31 August 2010

Alaska Quashes Abortion Access for Young Women

The fight for reproductive freedom in Alaska has just reached its boiling point.

Last week, Alaska voters passed an initiative requiring that the parents of women aged 17 and under must be notified before any abortion procedure takes place. The new law also puts in place a 48-hour waiting period between parental notification and performance of the procedure.

While it's true that this new legislation does not require parental consent (an earlier law that did was deemed unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court), and while it does allow for a judge to bypass the required notification, the law nevertheless places young women -- and their doctors -- in a precarious situation.

Doctors who fail to notify the parents of an underage patient seeking an abortion could face "felony charges and a prison sentence of up to five years." And for the young women affected by the new law, accessing an abortion just got one step closer to next to impossible. Not only is the measure likely to frighten a good number of young women away from even considering having the procedure (I have to tell my parents? Or stand in front of a judge? Forget it) and thus force them into teen parenthood, it will also inevitably put young women's lives at risk. Many could find themselves homeless if their parents disagree with their choice. Others could find themselves battered or dead for exactly the same reason.

Abortion may still be legal in Alaska, but voters have now made it a potentially harmful, even deadly, procedure for the young Alaskan women whose families may have different views then their own about a woman's right to choose. Remember what it was like to be 16 years old: how many of us -- facing threats of violence or even just parental disapproval -- could say we'd have had the strength to follow through under these conditions? Probably very few -- and that is exactly what anti-choice advocates are hoping for.

(It's worth noting that Joe Miller, who's locked in a recount battle for the Republican nomination for one of Alaska's Senate seats, was a strong supporter of the ballot measure; Miller was endorsed by the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and other far right notables. Lisa Murkowski, the Republican incumbent, may end up losing her seat in the Senate because she refused to take an outspoken stance in support of the measure.)

Alaska is one among dozens of states where forces on the right are rolling back access to abortion while its legality is maintained in name only. Just days before the vote in Alaska, we wrote about exactly that threat, and noted how past and current grantees like Advocates for Youth and SisterSong -- not to mention organizations like COLOR and NLIRH -- are doing the hard work of pushing back against these restrictive measures around the nation. We support these organizations because we believe in their power to turn back the tide of anti-choice legislation making its way across our nation; help us help them by making a donation to the cause today.

Donate now and a special matching grant will double your support -- dollar-for-dollar -- for reproductive justice organizations led by women of color.

The Power of Three: On Supreme Court, Addition of Kagan Could Make a World of Difference

On Slate, Dahlia Lithwick has posted a thought-provoking piece on the impact that adding a third woman's voice could have on the US Supreme Court.

It's long been held among social scientists that three is the "magic number" when it comes to ensuring that previously marginalized voices (in this case, women) are actually heard at decision-making tables. A single woman on any governing body holds too little power relative to the rest of the group to be taken seriously; two women are often set in opposition to each other and left to duke it out while the rest of the group continues on its merry way. But when three women are included at the table, the entire dynamic tends to change -- in large part, research has found, because this is the point at which the question of whether women actually deserve to be at the table begins to fade. There is, it turns out, real power in numbers.

How that power will display itself in the highest court in the land now that there are three women on the bench will be closely monitored, no doubt, by groups on the right as well as their more liberal counterparts. Lithwick doesn't pretend to know precisely how the addition of Kagan will play out judicially, or whether she will tend to agree or disagree with her sisters Ginsburg and Sotomayor on the court. But like us, Lithwick believes that the addition of another woman to the Supreme Court is decidedly a "good thing" -- because if nothing else, it provides the court with another unique perspective on the realities of women's lives. She writes,
For centuries, the Supreme Court has been zealously opining on whether or not women are fit to practice law, or tend bar, work a 10-hour day, support their families, use birth control, or terminate their pregnancies. For most of that time, women influenced that debate only if they were lucky enough to be married to a justice. The presence, for the first time, of three women on the Supreme Court may not reshape constitutional law in any profound way. It may not even change the court all that much. But as the justices continue to decide the cases that affect the ways in which women in America are educated, hired, compensated, and afforded control over their bodies, it can only be a good thing to have three voices at the table with actual experience in the field.
Amen to all that.

30 August 2010

Take Action: Help Ms. Foundation Grantee LAANE Clean Ports Nationwide

Did you know that ninety-five percent of our nation’s 110,000 port trucks -- the vehicles that ferry goods and containers out of our nation's ports -- fail to meet current EPA emission standards?

Or that the pollution from those trucks subjects nearly 87 million Americans who live and work in port regions to the preventable, costly and even fatal health consequences of diesel soot, which include asthma, cancer and heart disease?

Unless you happen to live near a port or drive a long-haul truck, there's little chance you're aware of just how seriously this absence of regulation in the port trucking industry is impacting seaport communities -- not to mention the drivers responsible for hauling goods from Point A to Point B. Lax oversight has allowed some 5,500 port trucking companies nationwide to skirt tax laws and push all the costs of doing business onto their drivers by misclassifying them as independent contractors. As result, after-taxes, the average driver takes home just $10-11 an hour, making it impossible for them to afford to drive anything but the oldest, most decrepit vehicles -- those that emit levels of pollution our federal government has already deemed unacceptable.

While federal regulators have largely turned a blind eye to this issue, community groups -- along with a growing number of local and national politicians [pdf] -- are standing up for the health and clean air rights of portside communities and drivers nationwide. Among them is Ms. Foundation grantee LAANE, which played a pivotal role in the passage of one of the country’s most sweeping anti-pollution and anti-poverty measures: a Clean Trucks Program for the ports in the Los Angeles region that aimed to dramatically improve air quality and raise the standard of living for as many as 16,000 truck drivers.

