15 December 2011

Guest Blog: And the Award Goes to…The ‘Help’ Today

By Meches Rosales

Today, I join thousands of domestic workers, children and parents in congratulating actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer for their Golden Globe and SAG nominations. I hope these talented women understand the powerful impact their creative work is having on domestic workers across the nation and the families who employ us.

I am a proud domestic worker, originally from Guatemala. In my seven years as a nanny, and even before then in my home country, I have witnessed and experienced for myself the harsh treatment and exploitation that domestic workers often endure. We are isolated, mostly working by ourselves behind closed doors. We are the invisible ones who make it possible for our employers to go to work and enjoy leisure time. We care for the most important elements of our employers’ lives.

Most of the time when we see ourselves on the big screen or on TV, domestic workers are just as invisible and one-dimensional as society believes us to be. “The Help” offered a surprisingly different take.

The move is based on Kathryn Stockett’s book about African American domestic workers and the white homes of 1960s Mississippi in which they toil. We meet Aibileen Clark, a domestic worker, who mourns the death of her son every day and pours her love into the white child she takes care of, as she’s done with 16 other children. We meet Minny, Aibileen’s friend, known for her outspokenness, who often faces the wrath of the white ladies for telling it like it is. We meet Skeeter, a young white woman pursuing a writing career, who befriends Aibileen and Minny. Together, the three set out to document the oral histories and some of the indignities that African American domestic workers suffered in places like Jackson, Mississippi.

Much of “The Help” resonated with my own experience as a nanny in the U.S. I deeply felt the pain of many of the domestic worker characters, from the loss and suffering that comes from not being able to be with their own loved ones while they care for someone else’s loved ones, to feeling powerless.

I’ve listened to my sisters with an open heart, feeling impotent, frustrated, and angry that we are often forced to stay in bad jobs and face racism and discrimination and mistreatment. The same fear that the characters experience is not unlike what many of us feel today. The experience of African American women in the Jim Crow South repeats itself for many immigrant women of color in today’s right-wing, anti-immigrant climate.

Their organizing and activism also resonated with me, the drive to want to do something to change our conditions—not just for ourselves as individuals but for the whole group. When the African American workers in the film had the courage to share and document their life stories, it was as much an act of resistance and breaking the silence as it is today when domestic workers from New York to California organize for power, respect, and the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Our stories need to be told. We are the only ones who can make change happen. This is why we organize.

Long History of Our Struggle

For me, as a member of Domestic Workers United, showing the long history of struggle was also critical. Aibileen and her sisters were contemporaries of Rosa Parks and Medger Evers. In our political education classes at DWU, we discuss the important role that domestic workers played in the civil rights movement. Everyone needs to know that history. We must hold our heads up high because the work we do is dignified and because we are standing on the shoulders of the freedom fighters who came before us and paved the way.

Last year DWU saw the fulfillment of our historic six-year campaign to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York state. The only law of its kind in the U.S., it brought domestic workers out of the shadows by guaranteeing us the rights and protections we have long been denied, like overtime pay after 40 hours, workers’ compensation, and a guaranteed day off each week.

The history portrayed in “The Help” might seem like a long time ago, but we have only just started to reverse the legacy of exclusion and discrimination. New York was the first step. Next is California. Before long, we will be in more states, and then in the nation’s capital.

Entire families should see this movie and discuss it, especially those who employ domestic workers. It’s important for them to understand some of what we experience and what we feel, so that they can begin to recognize the invaluable contributions we make and the great care we bring to the work.

Like the partnership between Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter, and the diverse coalition that made the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights a reality, it’s going to take all of us to change the way that domestic work and the people who perform it are treated in our society.

I walked away from “The Help” feeling seen and proud and more committed than ever not to stay silent and to keep working to build the power of domestic workers and all workers.

Last week we launched the #BeTheHelp campaign to help other viewers of “The Help” learn how they can help create respect for domestic workers. Join us and #bethehelp we need at www.domesticworkers.org.

Meches Rosales lives in New York and joined Domestic Workers United -- a Ms. Foundation for Women grantee -- in 2010. A version of this blog was originally published as “The Help Today” at www.labornotes.org on September 1, 2011. Translated from Spanish by Telesh Lopez.

