sharon Hanshaw of Coastal Women for Change in East Biloxi, MS have stepped up and are speaking out about how the spread of oil is threatening the people in their hometowns. They are organizing a response that reflects the complexities of life lived in these Gulf communities: by bringing diverse groups of fishing families and restaurant workers together to share their concerns; by providing them with essential information that is in short supply; and by providing local children with outlets to share their fears about the oil disaster.

Fifty-eight days. Sixty million gallons of oil. That's an awfully big mess to clean up. Fixing this problem -- and ensuring it never happens again -- will require not just a little commitment from a few of us, but a huge commitment from all of us to build a new way of life that protects our environment and our coastal communities from disasters of the man-made variety. And engaging and investing in women's solutions is one sure step toward making that ideal a reality.

Susan Wefald
Executive Vice-President and COO
Ms. Foundation for Women

This piece originally ran on AlterNet.org.

Economic Crisis Hits Transgender Community Hard

Though it is true that each of us has been affected in some way by the Great Recession, it is also increasingly evident that some groups are feeling greater pains than others thanks to this economic crisis.

One group hit hard by the surge in US unemployment is the transgender community. Though rarely highlighted in media reports that parse the uneven employment rates across class and education level, transgender people are "twice as likely to be unemployed as other Americans, and face even higher rates of unemployment if they are people of color" -- making them especially vulnerable as the job markets remain weak.

But as an article on Women's eNews points out, it's not just the lack of jobs that poses problems for the transgender community. Dealing with government agencies also brings special challenges: because state and federal agencies remain inconsistent in determining how and whether an individual is allowed to change his or her sex identification on official paperwork, many transgendered people find themselves caught in a proverbial "no man's land" when it's time to file for unemployment. Their Social Security card might list them as one gender, while their driver's license might list them as another. In many cases that leads to an uncomfortable outing while applying for state aid; in other cases it can cause outing with potential employers -- and sometimes cost individuals their jobs entirely.

Among the outstanding organizations leading the fight to address the inequalities faced by the transgender community is the Audre Lorde Project. Their Welfare Justice Campaign, which "sought to address the rampant transphobia, discrimination, and harassment that Trans and Gender Non-Conforming people in New York City face when seeking to access welfare/public assistance" is one example of how activist organizations are now winning battles to secure the rights of transgender individuals.

Another is Ms. Foundation grantee Southerners on New Ground (SONG). This Atlanta-based organization works with the LGBTQ community in the southern region to build the power of marginalized groups and organize across lines of race, class, culture, gender and sexuality through its unique organizing school model.

These are organizations that are doing things right for the LGBTQ community, and they have great lessons to teach about the power of grassroots organizing. If little else comes out of this economic crisis, perhaps it will at least help us learn that the vulnerabilities of diverse communities are unique and nuanced -- and require, at best, the input of the people experiencing the problem to develop viable solutions. That's the kind of change we can believe in.

15 June 2010

Arizona Legislators Target Children of Immigrants

And then they came for the children... Apparently riding on a wave of what they see as public support for their drastic immigration measures, legislators in Arizona are taking their war against the state's immigrant community one step further -- this time by seeking to deny citizenship rights to the children of illegal immigrants born in the state of Arizona.

Sound fishy? Somehow odd? Well, that's because the idea directly contravenes the rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. The 14th amendment, enacted to ensure citizenship for freed slaves, clearly states that "All persons, born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States" -- and goes on to say that no state has the jurisdiction to abridge these privileges.

But that's not stopping Arizona state senator Russell Pearce, who is the author of this new legislation. As he sees it, denying the children of illegal immigrants the rights of citizenship will make it much less likely that immigrants will stay in the US illegally -- and with 58% of Americans in a recent poll agreeing that children born of illegal parents do not deserve citizenship (76% of Republicans), he's pretty sure that he's got the political "goodwill" necessary to pass the bill this fall.

The courts may yet have something to say about all of this -- so expect this particular battle to be a long one. But in the meantime, it's clear that we've all got to speak out to protect the rights of immigrant communities in Arizona.

Photo: by Elizabeth Rappaport. (detail) Woman and child at immigration reform march, 21 March 2010, Washington, DC.

Video: 'Rape on the Reservation'

From Current TV, a searing new documentary on how violence is affecting the lives of Native American women.

One in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. In South Dakota, where Native Americans make up just 9% of the population, more than 40% of the incidents of domestic and sexual violence take place on the state's reservations. A recent episode of Current TV's "Vanguard" series turned its focus on one such reservation in South Dakota, where the growing epidemic of violence against women recently escalated to murder.