The LA Clean Trucks Program was developed to replace old, pollution emitting trucking fleets with new, environmentally friendly trucks -- while forcing the trucking industry, not individual workers, to bear the cost burden of that replacement process. When the measure was initially approved in 2008, 6,600 clean diesel and alternative fuel vehicles were put into service in the LA area -- thanks in part to more than $600 million in private investment from trucking companies. Officials reported a nearly 80 percent drop in emissions as a result.

But not everyone was thrilled with the program: citing the measure's alleged violation of a federal law that protects the interests and independence of tucking companies, the American Trucking Associations challenged the program in district court and won a temporary injunction in late 2008. Since then, many haulers have seen their pay drop below minimum-wage standards, as companies have penalized them directly for the costs of the upgrades of their trucks.

Late last week, however, a victory for the health and well-being of port communities and drivers was won when a federal court judge ruled that "the Port of Los Angeles can regulate trucks that haul goods in and out of its property to reduce air pollution around the country's busiest port complex." This, in turn, means that the full Clean Trucks Program can be implemented at the port -- a huge win for LAANE and other groups that have been working so desperately hard to protect and improve the quality of life for the people of the ports.

A lengthy appeals process is all but certain, but for now, at least, LAANE and its constituents have cause to celebrate -- as do those of us who believe that communities and workers of all economic stripes deserve access to the same clean air so many of us take for granted.

If you believe that local communities deserve more power to enforce labor and environmental programs like the Los Angeles Clean Truck Program, support the recently introduced Clean Ports Act of 2010. Send a message to your elected officials by signing this petition now!

TUESDAY @ 11:00 am, Manhattan: Join Gov. Paterson as He Signs Domestic Workers Bill into Law

The moment for celebration is almost here: After 400 years in the shadows of slavery, 75 years of invisibility and exclusion under US labor law, and 6 years of a hard-fought struggle in the New York State legislature, domestic workers are about to gain the rights, respect, and recognition they deserve!

Tomorrow,Tuesday, August 31 at 11 am, New York Governor David Paterson is scheduled to sign the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights into law. The bill, which Ms. Foundation grantee Domestic Workers United spent years fighting to get passed, will provide basic workplace standards and protections for domestic workers, including overtime pay, paid vacation and sick days, and the guarantee of at least one day of rest per week.

This is truly a historic moment for domestic workers in New York -- and across the country. If you're in New York metro area, you can help celebrate this remarkable win by attending tomorrow's signing, which will take place at the Dwyer Cultural Center, located at 123rd Street between St Nicholas Avenue and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Doors open at 10:15am; program begins at 11am SHARP. If you plan to attend, please RSVP to dwuinfo@domesticworkersunited.org.

We applaud Domestic Workers United, the National Domestic Workers Alliance (an organization working at the national level to ensure domestic workers' rights that was birthed out of DWU and the US Social Forum,) and all of the other organizations and individuals whose support and hard work made this victory possible. But most of all, we congratulate the domestic workers of New York -- who finally have something to cheer about!

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

27 August 2010

I am a Young Feminist [video]

I am a young Latina feminist.

Why does feminism matter to me? Feminism is the movement for social, political, and economic equality of men and women. However it runs deeper than just that, I do not want to be discriminated against based on my sex, just as I do not want to be discriminated against based on my ethnicity, class, or sexual orientation. Feminism matters to me because it takes into account all of these issues and addresses the interconnections of identity, oppression, and activism.

I believe in women’s empowerment. We are still under-represented in government. In the year I was born, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to be appointed on the US Supreme Court. In the entire history of the US Senate, 38 women have served, with 17 women currently serving. Latina women are the most under-represented demographic in the US government. Latinas have served in the US House of Representatives but we have never served in the Senate.

I believe in economic justice for women. A fulltime working woman still makes 23 percent less than a fulltime working man. It was only 47 years ago when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963. Women should not be expected to bear children, nor should we be penalized in our careers for choosing to be mothers.

I believe I should be free to be me. I should be able to follow my own path without feeling that my sex determines or will hinder me in creating my way.
I am a feminist because I believe women should embrace their sexuality and cherish our beauty and sensuality. We should not let it be exploited nor taken for granted. We should be able to explore our sexuality without judgment.

I believe we should have control over our own bodies. We should have access to information to help us make our own intelligent choices.

To all my sisters, we should work together, not compete against each other. We have come a long way but we still need change.

Rebecca Villatoro
29 years old
Finance Staff, Ms. Foundation for Women

Part of 2010 Young Feminist Blog Carnival

Five Years After the Storm: Honoring Strength and Courage

The people of the Gulf Coast have traveled so many miles in the face of adversity. Just five years after the catastrophic events of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, BP Oil has upended lives and livelihoods. And yet again, the people of the Gulf are responding with enormous strength and courage. Today, on the Fifth anniversary of Katrina, we stop to honor the extraordinary work of women, families and communities on the Gulf Coast who fight everyday for a just and equitable recovery.

Immediately after the levees broke, the Ms. Foundation for Women trusted in the wisdom of those closest to the ground who knew best what their families and communities needed. We supported organizations including Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative (MLICCI), Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA), Mississippi Workers' Center For Human Rights and the United Houma Nation that harnessed their own power and stayed on through the aftermath, saving and revitalizing their communities. (Read more about the Katrina Women's Response Fund.)

On the first anniversary of Katrina we told the stories of extraordinary women facing life threatening challenges who refused to let their communities be destroyed by either natural or man-made disasters. (Read their stories and listen to the radio documentaries they produced.) As Sara K. Gould the Ms. Foundation president and CEO says, "The extraordinary courage and commitment of the women on the Gulf Coast as they responded to disaster and stepped up to lead the long, arduous process of rebuilding their communities is one of my most powerful memories."