12 December 2011

Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights

Saturday was Human Rights Day, an opportunity for us to reflect on the most basic of human rights – reproductive rights. The ability to control what happens to our bodies entails more than just domain over who may touch our bodies and when. Human rights, by their very nature, dictate that women have complete control over their own fertility.

Unfortunately, this year’s acknowledgement of Human Rights Day follows the announcement that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius torpedoed the FDA’s decision to lift the age restrictions on Plan-B One Step.

Despite scientific evidence in favor of lifting the restrictions, young women 16 and younger will continue to need a prescription to purchase emergency contraception. Many will not get the prescription, because their primary care physician is closed on the weekend. Or because they don’t have a doctor at all. Or because it’s not safe for them to admit to their parents that they are sexually active. Their pregnancies will be among the 50 percent that are unplanned.

It’s an unprecedented move; no health secretary has ever before overruled the FDA. At the end of a year in which a record number of anti-women’s health bills were introduced in states across the country, this latest setback throws salt in the wound of those who trust women to make decisions about their own bodies. And it disregards an important and fundamental human right.

The fight for reproductive justice is far from over. But with the Ms. Foundation’s support, grassroots organizations in communities across America are working toward a future in which women have access to the resources they need to make decisions about their bodies.

21 November 2011

Ms. Foundation Gathers Grantees Against Backdrop of Penn State Tragedy

Against the backdrop of the tragedy at Penn State University, the Ms. Foundation for Women convened our grantees working to end child sexual abuse last week in Minneapolis. Nearly 20 leading organizations from diverse regions of the country and a wide range of fields – including sexual assault, child abuse prevention, domestic violence, arts, faith, and policy advocacy – came together to discuss short- and long-term strategies.

The network represents an emerging movement to end child sexual abuse that aims to raise consciousness about the root causes of abuse and offer innovative strategies for prevention. With its ambitious goal of eradicating child sexual abuse, the network is evaluating strengths and gaps in current approaches and establishing a framework through which alternative solutions can be developed.

The network includes CONNECT, Darkness to Light, Stop It Now!, generationFIVE, Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, Massachusetts Citizens for Childrens Enough Abuse Campaign, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service, Peace Over Violence, 1 in 6, Ping Chong & Company, Prevent Child Abuse America, Prevent Child Abuse Maryland, Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey, Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, Samaritan Counseling Center, Tewa Women United and Teach Our Children. (Clink the links to read their responses to the abuse at Penn State.)

While the Penn State crisis has brought renewed attention to the child sexual abuse epidemic, network members agree that a shift in priorities to more prevention-centered solutions is necessary. We can’t turn back the clock at Penn State, but it’s not too late to prevent child sexual abuse in communities across the country. Now is the time to support this emerging movement!

08 November 2011

Sexual Harassment Begins Early

More than half of all girls in grades 7-12 experienced sexual harassment during the 2010-11 school year, according to a survey released by the American Association of University Women. The study included student-on-student sexual harassment experienced in person or electronically through texting, email or social media.

Among the harmful effects of sexual harassment, one-third of the victims said it made them feel sick to their stomachs, affected their study habits or made them reluctant to go to school. Let’s repeat that: The harassment was so upsetting that it made the victims physically ill.

Yet, only 9 percent reported the incident to an adult at their school.

Julie Zeilinger thinks she knows why. As founder of the FBomb, a blog written for and by young feminists, Julie has her finger on the pulse of teenagers. At the “Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later” conference, which the Ms. Foundation co-sponsored, Julie spoke about the gender conditioning the younger generation has experienced. Despite all of the progress our society has made, many boys still feel entitled to demean girls sexually. And many girls, for their part, simply shrug it off.

Thirty-nine percent of perpetrators in the AAUW study said they were just trying to be funny. But there isn’t anything funny about sexual harassment, whether it’s in the schoolyard, on the street or in the corporate environment.

Until we focus on the underlying culture that permits casual sexual remarks in our own adult daily lives, we won’t be able to protect our daughters from the attacks that so physically sicken us all.