Learn more about how the Ms. Foundation is working to end gender-based violence in communities across the United States.

Oklahoma Bars Health Insurance Discrimination for Domestic Violence Survivors

Ms. Foundation grantee the National Women's Law Center is highlighting some great news out of the state of Oklahoma on its Womenstake blog.

Though in recent weeks Oklahoma's given us more to boo at than to cheer, we're happy to report that the state's governor has now signed into law legislation that's worthy of applause: SB 1251, which bars discrimination against domestic violence survivors in health insurance.

From Womenstake:
The bill, which was introduced by state Senator Jim Wilson, prohibits any insurance plan issued or renewed on or after November 1, 2010, from denying, cancelling, or refusing to issue or renew coverage based on an applicant’s status as a DV survivor, denying a claim based on an applicant’s status as a DV survivor, or treating domestic abuse as a pre-existing condition. It passed both chambers of the state legislature unanimously.
With the bill's passage, Oklahoma becomes just the third state in the nation (behind Arkansas and North Carolina) to protect domestic violence survivors from health care discrimination.

Congratulations to NWLC -- which has been working on the issue since 2008 -- and to the people of Oklahoma, for finally scoring a win on behalf of women in the state!

14 June 2010

Who Gives? Women Do

Women and giving. Historically, the idea that the one might be reliably connected to the other has been fairly regularly dismissed. As in: women don't have the capacity to give at high levels. As in: women just don't donate as frequently as men do charitable causes.

Though we here at the Foundation have had excellent reason to reject those conceits for years (we're here, after all!), two recent articles are shedding extra light on just how significantly women are impacting philanthropy here and abroad, and highlighting the unique approaches many are taking to putting their money to work on behalf of women around the world.

In a piece that ran on The Huffington Post last week, Tabby Biddle looked closely at how the rising economic power of women is impacting philanthropy. She noted:
In the United States, the latest statistics show that there are more women controlling more wealth in the U.S. than ever before. (Of those in the wealthiest tier of the country -- defined by the I.R.S. as individuals with assets of at least $1.5 million -- 43 percent are women.) Furthermore, women are reported to control 83 percent of household spending and more than 50 percent of family wealth. The reality is that women, strengthened by increasing economic power and education, are the rising wave of philanthropists.
The point is not just that women have more money in their pockets, Biddle observes. It's also that they're directing more and more of it toward charitable giving, as compared to their male peers. According to a Barclay's Wealth study from 2009 that Biddle references, "women in the U.S. give to charity, on average, nearly twice as much as men." How's that for dispelling the myth that women just don't give?

Of course, what's particularly interesting to note is not just the rise in numbers of women of women giving, and the increasing amounts they are donating to charity, but also the unique methods they are employing to disburse their funds. In last Sunday's Boston Globe, Kathleen Burge penned an excellent article about the rise in popularity of "giving circles" among women -- a concept we at the Ms. Foundation are intimately acquainted with, having originated a version of this kind of collaborative funding model in the earliest days of our existence.

Rather than acting as individual donors, in these models donors pool their resources for greater impact and, in some cases, decide together where to direct their funds. In her article, Burge profiles a few, small groups of women who have banded together informally in this way; at the Ms. Foundation, groups like our Democracy Funding Circle use similar methods to deploy their funds, while also deepening their knowledge base on specific issues and engaging with like-minded individuals who are working toward progressive social change.

Take a little time to read these articles, and then think about how you might leverage the power in your pocket -- and the collective power in your community -- to bring about change that benefits women and families. As both of these pieces show, your investment today really could make all the difference in the world.

09 June 2010

Laws to Restrict Abortion: Sara K. Gould Responds to the New York Times

Today, The New York Times ran a Letter to the Editor by Ms. Foundation President and CEO, Sara K. Gould, responding to its June 3 article, Abortion Foes Advance Cause at State Level, and highlighting the Foundation's work to fighting state-based assaults on reproductive choice.
To the Editor:

Re “Abortion Foes Advance Cause at State Level” (news article, June 3):

It is no coincidence that “this is a good year” for restricting abortion access at the state level, as an opponent of abortion is quoted as saying. In an election year dominated by the Tea Party and legalized discrimination in Arizona, we now see conservative America’s familiar strategy of hijacking women’s bodies and personal safety for political gains.

The paternalism of laws that require ultrasounds — “though she may avert her eyes” — reveals that the battle for abortion rights is as much about maintaining inequality as it is about “saving babies.”