These women continue to be the bedrock of the region and we are deeply grateful to have the opportunity to partner with them in their continuing efforts. Women like Carol Burnett, from MLICCI, who was honored with a Women of Vision Award this year. Burnett has been a strong advocate for access to affordable quality child care for low-income women and families and has recently taken on the State of Mississippi, urging it get rid of eligibility barriers and release millions of dollars in unspent TANF funds for child care.

Gina Womack from FFLIC continues to work for reform within Louisiana's juvenile justice system, and is currently building a campaign to stop the "School-to-Prison Pipeline," and counter the huge number of suspensions, expulsions and school arrests.

In the last year MIRA and other community-based human rights organizations helped to defeat twenty anti-worker/anti-immigrant laws. MIRA works tirelessly to organize the immigrant rights community in the region and help build a strong base from which to address immigration reform, racial profiling, health concerns and educational equality.

These are just a few of the inspiring stories from our grantees in the Gulf Region. They have not and will not step down and we at the Ms. Foundation are honored to support their continuing work. On the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we take a moment to honor these women as they fight for better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Photo: by Elizabeth Rappaport, Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, December 2008

26 August 2010

Envisioning Equality: Celebrating the 90th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage

Ninety years ago today, American society experienced a long overdue shift in the status quo. On August 26, 1920, after decades of struggle, the United States finally afforded women the right to vote.

The women responsible for this triumph walked no easy road to victory. Jane Addams, Abigail Adams, Lucy Burns and Alice Paul. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ida B. Wells. Frances E.W. Harper, Sojourner Truth and Margaret Fuller. Lucy Stone. Lucretia Mott. Susan B. Anthony. Their names may be more or less familiar, but we too often forget how much these women sacrificed, over more than a century, to make possible every advantage today's women now enjoy.

Personal losses were common: some of these women alienated spouses, friends and loved ones as a result of their commitment to seeing women treated as full citizens. Others were shot at. Attacked by mobs. Locked in jail and threatened with death. There was no shortage of creativity when it came to devising ways to try to scare these women out of the streets and back into the kitchen.

And yet, despite all this, they pressed on. They rallied at Seneca Falls in 1848, and hosted a National Women's Rights Convention in 1850. They built formal organizations and associations to further the cause. They advocated in the streets, and organized in the statehouses until one hot day in August 1920, their movement had gained so much steam that 36 states ratified an amendment giving women the right to vote, ensuring that suffrage would be the right of every American woman.

It was a remarkable thing these women did, over so much time, and with so much opposition. They literally changed the world for those of us who live in it now. On this day, the 90th anniversary of their triumph, we pause to honor all they did, and all they gave, on our behalf.

Bringing true honor to these extraordinary women requires us to do more than just nod our heads in remembrance of the good fight they fought. It requires a commitment from those of us who treasure a democracy of full equity and inclusion to continue their work of ensuring that all Americans have equal access to the freedoms and opportunities our Constitution promises.

The grantees of the Ms. Foundation are the embodiment of that fighting spirit. From the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, to the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative; from National Advocates for Pregnant Women to Green for All to the National Women's Law Center -- every one of our grantees works each day to build a more just democracy and help make equality, finally, the law of the land.

Their work is, in so many ways, a direct extension of the groundbreaking work the suffragists did to begin to level the proverbial playing field, and we applaud them for their courage and determination in the face of so the many challenges that continue to block the path to full equality.

Happily, our grantees are not alone in their efforts. The movement to build women's collective power runs broad and deep, and is made up of thousands of social justice organizations driving change.
Among them is a group called Vision 2020, which has launched a decade-long national project dedicated to pick up where the suffragists left off. Their goal is to see gender equality achieved no later August 26, 2020 -- the centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment. The group's first public event takes place on October 21-22, 2010, when a congress of national delegates, representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, will meet at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to launch an action agenda to move America toward equality by this important date.
It's hard to imagine that the suffragists wouldn't be exceedingly proud. On this important day in women's history, be sure to make your own commitment to honoring their legacy: pledge to support a new generation of women's leadership working to ensure equality for all.

Image: Postcard, c 1913, Library of Congress.

24 August 2010

Another Call for Violence

A major league politician has made a public call for violence against the citizenry -- and revived a dangerous set of threatening images in the process.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is being called on by a number of Native American groups and others to apologize for a racially-insensitive remark he made on John Gambling's radio show on August 13. The Mayor, in urging Governor David Paterson to take a stronger stand against allowing Native tribes to sell cigarettes tax-free on reservations, told Gambling,
"I've said this to David Paterson, I said, you know, 'Get yourself a cowboy hat and a shotgun. If there's ever a great video, it's you standing in the middle of the New York State Thruway saying, you know, 'Read my lips -- the law of the land is this, and we're going to enforce the law.'"
Evoking the image of John Wayne and a "my way or the highway" attitude towards Native peoples cuts a little too close to the horrendous history of forced domination and removal that Native tribes have suffered since the earliest days of colonization. Whatever the Mayor's arguments may be about taxation, and the right for tribes to retain sovereignty over what happens on Native lands, there's no excuse for relying on such violent imagery simply to make a point. Our Native American sisters and brothers have suffered enough; they don't require a rhetorical stick in the eye for argument's sake -- much less an actual shotgun wielding governor on the march.

Moreover, language like this simply perpetuates violence in a culture that has no need of help on that front. Politicians like Bloomberg should know better than to encourage behavior than devalues our culture as whole, and glorifies the kind of macho, gun-toting violence that literally puts lives at risk. (The Mayor has previously taken a strong stand against handguns, in New York City and elsewhere, which makes this recent outburst all the more shocking.)

If you're as outraged as we are by Bloomberg's choice of words, let your voice be heard: email the Mayor's Office directly to demand an apology for his incautious -- and deeply offensive -- use of language.