02 November 2011

Women as Public Intellectuals: Jane Jacobs Forum Nov. 8 in NYC

Can you imagine New York City with a huge elevated expressway cutting through the East Village and Lower East Side? Well if it had not been for Jane Jacobs and a pioneering group of urban planning activists downtown, New York would now exist in the shadow of an elevated highway. The grassroots collective took on the might of Robert Moses and City Hall and successfully campaigned to preserve their neighborhood and safeguard the fabric of a living and vital city.

Jane Jacobs was an urban thinker, a public activist, and a grassroots organizer. She used her personal experience as an engaged citizen to change the way Americans think about cities, society, and neighborhood activism. Her legacy has influenced urban planners, architects, designers, engineers, activists and artists -- pretty much anyone who thinks about public space and collective responses to bureaucratic policy.

We are pleased to invite you to celebrate this fantastic legacy -- and the legacy of other similarly engaged citizens, Rachel Carson and Betty Friedan -- at the 2011 Municipal Art Society Jane Jacobs Forum, Women as Public Intellectuals. The November 8 event will feature a discussion among journalist and urban critic, Roberta Brandes Gratz; professor and MSNBC commentator, Melissa V. Harris-Perry; author, Sally Helgesen; and activist, Urvashi Vaid. The panel will be moderated by Robin Pogrebin, arts and culture reporter for the New York Times.

Without courageous women like Jacobs, Carson and Friedan, public life and activism would be a very different beast. We all owe a debt of gratitude to these intelligent, impassioned and inspiring women.

Event details:

Tuesday, November 8
The Elebash Hall
CUNY Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue
New York City

Learn more and RSVP.

27 October 2011

Fighting Anti-Choice Legislation In Mississippi

This year, women across the nation have experienced a record number of attacks on their health. In the first six months alone, states enacted 162 new pieces of legislation related to reproductive health and rights, 49% of which specifically restrict access to abortion.

One of the most frightening tactics is the so-called “personhood” constitutional amendment, which grants a fertilized egg all the rights of a person. Unsuccessful in their attempts to ban abortion using this strategy in other states, anti-choice zealots have honed in on Mississippi, where the amendment will be put before voters on Nov. 8.

Not only would this extreme legislation ban abortions –without exceptions for rape, incest or the life or health of the mother – but it also would have broad medical and legal consequences. An article in today’s New York Times asked, “Could a woman taking a morning-after pill be charged with murder?” In fact, Initiative 26 (as it’s called in Mississippi) could ban access to common forms of birth control, as well as in-vitro fertilization, creating a murky legal scenario for women.

Mississippians for Healthy Families, a Ms. Foundation partner, has spearheaded the opposition to this dangerous attack on women’s health. With campaign offices in Oxford, Jackson, Hattiesburg and Gulfport, they’re mobilizing pro-women volunteers across the state in a strategic grassroots effort to defeat this legislation.

You can help, too! Visit http://www.votenoon26.org/get-involved to find out how you can donate, volunteer or join the social media movement against Initiative 26.

13 October 2011

Anika Rahman honored by the South Asian community

We are so pleased to announce that this week Ms. Foundation President and CEO Anika Rahman will be honored by two different organizations representing New York's South Asian community.

Tonight Anika will be honored at the fifth annual South Asian Bar Association of New York's Leadership Gala (SABANY), where she will receive the Legal Trailblazer Award. SABANY is an organization dedicated to representing the legal rights of New York's South Asian community, while also offering mentorship, leadership and training opportunities for South Asian individuals in the legal professions.

Anika will be honored alongside some fantastic professionals -- including Gitanjali Gutierrez, Senior Staff Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights, Indrani Franchini Chief Compliance Counsel, Vice President & Assistant General Counsel, Global Pharmaceuticals Pfizer Inc., and Jayant W. Tambe, Partner and Practice Leader Financial Institutions Litigation and Regulation, Jones Day -- who have taken their skills and knowledge of the law into diverse and exciting fields.