The Ms. Foundation has supported advocates working at the state level for comprehensive reproductive health for more than 20 years because we know that attempts to limit access to abortion are a step down the road to limits on other reproductive health freedoms and services, like access to contraception.

It is dangerous to women’s overall health and well-being to isolate abortion from the full range of health services every person deserves.

Sara K. Gould
President and Chief Executive Officer
Ms. Foundation for Women
Brooklyn, June 3, 2010
[Originally posted at The New York Times]

08 June 2010

Take Action on Behalf of Arizona's Immigrant Families

Still outraged about what’s going on in Arizona around immigration? You should be -- but one thing we've learned over decades of organizing is that anger on its own can never bring about the change we seek. What we need, now more than ever, is to channel that anger into action.

Thanks to a group of women and organizations who are pooling their resources and organizing under the name "The Mother's Day Delegation" (and supported by the Ms. Foundation through a rapid response grant to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Jobs with Justice and the National Day Laborers Organizing Network) there are now a number of excellent ways for you to do just that.

Harness the power of your outrage to challenge the bigotry masquerading as law out West; step up and step out on behalf of immigrant families!

For those who are in the Washington, DC area, or can travel there to take part:
  • There will be an Ad Hoc Hearing on the Impact of Arizona's SB 1070 on Women and Children on Thursday, June 10, 3:00 - 4:00 pm, 1334 Longworth House Office Building. The Honorary Co-Chairs are Reps. Raúl Grijalva, Jan Schakowsky, Gwendolynne Moore and Sheila Jackson-Lee. A delegation of five women, and possibly one child, will be coming from Arizona to speak about the impact of SB 1070 on their families and communities. Michelle Obama is also being asked to meet with the delegation while they are in DC.

  • Prior to the hearing, the supporting organizations will be hosting an Exchange with the women who are traveling from Arizona to testify. This event will also take place on Thursday, June 10, from 12:00 - 2:00 pm in 402 Cannon HOB, and will include an in-depth discussion of women and immigration enforcement.
Please RSVP to gretchen at gmv2108@barnard.edu if you are able to join us for either event.

For those who can’t be in DC but want to lend their support:
  • Sign the Letter to Michelle Obama asking her to meet with the delegation of women from Arizona while they are in DC.

  • Encourage your Congressional reps to attend the hearing. Sign this petition via Change.org to urge your reps to show up and listen to the women of Arizona.

  • Watch the short documentary film made during the Mother's Day March to protest SB 1070 -- and make sure to pass it on to friends.

  • Educate Yourself and Others by checking out MomsRising’s recent “blog carnival” on the human and civil rights impacts of current immigration law enforcement practices on moms and families.
Don't just get angry -- get active. Stand up for the women and families of Arizona NOW.

Photo: by Elizabeth Rappaport. (detail) Arrest of Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), at immigration reform march in front of the White House, 1 May 2010, Washington, DC.

Right-Wing Backlash Conference Call: Audio Available

On Tuesday, May 11, 2010, the Ms. Foundation for Women hosted a revealing conference call on the Right-Wing Backlash and its effects, lead by guest speaker Jean Hardisty, Ph.D., and moderated by Ms. Foundation President and CEO Sara K. Gould.

The audio recording and transcript are now available. The call addressed:
  • Why the racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-immigrant messages are working, and with whom.
  • Who finances and organizes the current movement against progressive social change, and what they have to gain.
  • What the implications for grassroots women's advocacy across the US may be.
Read the transcript [pdf] of this important conversation -- or listen to it with the player below, or by downloading the mp3 file.

About the Featured Speaker
Dr. Jean Hardisty is the founder and president emerita of Political Research Associates, a Boston-based research center that analyzes right-wing, authoritarian, and anti-democratic trends and publishes educational materials for the general public. Currently Senior Scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Research on Women at Wellesley College, Dr. Hardisty is a scholar, widely-published author and long-time activist. She is also a former board member of the Ms. Foundation for Women.

07 June 2010

Act Now to Support Quality Affordable Child Care

Remember a few days back when we highlighted how the lack of low-cost, affordable child care is pushing more and more women out of the job force? Well now, thanks to Mom's Rising, there's a way for you to tell Congress what you think about cuts to child care funding that are leaving many mothers simply unable to afford to work.

By signing on to the petition currently running on their site, you can urge Congress to put families back to work by investing in affordable, quality child care. At least twelve states are now in the process of slashing funding to child care assistance programs and/or quality child care initiatives -- a number that could rise as state economies continue to struggle. Yet we know that providing families with access to affordable child care is absolutely crucial to economic recovery; without it, mothers will increasingly have little choice but to turn to welfare and other assistance programs to support their families.