23 August 2010

Support Women and Families in Dire Economic Straits

Recent debate about whether the US economy is in recovery or continuing recession has often remained heavily theoretical and numbers-centric – highlighting large-scale calculations over the more personal impacts of our present economic situation. The truth is that the real effects of today’s economy are felt by real people – by women, families, children, immigrants and communities; their personal stories are the most illuminating economic indicator. The economic downturn has had a serious impact on many peoples’ lives, leaving hundreds of thousands unemployed, generating a housing crisis that puts families in danger of foreclosure and homelessness, and making many more people reliant on the social safety net.

Understanding the dire straits faced by so many women and families across America, one Ms. Foundation grantee, LIFETIME, has devoted itself to lifting up the stories and voices of those most heavily impacted by this recession, and to making sure legislators hear the human story behind the numbers.

In February LIFETIME, as part of Women for Economic Justice -- a national coalition which includes Ms. Foundation grantees the Georgia Citizens Coalition on Hunger, Community Voices Heard and 9to5 National Association for Working Women -- brought together ten low-income women from seven states to give testimony in front of a congressional briefing in support of extending the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund, which is due to expire on October 1st. This fund was part of the stimulus bill and is an essential resource for women and families facing economic insecurity due to the recession. It has "enabled states to meet rising welfare caseloads in this recession, while providing paid employment to 200,000 low-income parents nationwide” and ensured assistance to those in need with one-time, non-recurring expenses, such as emergency housing assistance in the face of homelessness and foreclosure.

The ten women who gathered before Congress told stories of real economic distress and the importance of vigorous and meaningful social programs, like TANF ECF, to their livelihood. A room full of legislative staff, advocates, community leaders, and congressional representatives heard their testimony and after the hearing the number of legislators who were signed-on to support an extension of these benefits rose from 10 to 95.

LIFETIME’s passionate advocacy helped the bill pass in the House, but the legislation was unable to garner the 60 votes needed to pass in the Senate. Since then the House has passed the bill three more times, but each time it has failed to find the support it needs in the Senate.

TANF ECF is an essential funding support for the social safety net in each state and is an important lifeline for women and families who are struggling in this recession -- we simply cannot let allow its funding to run out in October. LIFETIME urges you to call your senators and support economic security for low-income women, families and communities.

LIFETIME has a toll-free number so you can call your Senators at no cost. To speak to your representative, just call 888-245-0215 and ask for your Senator by name, and the Capitol operator will connect you to their office. Tell them that it is crucial that they support an extension of the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund, so that the states can provide help to struggling families in these hard economic times.

Here’s some sample language when you make your call:

Hello, my name is _____________ and I’m calling to ask Senator _____________ to support the extension of the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund, which expires October 1st. The TANF Emergency Contingency Fund has enabled states to help families (like mine) who are struggling in this recession, and to create 200,000 jobs for low-income parents (like me) nationwide. Please support the extension of this important program!

Help End Dangerous Movement on the Anti-Immigrant Front

Are you part of an organization that's working to make "equality" and "justice" more than a cute catchphrase? Then check out Alto Arizona's new open letter to President Obama -- and join the Ms. Foundation by committing to signing on.

Alto Arizona has been outspoken on the disastrous and discriminatory impact of Arizona's most recent immigration law, SB 1070, since the legislation was pushed into the spotlight by Governor Jan Brewer in May of 2010. And though a federal court judge has now stayed the most damning pieces of legislation -- those that would require police to ascertain the legal status of anyone "suspected" of being in the country illegally -- this issue is far from settled. Across the country, dozens of states are moving to enact policies not unlike the one proposed in Arizona -- policies that will make it increasingly dangerous to be a person of color -- much less an immigrant -- in America.

To respond to this growing anti-immigrant movement, Alto Arizona is asking social justice organizations and community groups to urge President Obama to take decisive action on this issue. In particular, they are asking the President to end the dangerous merger of the federal immigration enforcement system with state criminal justice systems -- a merger that unjustly funnels non-citizens into the immigration enforcement systems (and likely deportation) by way of minor offenses. As Alto Arizona's open letter explains,

[The Department of Homeland Security's] immigration enforcement programs have allowed arrests for minor charges, such as driving without a license and petty theft... to be the gateway for immigration enforcement. They also provide an incentive to state and local police to arrest persons who look or sound "foreign" so that their immigration status may be checked. Once non-citizens are channeled into the immigration enforcement system – regardless of guilt or innocence, severity of the offense or how long ago it occurred, rehabilitation or ties to the community – they face a detention and deportation system with few due process protections.

Read the letter in its entirety and then urge your organization to sign on as an endorser (no individual sign-ons are being accepted at this time). You have until September 3rd to add your group's name to the growing list of social justice organizers speaking out on behalf of immigrants across America.

If you're an individual who wants to make a difference, sign your name to the open letter Alto Arizona is hosting on behalf of the National Women's Caucus Against ICE and Police Collaboration. Every signature helps!

Photo: Alto Arizona, Non-Compliance Action Front Line (detail).

18 August 2010

Access to Abortion is the Fight of the Future

If you've been looking for a clear elucidation of the difference between fighting for "reproductive rights" and "reproductive justice" -- and why a focus on the latter is increasingly important -- you may want to read Amanda Marcotte's excellent article running on RH Reality Check today.

Framing the conversation around a recent episode of "Mad Men" that featured an abortion, Marcotte explains that, unlike in days past, hinging our current battle for reproductive freedom on protecting the right to abortion just isn't enough. The fact is that anti-choice activists are finding more and more ways to restrict access to abortion, even as the right to it stays nominally in place. This chipping away at our ability to actually access abortions (think of the Hyde Amendment, or any of the many restrictions currently winding their way through state legislatures) is particularly damning for low-income women and young women -- who often lack the resources to pay for abortions, or any of the attendant expenses that may come along with them (when, for example, you're forced to travel out of state to find a provider who might even perform the procedure).