Tomorrow night Anika will honored by South Asian Youth Action (SAYA) -- a social justice organization committed to helping South Asian youth realize their fullest potential -- at their annual gala "Celebrating 15 Years of Transforming Lives." Here again she will stand beside two amazing honorees, Former Prime Minister of Pakistan His Excellency Shaukat Aziz, and President of the Cooper Union Dr. Jamshed Bharucha.

Anika's South Asian cultural heritage and background has uniquely informed her life, career and beliefs. The understanding that inequities don't just face women in the global world but are viscerally present for many women right here in the United States, has led Anika to the Ms. Foundation for Women and redoubled her commitment "to advancing the solutions of women in the United States – especially those from the most marginalized communities – to problems that they – and our country – face."

Anika is so pleased to be recognized by both SABANY and SAYA and is happy to accept these gracious tributes on behalf of women across the U.S. of South Asian descent; on behalf of immigrant women, women of color and low-income women across the nation; and on behalf of all women throughout the world struggling to live lives free from inequity and discrimination.

27 September 2011

Delegation of Women Leaders Fights Anti-Immigrant Bill in Georgia

Tomorrow a delegation of women leaders from over two dozen national human rights organizations -- National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, MomsRising, and many others -- will travel to Georgia to protest the state’s new anti-immigrant bill (HB 87), copycat legislation of Arizona’s controversial and costly SB1070, and speak out as part of the growing resistance to anti-immigrant legislation nationwide.

The We Belong Together Delegation will connect with those most gravely affected by Georgia’s new law with other regional immigrant activists for a day of story-sharing (September 28) and a press conference in front of the state capital building (September 29, 10:30am).

As we have noted before these laws are exceptionally harmful for women who are often most deeply affected when their families are torn apart, or they fail to report crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault out of fear of deportation or detention, and find their bodies and children demonized in the increasingly hostile rhetoric. Read NAPAWF executive director Miriam Yeung's moving blog post about why this delegation and this movement is so important to her as an immigrant, a mother and an activist.

The need to fight these laws is why the Ms. Foundation supported a similar delegation of women's rights and immigrant rights activists who traveled to Washington in June of last year following the adoption of Arizona's SB1070 and gave voice to women whose lives and livelihoods were threatened by the legislation.

We are pleased to see Ms. Foundation grantees lead the way once again, advocating for dignity and respect for immigrant women and their families and advancing the rights of us all. We will share updates and photos in the next week so stay tuned. Let's all pledge to make sure our country is welcoming and safe for everyone.

For more information on the delegation please visit NDWA, NAPAWF or MomsRising.

 Immigrant Rights March photo © Elizabeth Rappaport and the Ms. Foundation for Women.

Marking a Time for Reflection and Renewal

As Jews in America observe the beginning of a new year with reflection and renewal, we mark the occasion with best wishes to all communities that form the fabric of the United States.

The Ms. Foundation is also taking stock and looking towards the future. As we move from reflection to renewal ourselves we are inspired by the power of humility and compassion, combined with commitment and action, to repair our world.

In this new year we wish our many partners -- women igniting change in communities across the country and those who work with them -- renewed determination and the ability and support to move us toward a just nation.

Together we can ignite change,

Anika Rahman
President and CEO

20 September 2011

Shop at Eileen Fisher This Saturday; Support Ms. Foundation

If you shop online this Saturday there's a way to get a great discount while helping thousands of women across the country -- and igniting change!

Along with almost two dozen local women's funds, the Ms. Foundation for Women is part of Eileen Fisher and the Women's Funding Network's September 24th day in support of women and girls. For every purchase at Eileen Fisher stores -- and online -- 10% will go to a partner women's fund.

The Ms. Foundation will benefit from in-store sales in Portland, Oregon and four stores in the Boston area, and we're sharing the money we'll receive with our local grantees in those areas who are supporting this effort, including the Oregon Tradeswomen Association, Massachusetts Citizens for Children and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health.

Being part of this is easy:
  1. If you're in or near Portland, Oregon or Boston, please shop on Saturday, September 24th, and you can print out and use a $25 off coupon [Boston area coupon] [Portland area coupon].
  2. Or you can shop online at eileenfisher.com from ANYWHERE (and take $25 off using code 525900). When you make your online purchase please select the Ms. Foundation for Women as your beneficiary of choice.
Everyone at the Ms. Foundation applauds the commitment of Eileen Fisher, Women's Funding Network and women's funds nationwide to making change happen for women and girls.