Remind Congress that working families are essential to our nation's economic recovery -- SIGN the Mom's Rising petition today.

And if you're interested in learning more about what a healthy, robust child care agenda for this nation would actually look like, Ms. Foundation grantee the National Women's Law Center has put together a fabulous campaign on the subject, replete with all the facts and figures, state and federal updates, and action alerts you need to stay current on the topic. This is an issue too important to ignore -- our nation's future depends on our actions today.

04 June 2010

Gloria Award Winner Speaks Out as Oil Invades Gulf

Last night on NPR, Chief of the United Houma Nation, Brenda Dardar Robichaux, gave an important interview on how the newest disaster in the gulf is impacting the people of the region -- particularly the 17,000 plus members of her tribe.

Dardar Robichaux is a beloved Ms. Foundation ally: she was named a Woman of Vision at the Foundation’s 2008 Gloria Awards for her work with the United Houma Relief Fund, which she founded to meet the immediate needs of the Houma Nation (devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita), and which would eventually offer training in non-traditional jobs for women and leadership programming for girls. She spoke at length with NPR’s Michel Martin, describing how the influx of oil into the gulf is "threatening [the tribe's] existence in a way that few other challenges have." "My biggest concern is the future of our people," Dardar Robichaux said.
We have lived off the land, we have lived in our traditional homeland for generation after generation. I have great concern of what the oil spill is going to do to our communities. You know, we grow up learning how to deal with hurricanes. We have experienced four devastating hurricanes in the last three years. Our people are resilient. We know how to gut out our homes, rebuild, repair our fishing vessels and move on.
But this is totally different. The impact that this could be totally devastating to our tribal citizens and it's quite frightening...

Our people are not able to go out on their fishing vessels anymore. The season has been closed and that's the way that they earn their living. Where other people live check to check, we live catch to catch. Those fishing nets are not in the water, so they are not catching anything. And they're not able to provide for their families.
You can listen to the entirety of Dardar Robichaux's interview below or on the NPR site -- and for an interesting look at just how widespread this disaster really is, read today's post from Katha Pollitt on The Nation.com.

03 June 2010

New York City Moves One Step Closer to Mandating Comprehensive Sex-Ed

Imagine that all children in New York City public schools were offered a curriculum in comprehensive sexuality education. That students were taught about birth control, the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and were encouraged to make responsible decisions about their sexuality. Sounds pretty idyllic, doesn't it?

Well, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union this utopian world may be on its way to becoming a reality. The New York City Department of Education recently applied for a $20 million federal grant from the Office of Adolescent Health to support the introduction of a comprehensive age-appropriate sexuality education curriculum in New York City public schools (award decisions are expected in September 2010).

For years, advocates like Ms. Foundation grantees the HIV Law Project and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), have fought to put evidence-based curricula in schools -- and it looks like their hard work has finally paid off. Just last week these two organizations and long list of other advocates (including the New York Civil Liberties Union) sent a letter [pdf] to Joel Klein, the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, urging him to implement comprehensive age-appropriate sexuality education in all New York City middle and high schools by the 2010-11 school year. "Only by implementing such a requirement will we be able to guarantee that students are provided with the information they need to embark on a lifetime of healthy choices about sex and sexuality," their letter stated.

The addition of comprehensive sexuality education is especially crucial in New York City, where, at present, state curriculum does not require the teaching of any sex ed in public schools, and only briefly mentions general health education and HIV-AIDS prevention. The status quo has long been detrimental to the sexual health of the city's youth. According to the letter to Klein, "41% of New York City youth reported becoming sexually active by 9th grade," while one in four teenage women had acquired a sexually transmitted disease (an especially frightening statistic when you factor in that New York City has the highest HIV-AIDS infection rate in the country).

It's clear that the current state of affairs should not and cannot be maintained -- and the grant application is a real indication that the DOE understands this to be true. The city was spurred to apply for the grant partly as a result of an incredibly successful pilot project that ran in seven schools located in the South Bronx during the 2007-2008 school year. The pilot project showed that the NYC school system is ready for sexual health education reform; it used a DOE-approved comprehensive sexuality curriculum, was widely supported by teachers, principals, administrators and parents, and, most importantly, demonstrated a significant learning curve for students. According to the evaluation report [pdf], co-authored by the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene:
  • Students were highly engaged in the program;
  • Very few parents chose to opt their children out of it;
  • All of the teachers who completed the program reported that providing sex education in school is important and several said it should be mandatory;
  • All of the principals who participated in a final focus group said they would use the curricula again and recommend them to other principals.
This pilot project has set the stage for an expansion of these programs city-wide, and underscored what advocates and community-based organizations have long known: that evidence-based, age-appropriate sexuality education is necessary and effective. It is the only way to ensure sexual health and prepare our youth to make responsible choices. With the help of these federal funds -- should they be forthcoming -- the city has the potential to step forward and become a model for comprehensive sexuality education across the state. Let's hope the feds see fit to make that happen.