Marcotte doesn't just blame anti-choicers for moving us back to a time where only women with resources could access abortion, even if it was illegal. She also faults the pro-choice movement for failing to capitalize on opportunities (like the most recent health care debates) to increase access for women without resources. The price for those strategic failures will be paid by the millions of young women and low-income women who know better than anyone else that these rights mean precious little when you are denied the opportunity to exercise them.

If we want to make sure that we all have the ability to make the same set of determinations about our bodies and health, then the fight on the reproductive health front must be about ensuring access as much as it is about anything else. "We must view abortion rights less as a thing in and of themselves," Marcotte suggests, "and more as a means to the end of access."

That's a notion the Ms. Foundation has been working to make a reality for decades. Over the years we have helped grow a national reproductive justice movement that places reproductive rights and health within a broader social justice context -- and elevates the voices of those who are most affected by failed policies, but least heard in the national debate: low-income women, women of color, immigrant women and LGBTQ individuals. Our past and current support of organizations like Advocates for Youth and SisterSong (both of which Marcotte lauds in her article) exemplifies our commitment to building a world where all individuals are equally able to make their own choices regarding their reproductive health -- not just the privileged few.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: no woman should find herself forced to forgo an abortion because she can't afford one, can't find a licensed provider, or is intimidated out of the procedure. Take the time to read Marcotte's article, and add your voice to the conversation about where the fight to protect our reproductive health goes from here.

Photo: Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris in Mad Men.

17 August 2010

SMART Leader Wins Prestigious Community Health Award

Great news to share! Susan Rodriguez, president and founding director of long-time Ms. Foundation grantee SMART (Sisterhood Mobilized for AIDS/HIV Research & Treatment) has been chosen to receive the 2010 Community Health Leaders Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation!

This prestigious national award honors 10 individuals who have worked—often at great personal or professional risk—to improve the health and quality of life for vulnerable men, women and children in underserved communities across the United States. Each honoree receives $125,000 to support their ongoing work, as well as the chance to network and collaborate with other leaders from around the country.

Since its founding in 1998, Susan has helped grow SMART into a force to be reckoned with in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The organization is now New York City’s premiere HIV treatment education program run by and for women living with the disease, providing education, information and critical support networks to the many women in New York who continue to battle this disease.

We couldn’t be prouder of Susan, or happier for SMART that she's won this award. It's recognition well-deserved.

Congratulations, Susan!

For more information on how SMART is helping women in New York City face HIV/AIDS, watch the moving video below, featured in the Voices From the Field section of our website.

Ms. Foundation Grantee Leads "Recovery Tour" in New York State

Remember the $787 billion our federal government earmarked to help "jumpstart" the economy under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (or ARRA)? Ever spent any time thinking about what's become of that money and whether it's working? In New York State, Ms. Foundation grantee Community Voices Heard is providing some much needed answers to those questions by showing officials first-hand how federal dollars are --and aren't --helping to stimulate growth in local communities.

CVH is an organization made up primarily of women with welfare experience, working improve the lives of families and communities throughout New York State. On July 28th they led a day-long "Recovery Tour" of New York State, stopping in four communities where they have chapters to show the impact public investment under ARRA has had on low-income communities. Representatives from the NYS Senate, the NYC Housing Authority, the NYS Recovery and Reinvestment Cabinet and the NYS Department of Labor -- along with council members from a number of local districts -- participated in the tour.

Traveling from New York City, through Yonkers, on to Newburgh and then Poughkeepsie, participants visited public housing developments, transitional jobs programs, soup kitchens, road reconstruction projects and the site of a future transportation hub -- all sustained through the allocation of ARRA funds to these communities.

However, the visit also made clear just how much work is left to be done, and how many communities continue to struggle under the weight of the continuing recession. In Newburgh, residents pointed out how a "home rehabilitation" loan program had failed when few applicants were approved for loans. "Some of the money definitely could have been spent differently [here]," noted CVH leader Brenda McPhail.

CVH board member Agnes Rivera underscored the need for continued, strategic investment in these communities if any version of success is to be forthcoming. "Low-income communities have been suffering long before the current economic downturn and the first round of stimulus funding wasn't even enough to fill the gap of what the recession created," she said. "We are going to need more substantial public investment in job creation and funding for critical programs if all of our communities are going to recover and New York State is going to get on safe footing."

CVH members didn't let the day end without taking direct action to ensure that federal government continues to invest in struggling communities in New York State: the group placed a number of calls to US Senator Chuck Schumer's office, encouraging him to sign on to the Local Jobs for America Act, which would bring upwards of 50,000 jobs to New York State. (Senator Kristen Gillibrand has already stepped up as a co-sponsor of the bill.)

Talk about democracy in action!

For more information about how Community Voices Heard is helping to empower underserved communities, please visit their website.

Support the Ms. Foundation! Vote for Us on the Working Assets Donations Ballot -- Deadline August 31, 2010

By casting your vote for the Ms. Foundation for Women in the Working Assets 2010 Annual Donations Ballot you can help the Ms. Foundation provide strategic support to women and girls leading change in their communities and across society.
Through its annual donation program, Working Assets has contributed over $65 million to progressive organizations since 1985 -- including the Ms. Foundation for Women. Past support from Working Assets has enabled work ranging from training women for green jobs to securing basic rights for domestic workers in New York State.
The number of votes the Ms. Foundation receives will determine the size of the contribution Working Assets makes to the Foundation -- which means that your vote can help support the important work we do on behalf of women and girls every day.