Thanks for shopping in Portland, Oregon or Boston -- or making an Eileen Fisher purchase online (and voting for the Ms. Foundation for Women) -- this Saturday, September 24th.

16 September 2011

Media Ignore Record Poverty Among Women

Wednesday, in "Women: The Invisible Poor," the Daily Beast's Lindsay Bennett wrote: "When it comes to the latest economic data on women, the news is even worse than most people seem to realize. But you couldn’t learn that by reading The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, neither of which even mentioned women in their front-page stories about the rise in the poverty rate, which has soared to its highest level since 1993."

You said it, Lindsay. We couldn't believe it either. In its lead article covering the Census Bureau's new poverty data, the Times highlighted increases in poverty among men, children and youth, with not one mention of women, who are also facing record poverty levels this year (and, as always, are more likely to be poor than men). Here are some of the numbers:
  • Poverty among women climbed to 14.5% in 2010, the highest rate in 17 years
  • Women (7.5 million of them) are also experiencing the highest rate of extreme poverty on record. 
  • Poverty rates among women of color (25.6% for Black women, 25% for Latinas) and single moms (40.7%) are even more staggering. 
  • The child poverty rate climbed to 22%, and more than half of children in poverty lived in families headed by single mothers. 
And why is it so important to report this data? In part because it underscores how important it is to elevate women's solutions -- solutions based on lived experience and tremendously urgent need.

Solutions like paid sick days (just passed in Seattle) and quality, affordable child care, both of which help women in particular keep their jobs. Solutions like using federal dollars to prevent  teacher layoffs in states nationwide, one of many put forward by our grantees that were included in President Obama's recent jobs proposal. And solutions like those of the Caring Across Generations campaign, which would create 2 million new caregiving jobs and overwhelmingly benefit low-income, immigrant women of color.

This week's poverty numbers -- as well as growing numbers of those without health insurance, and a stagnant gender wage gap -- remind us just how badly women are reeling. How urgently change generated by women is called for. And how shameful it is that the 17.2 million women living in poverty -- particularly in a climate where women are bearing the brunt of the recession -- are not front-page news.

So, press, pundits and policymakers: do your job -- and your math! -- and consider the full story. Women are half of our nation's workforce, and two-thirds of families depend on women's earnings to survive. How can our country recover if we don't do everything we can to guarantee their visibility and well-being?

Photo: © Elizabeth Rappaport and the Ms. Foundation for Women.

15 September 2011

Internship Opportunity in Gloria Steinem's Office

We’re pleased to share this opportunity to support Gloria Steinem (Ms. Foundation co-founder), and we look forward to meeting the intern in our shared office space.

Gloria Steinem's downtown Brooklyn office is looking for a fall intern--one day per week (Fridays strongly preferred), unpaid (though we will cover your travel expenses), and the chance of a lifetime!

...are a small (tiny!) office looking for a little extra help as we head into a busy fall.
...have several large archiving projects for our intern to focus on, but naturally this position will likely also include light office work (phone answering, mail-related tasks, copying, and others).
...want a bright and efficient addition to our team!

...are a feminist with energy, passion, smarts, and a great work ethic.
...have an interest in history, library science, or information/data management (or all of these)!
...want a chance to work in a close-knit office environment that can be fast-paced and stressful but also fun and inspiring.

If you think you'd be a good fit, send a resume and a cover letter describing what you're like and what you're passionate about to: mariecochs@gmail.com. Please include "archival intern position" and your name in the subject line.

12 September 2011

Louisiana Advocate, Gina Womack, Receives National Honor

We are so happy to congratulate Gina Womack, co-founder and executive director of Friends and Families of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), a longtime grantee, on her 2011 Alston Bannerman Fellowship Award. The fellowship is presented by the Center for Social Inclusion to outstanding community activists of color who have dedicated their life to social change.