02 June 2010

Ms. Foundation Issues New Report on Gender-Based Violence Funding

In the fight to end gender-based violence, much has been done to raise awareness of the issue and its impact on women and families -- but how much do we know about how foundations in the US are funding the issue? Or about the level of support they're lending to the cause?

Now, through a new report released by the Ms. Foundation for Women, those questions have been answered.

Timed to coincide with the 15th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, last year the Foundation undertook a multi-pronged study to measure the scope, focus and impact of funding for gender-based violence. The results of that study are now being released in a new report -- "Efforts to Address Gender-Based Violence: A Look at Foundation Funding" -- which reviews the progress foundations have made in addressing gender-based violence, in order to sketch the current philanthropic landscape and its potential for growth.

Featuring first-person interviews with staff members from the Arizona Foundation for Women, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Novo Foundation and the Verizon Foundation - which generously provided funding for the project - the report includes:
  • Data derived from survey responses of over 100 grantmakers and practitioners in the field of gender-based violence
  • Listings of the top foundations that give in this issue area
  • Recommendations for current funders and those who are considering supporting this issue
As the old adage goes, "You can't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been." By offering a comprehensive review of the state of funding in the field, "Efforts to Address Gender-Based Violence" offers a critical jumping off point for the future of funding for gender-based violence programs. Download [pdf] your copy of our groundbreaking new report today.

Victory for Domestic Workers!

Yesterday, at long last, New York took a giant step toward becoming the first state in the nation to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights!

The bill, which would guarantee domestic workers basic workplace rights like paid vacation and sick days, overtime pay, and at least one day off per week, was passed by the New York State Senate by a vote of 33-28. Though the legislation still has to be reconciled with an earlier version that was passed by the Assembly last year, and then signed into law by Governor Paterson, yesterday's vote in the bill's favor was a historic achievement, setting the stage for the passage of similar bills in states like California and Colorado.

Ai-jen Poo, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), described yesterday's debate at the statehouse in these terms:
On the floor, the debate was a moral one --  will we as a state take measures to end the exclusions that we know are wrong, or will we make excuses for the status quo that leaves out 200,000 working women of color? After 6 years of organizing by domestic workers together with unions, employers, clergy and community organizations, the New York State Senate stood on the right side of history.
It's an amazing achievement for Ms. Foundation grantees NDWA and Domestic Workers United, and the thousands of domestic workers they represent in New York -- and nationwide. The work's not yet over -- in the next month there will will be much to do to ensure that the bills are indeed reconciled and then set on Governor Paterson's desk -- but this is a victory worth cheering about.

As Ai-jen Poo put it: "Here's to the leadership of domestic workers and the undeniable power of organizing!" We couldn't say it any better.

Photo: by Elizabeth Rappaport. (detail) Domestic Workers United March, New York City, October 2008.

01 June 2010

TODAY: NY State Senate Votes on Domestic Workers Bill of Rights -- Make Your Voice Heard!

It's not too late to let members of the New York State Senate know that you support the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights!

In advance of the vote in the NY State Senate today, members of Ms. Foundation grantee Domestic Workers United, and their allies, will be fanning out across the Capitol to urge Senators to vote YES. This important bill will guarantee the 200,000 plus domestic workers in New York State access to basic workplace protections like: overtime pay; coverage under employment discrimination laws; paid sick leave and vacation time; and the right to at least one day off per work week -- among other things.

This morning, allied groups and the bill's sponsors will hold a press conference in Albany to draw attention to the upcoming vote; in the afternoon, domestic workers and supporters will lead a procession to the Senate chambers calling for rights, respect and recognition.

So how can you help? Sign a petition in support of the bill at the NYCLU site or at Change.org. And follow the proceedings online by checking out DWU's Facebook page or by subscribing to their Twitter feed. Make sure your voice is heard!!

Photo: by Elizabeth Rappaport. (detail) Domestic Workers United March, New York City, October 2008.