Visit Working Assets and show your support for the Ms. Foundation for Women today. If you are a Credo or Working Assets customer, log in with your account information. If you are not a customer, follow the "New to Credo" link and vote by becoming a Credo Action Member. And of course, tell your friends and family who might be interested. Every vote makes a difference!

Cast your vote before December 31, 2010 for the Ms. Foundation for Women -- and help us build women's collective power to ignite change.

Photos by Elizabeth Rapport: [top] Detail, Kentucky Jobs With Justice Voting Rights Rally, Frankfort, Kentucky, March 2010; [bottom] Detail, Dolores Huerta Foundation, Bakersfield, California, March 2008.

16 August 2010

Upcoming Event: Evaluating Policy Change and Advocacy

For those of you in the funding community who are already planning your Fall schedules, we have an exciting event to share.

On Wednesday, September 15th from 3:00 - 5;00 pm, Philanthropy New York will present Can You Hear Us Now: Evaluating Policy Change and Advocacy. Among other speakers, the panel will feature the Ms. Foundation's own A. Caroline Hotaling, Program Officer for National Policy and Strategic Opportunities.

The session will explore approaches to evaluating advocacy and public policy funding and the significance of evaluation in the funding process. From the Philanthropy New York site:
The attraction of public policy and advocacy funding is its potential to leverage systemic change. But [how] do you know if it’s working, especially when advocacy work is usually a long-term investment with long-term outcomes?

Evaluation has the potential to inform and strengthen advocacy and policy change work. It yields information for learning and improvement, and for reporting and accountability. Advocacy and policy change evaluation is a critical tool for ensuring that the work is on track—and for identifying when it has gone astray so that course corrections can be made.

Topics will include:
  • How advocacy and policy change work is different from other philanthropic work, and how these differences affect evaluation.
  • What does interim progress mean? What types of measures are appropriate?
  • What needs to be decided when designing an advocacy/policy change evaluation?
CEOs, trustees, program officers, evaluation officers, and other funders are encouraged to attend.

Register now for what's sure to be a thought-provoking event! (Registration closes on Sept. 13.)

[Audio] Program Officer Sangeeta Budhiraja Explores Grantee Solutions in Radio Interview

Last Tuesday Ms. Foundation Program Officer Sangeeta Budhiraja was featured on Juggling Act with Dr. Lori Sokol. The show on Connecticut's AM1490 WGCH strives “to empower individuals to triumph over gender-related societal limits so they can reach their full potential unhindered.”

The Ms. Foundation’s wonderful Sangeeta Budhiraja jumped right into this conversation, addressing the importance of affordable child care, the fight for New York State’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, and the future of health care. Sangeeta talked eloquently and informatively about these important social issues that affect not just women but everyone in our society, and the work of the Foundation’s grantees advocating for just and inclusive solutions. She elucidated the Ms. Foundation’s particular belief that society can only reach its full potential when power and possibility are not limited by gender, race, class, sexuality, or age and explained why the Foundation provides support to a broad range of seemingly disparate organizations working on issues ranging from reproductive justice, to immigrant rights, to sexual violence, and health care.

Download the full interview [mp3] or listen on the player below [27:05].

MassCOSH Fights Workplace Harassment Directed at Latinas

Ms. Foundation grantee MassCOSH (Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health) is shining a light on how one particular occupational hazard is impacting Latina women across Massachusetts: sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

Though it's not the kind of offense you might think of as a typical "occupational hazard" sexual harassment and assault can make going to work a living hell for employees. And in the state of Massachusetts, Latina women -- often working in low wage jobs -- are finding themselves at an increasing risk of having to confront abuse from their employers, who many times target women who lack the resources (both financial and linguistic) to fight back.

In July, MassCOSH took a stand on the issue, in the hopes of bringing this rising trend to an end. They brought together more than twenty local Latina and Brazilian women workers for a workshop designed to empower them with information about sexual harassment -- including how to identify this kind of abuse and how to organize to bring it to a stop.

“In this group, women are free to speak about issues they face in their workplace, with the goal of supporting each other so we can overcome the problem of harassment,” says Isabel Lopez, MassCOSH’s Worker Center Coordinator. MassCOSH also aims to have the women take what they've learned in the workshop and pass along the information by doing outreach and education in their own communities.

This kind of organizing lies at the very heart of the Ms. Foundation's approach to creating a more just and safe world for women, girls and communities. Read more about the work MassCOSH is doing to end the sexual harassment of women in the workplace -- we're exceptionally proud to call them a grantee partner!

11 August 2010

Ms. Foundation Grantees Organize National Week of Action for Reproductive Justice

Want something to cheer about? How about this: it's Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice!

Organized by an amazing group of Ms Foundation grantees -- the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights -- this first annual Week of Action is an effort to raise awareness about how the fight for reproductive justice impacts Latinas, and to engage the community in actions and events that help protect the reproductive rights of women everywhere.

In addition to hosting a blog carnival about Latinas and contraception (which you are invited to participate in), the week's organizers have also planned live events in cities from New York to Texas to Minnesota to California.

And of course, you can also participate in the fight to ensure that all women have affordable access to birth control and other reproductive services by taking action online. Encourage your Congressional representatives to "ask the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support comprehensive family planning services that include contraception as a key women’s health service under the Women’s Health Amendment."

The Week of Action runs until August 15th; stand up for reproductive justice today!

Help support organizations and programs fighting for our reproductive rights! Donate now and a special matching grant will double your support -- dollar-for-dollar -- for reproductive justice organizations led by women of color.

10 August 2010

Economy Worsens for Single Mothers, Women of Color

New numbers on the economy are proving that when times get hard, women are hit hardest.