Gina, a 2009 Ms. Foundation Woman of Vision, whose advocacy brings justice and human decency to thousands of incarcerated people and their families across the US South, exemplifies the spirit of the Bannerman award. We have supported Gina and FFLIC for years and are so pleased to see her work, dedication, and passion rewarded in this way!

Watch the video below and hear her personal story of how she turned a small idea for a support group of friends and family members of incarcerated youth into a movement fighting for dignity, respect and justice in the increasingly opaque prison industry. Congratulations, Gina!

25 August 2011

Women Holding the Line

What is a woman’s life worth in today’s economy? The price of a pap smear? Savings from cuts to HIV/AIDS programs? Unfortunately, policymakers across the country seem to be bartering in just this way with women’s lives.

Over the past year government has cut essential social services at all levels, denied women access to reproductive health, and laid off huge numbers of workers in female-dominated sectors in the name of austerity and deficit reduction. The specter of debt has been used time and again to attack women’s lives. Funding cuts to programs that help families have the potential to set women’s progress back decades, and make it nearly impossible for low-income women and their children to get a leg up in our economy.

Our grantee partners tell us how deeply cuts to social services affect women on the ground who are trying to survive in these uncertain times. As Attica Scott, coordinator of Kentucky Jobs with Justice, explains “today, 814,000 Kentuckians participate in the federal food stamp program; more than 1,000 homes face foreclosure in our state every month; and 576,500 Kentuckians lack health insurance.”

Our 2011 Community Voices on the Economy poll showed that Kentucky is not alone. The economic recovery never reached these women and families in Kentucky and it completely by-passed millions of other women nationwide. Rather than experiencing a real “recovery,” our economy is now in a “womancession.” Today, this already unstable foundation is being rocked by significant cuts to programs that sustain communities through tough times, helping to ensure their ability to recover, and hopefully, one day, to thrive.

Despite this dismal picture, however, there is reason for hope. Across the country, women are standing up for themselves, their families, and their communities, demanding that their voices be heard and advancing policies that protect their most basic rights.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance and Mujeres Unidas y Activas are working together with groups throughout California to fight for labor protections for the state’s more than 200,000 domestic workers. Family Values @ Work, a coalition of organizations working to make paid sick leave a universal labor right passed the first-ever state paid sick days legislation in Connecticut earlier this summer. And most recently, groups like Raising Women’s Voices convinced the Department of Health and Human Services to mandate preventive health services for women, including contraception, be covered by insurance without co-pays or deductibles as the new health reform legislation is enacted.

So while the rights and well-being of women and families are under attack in Washington and statehouses nationwide, let's not forget that strong women are holding the line. Against all odds, women are igniting change, standing up for the values of equity and inclusion, and the urgent needs of the most marginalized. The more we can share their stories of strength and power, hope and inspiration, the better equipped we will all be to defend our rights in the years to come.

This blog is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival

See this post on the MomsRising blog and read the rest of the #HERvotes commentary.

Photo: Elizabeth Rappaport - Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance

15 August 2011

'Gloria: In Her Own Words' HBO Documentary Debuts Tonight

We all know that Gloria Steinem has had a huge impact on feminism and the women's and broader social justice movements. But how many know how she became committed to advancing women's collective power to ignite social change? The HBO documentary, Gloria: In Her Own Words, which premieres tonight, Monday, August 15, tells this personal story.

Gloria began her career as a journalist, uncovering stories about inequities faced by women and communities across the country. She quickly realized that these issues had to be addressed by more than just words, they had to be addressed by action -- by a movement for social justice driven by women who faced these problems in their daily lives. 

For almost 40 years the Ms. Foundation for Women has been an integral part of this vision for change. We were founded by Gloria and others to help seed and sustain this movement by supporting women's grassroots organizing for social change across the US. You can take a stand for women making a difference with your donation to the Ms. Foundation.

Today, as we stand with Gloria and take stock of our history, we are proud to see how far we have come, even as we continue to confront challenges today. As Gloria says, "In a general way the system is still crazy. But thanks to social justice movements, and years of hard work, there has been positive change."

Gloria Steinem has endured as a feminist icon, withstanding decades of right-wing opposition to remain an outspoken advocate for women's rights and social justice. Watch Gloria: In Her Own Words to see an intimate portrait of this work and explore the formation of this tremendous movement that today we can all call our own.