The Obama Administration is busy touting that overall unemployment held steady in July, at 9.5% (or 14.6 million Americans). [The New York Times's Bob Herbert reports that even these numbers vastly understate the proportions of the crisis.]  But that number masks some troubling facts about who's continuing to lose jobs, even as others gain them. The ones losing out, in this case, happen to be women -- particularly single mothers and women of color.

On their Womenstake blog, Ms. Foundation grantee the National Women's Law Center reports:
Unemployment for women who head families shot up to 13.4 percent in July from 12.1 percent in June. This marks the highest unemployment rate for this particularly vulnerable group since the recession began in December 2007 and the highest rate in over 25 years.
Unemployment among African-American women jumped from 11.8 percent in June to 12.9 percent in July. The situation was similar for Hispanic women, whose unemployment rate increased by 1.1 percentage points to 12.1 percent in July, marking this group's highest unemployment rate since 1986.
Notably, 62 percent of the jobs lost in July were lost by women. (There's that pesky "mancession" for you again.)

Though government officials are likely to avoid discussing these facts, the people withing these communities have long known how precariously placed they are. As our Community Voices on the Economy Poll found in June, two-thirds of Latinas say that their personal situation has been affected by the country’s economic situation, and more than half report that they or someone in their household has lost a job in the past year. Meanwhile, 55% of African-American women report that they've been worried about the economy for five years or more.

If only the people actually running the economy had been worried for that long.

SWAN Sets Record Straight on Costs of Military Sexual Assault

Did you know that:
  • 3,230 military sexual assaults were reported in 2009, an increase of 11% from fiscal year 2008?
  • 79% of women serving in the military since Vietnam report experiencing sexual harassment?
  • 62.9% of female combat veterans and 74.5% of female noncombat veterans seeking treatment for PTSD report experiencing a sexual assault while in service?
Military Sexual Trauma (or MST) has become an epidemic in our armed services. So much so, in fact, that the Veterans Administration is now spending more than $820 million annually to treat health-related sexual assault issues among veterans -- the majority of them women.

While the Department of Defense remains largely silent about the pervasiveness of sexual assault in the military -- and about their inability to punish servicemembers committing these crimes (only 8% of perpetrators are prosecuted) -- grassroots groups are now putting pressure on the Pentagon and Congress to take a more hands on role in ending MST.

To help draw attention to the insidiousness of sexual crimes in the military, Ms. Foundation grantee SWAN (Service Women's Action Network) has just released a useful fact sheet [pdf] on MST. In addition to data on the number of crimes committed, and the barriers victims face if and when they seek justice, SWAN also crunches the numbers to show just how much this epidemic is costing the American people each year. "Perhaps when the Pentagon and Congress realize that this issue amounts to millions of dollars of taxpayer money... they might decide to finally do something to curb the epidemic sexual assault and harassment in the military," says Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director of SWAN.

With studies now showing that sexual harassment causes the same rates of PTSD in women veterans as combat does in men, the time has clearly come to put an end to what certainly qualifies as a national disgrace. Kudos to SWAN for doing the hard work and getting the facts straight. Our women and men in uniform are lucky to have advocates like you, fighting on their behalf.

09 August 2010

Cheers for Justice Kagan, Prop 8 Ruling

Two amazing things happened last week that we just have to pause to celebrate:
  • Elena Kagan was sworn in as the fourth woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Joining Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, she now becomes the third woman on the current court -- which has never before happened in the history of this nation. The Ms. Foundation congratulates Justice Kagan on her extraordinary achievement, and applauds President Obama for bringing us part way to some long-awaited gender balance on the United States Supreme Court.

  • Proposition 8 was overturned in California! Along with millions of Americans, we were overjoyed to learn that the ban on same-sex marriage in California had been struck down -- in no uncertain terms. Finding that Proposition 8 definitively discriminated against gay and lesbian couples, the ruling by Judge Vaughn R. Walker has been heralded by legal scholars and commentators as a remarkably well-researched and nuanced decision that may leave little room for dissent upon appeal to the higher courts. And there will indeed be appeals; this one is likely headed all the way to the Supreme Court.

    It’s still uncertain what our highest court will do if and when the case lands before them -- but for now, joy is the order of the day. Big congrats to all of our GLBTQ sisters and brothers!

Join the Fight for Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Former Ms. Foundation grantee Advocates for Youth is pushing to bring comprehensive sex ed to every state in the nation -- and they need your help!

Thanks to the hard work of thousands of advocates around the country, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has officially launched the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), allowing states to apply for $55 million in first-of-its-kind federal funding for comprehensive sex education. Now the key is to get state governors to actually apply to bring that funding to their states.

Urge your Governor to apply for PREP funding to bring comprehensive sex ed to your community!

States have until August 30th to make their intention to apply known -- so time is short. Make sure the leadership in your state capital knows that you support the teaching of medically accurate sexuality eduction, not abstinence-only programs that have been proven ineffective but continue to garner support at the highest levels of governance, in terms of both domestic and international policy.

Take action on behalf comprehensive sex-ed today!

04 August 2010

In US, Child Care Costs Outpace College Tuition

According to a report [pdf] just released by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, in 39 states across America, a year of child care now costs more than the annual tuition at a public university. And for an increasing number of families, expenditures on child care now top the amount of money spent monthly on food.

As you'll see in the following video, which ran on Good Morning America earlier this week, the staggering cost of child care is putting more and more families in a terrible bind as the economy continues to flag: without child care, parents can't work or look for work -- but low wage jobs and lack of employment make it impossible for them to afford the child care they need.

Ms. Foundation grantee All Our Kin stands at the forefront of the fight to make child care safe and affordable. They are campaigning hard to ensure that Care4Kids, Connecticut's child care subsidy program, remains funded and functioning -- so that families like the ones profiled in this video are spared some of the impossible choices put before them. The group was recently able to secure ARRA funding from the Department of Social Services that will help them train up to 400 family child care providers across the state of Connecticut, providing education, employment and quality, collaborative child care to those who need it most.

Learn more about how the Ms. Foundation partners with grassroots groups to promote just economic policies that benefit women, families and communities.

03 August 2010

Grantee 'Parent Voices' Organizes to Save Child Care in CA

One of the great things about working at the Ms. Foundation is that you get the chance to be utterly inspired by the work our grantees are doing, often on a daily basis. Today, that inspiration emanates from California, where our grantee Parent Voices is using remarkably creative methods to counter proposed budget cuts that would seriously threaten child care programs throughout the state.

Parent Voices is a parent-led grassroots organization fighting to make quality child care affordable and accessible to all families. Because they are based in California, they have a special interest in fighting Governor Schwarzenegger's proposal to eliminate nearly all state funding for child care. From subsidies to infrastructure -- you name it, and the Governator is looking to do away with it.

Along with using traditional measures to challenge these proposed cuts (partnering with legislative leaders; building coalitions), the leaders at PV also came up with an ingenious tactic for raising awareness of the issue and encouraging more folks to speak out against the cuts.

Timed to coincide with the opening of the California State Fair in mid-July, PV created an event called the "California State UN-Fair," which drew an audience of more than 250 parents, children and child care providers from around the state. The event's goal was to spread the word that cuts to child care are only likely to result in further job losses, and to urge the state legislature to protect programs that keep parents and child care providers working. The carnival-themed event featured games like:
  • "The Wheel of Misfortune" -- where, however you spin the wheel, a proposed child care cut or welfare cut results in families suffering and the loss of a job
  • "Funding Tug O' War" -- to show how proposed cuts to health and human services impact both children and their parents
  • "The Child Care Gamble" -- where a toy landing on either rent, utilities, gas, and car insurance determined which bill would not be paid if cuts to child care went through
The event leaders also created a soup line, where they gave out free Cup-o-Noodles to attendees. And participants were given the opportunity to take direct action on the issue of the day by calling US Representative Barbara Lee and voicing their concerns about the need for federal child care funding as states continue to falter.

Not only did the event draw a crowd in the hundreds, but more than 25 media outlets picked up the story and ran with it. Legislators and other local organizations had nothing but great feedback to share -- and most importantly, just one day later, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, Labor and HHS (which Barbara Lee sits on), approved a $700 million increase to the Child Care and Development Block Grant. Two weeks later, the Senate Appropriations Committee increased federal child care funding by $1 billion.

What a win for PV! The problems with child care in California aren't over by a long-shot, but their creative, compelling organizing is helping to build a safer world for millions of children across their state and beyond.

See what we mean by inspiring?

02 August 2010

Access Denied: Women in Blue States Struggle to Obtain Abortion Services

Think that just because you live in a state that puts progressives in office you've got relatively unfettered access to abortion and other reproductive health services? Time to think again.

To prove just how restrictive some so-called "Blue states" continue to be when it comes to our reproductive rights, RH Reality Check and the ACLU have teamed up for a "Reproductive Justice Roadtrip" across the state of Illinois, documenting the barriers and challenges women face when trying to access reproductive health services in the Prairie State.

Today's first-person entry into this debate comes from Amy S., a resident of the Chicago suburbs who learned at 25 weeks gestation that her fetus had a "catastrophic brain malformation" -- one that would result, if the fetus was carried to term, in a short life filled with excruciating pain. Amy chose to end her pregnancy, but finding a facility that would comply with her wishes within the state of Illinois turned out to be impossible:
What I had to do [to terminate this pregnancy] shocked and astounded me. In a "blue" state, I never imagined that I would be told my OBs could not induce labor at my local hospital... UIC, Rush, U of C, Evanston, Northwestern, Lutheran General, and my local hospital, Delnor, all said no. I was too far along at 25 weeks. At least at Lutheran General, it got before the ethics committee, but they said no because I was not "their" patient. Where did that leave me? Dr. Tiller's clinic in Wichita, Kansas. Dr. Tiller who was killed last year.
The fee had to be paid in cash, up front. All told, including travel, it cost us $6000. Blue Cross denied my claim as out of network. I appealed and they denied it again.
Amy and her family had the means to ensure that she could indeed end her pregnancy as she wished. Many, if not most, women would have been denied that opportunity because they simply couldn't have afforded it. The notion that any woman should have to go to such extreme means -- financial, logistical and emotional -- to defend her own right to choose strikes us as simply unacceptable, and offensive, so many years after Roe vs. Wade became the law of the land.

We applaud RH Reality Check and the ACLU for shining a light on the many, complex ways the fight for reproductive justice impacts women's lives -- and we urge you to learn more about the laws in your own state and how the debate is unfurling at the federal level. As we speak, there is legislation winding its way through Congress that would seek to make permanent the provisions of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding of abortion services (currently the amendment has to be reaffirmed by a congressional vote every year; this new bill would set the law in stone). Measures like these make accessing reproductive health services more difficult for all women, but they have an undue and disproportionate impact on low-income women and women of color -- who are literally trapped by the economic barriers that stand between them and their right to decide the fate of their own bodies.

We're so glad Amy was able to make the decision that was right for her. Here's to the day when every woman in America has access to the same set of choices.

The Ms. Foundation for Women has been working to support reproductive rights, health, and justice since our inception -- and together with our grantee partners, we are dedicated to ensuring that stories like Amy's are increasingly rare. To see some of our grantees' work in action, check out Family Planning Advocates' website, or visit the National Women's Law Center's "Reproductive Choices" page.

Help support these organizations and programs today! Donate now and a special matching grant will double your support -- dollar-for-dollar -- for reproductive justice organizations led by women of color.