Learn more about show times, the film and related resources.

10 August 2011

[Video] Meet Today's Help: Domestic Workers Continue Fight for Rights

Ms. Foundation grantee the National Domestic Workers Alliance calls our attention to domestic workers today as the movie The Help opens in theaters nationwide. The movie tells a story of women organizing 50 years ago for dignity and respect in Civil Rights-era Mississippi.
Fifty years later domestic workers are still an unprotected sector of the labor force, without access to basic rights other workers take for granted. Far too few domestic workers receive overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, sick leave or paid vacation. And far too many of them work for less than minimum wage.

Join with the National Domestic Workers Alliance to support the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

01 August 2011

Historic Recommendations on Women's Preventive Health Become Law

Amidst all of the terrifically depressing drivel around the debt ceiling, a ray of sunshine has broken through. Today, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, accepted the Institute of Medicine recommendations that key preventive health services for women, including contraception, be covered by insurance without co-pays or deductibles. As we wrote last week, this is a truly historic moment. Most notably, millions of women will now have greater access to the full range of FDA-approved birth control options. The new provisions could also be especially helpful in reducing health disparities across race and class, and very importantly, health care reform will now include a comprehensive, evidence-based framework for women's preventive health, and reflect the fundamental concept that women's health care is basic health care, and should not be subject to extra costs.

Once again, congratulations to our grantees, including Raising Women's Voices, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, the National Women's Law Center, Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and West Virginia Free, who informed the Institute of Medicine's recommendations, advocated for Secretary Sebelius to accept them as law, and before and since the passage of health care reform, have worked tirelessly to bring health and justice to women, families and communities nationwide.

Weekly Round-Up: Grantees Making Waves Nationwide

We love starting the week off with great news! This morning the Department of Health and Human Services accepted the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine that contraception, and other key women's preventive health services, be covered by insurance without co-pays or deductibles. This groundbreaking decision paves the way for millions of women to access the full range of FDA-approved contraception under health care reform, and creates a critical evidence-based framework to advance the concept that women's health care is basic health care. Congratulations to the many organizations -- Raising Women’s Voices, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, and the National Women’s Law Center to name a few -- that worked to inform the report, providing research and testimony, and continue to advocate to make health care reform a reality for women across the country. Read Raising Women’s Voices’ op-ed published in the South Coast Today. Check out what we at the Ms. Foundation had to say about this just last week!

And now for the bad news: President Obama and congressional leaders appear to have reached a deal to raise the debt-ceiling that includes deep cuts to social programs that will hit women and families the hardest. The National Women's Law Center issued a response, writing: "The deal would cut domestic discretionary programs – programs such as Head Start, K-12 education, Title X family planning, job training, domestic violence prevention, meals-on-wheels and other services for vulnerable people – by hundreds of billions of dollars but not touch a penny of the tax breaks enjoyed by millionaires and corporations." 

On Thursday July 28th, Service Women's Action Network participated in an historic panel hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Women in the Military. The newly-formed caucus has devoted its attention to two issues of highest priority to SWAN: revoking the Combat Exclusion Policy and ending Military Sexual Violence.

CEOs to workers: More for me, less for you, an op-ed on wage disparities and the minimum wage by Holly Sklar of Let Justice Roll (and co-author with Ms. Foundation COO Susan Wefald of Raise the Floor), was published in McClatchy DC.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade has launched its first canvassing project since Hurricane Katrina devastated its offices and displaced community members and staff six years ago. Matthew Kern, LABB’s new canvass director, discusses this final step towards recovery from the storms, explaining that they'll once again be able to "go out every day, rain, heat or shine, knock on doors and talk to people about issues they would have probably never have been exposed to any other way.” Read Kern’s full blog post.

The Institute for Women's Policy Research released a report, Ending Sex and Race Discrimination in the Workplace: Legal Interventions That Push the Envelope. The report examines how legal remedies have been used to address sexual harassment since the Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson case in which the United States Supreme Court ruled for the first time that sexual harassment constitutes unlawful sex discrimination.

The Women of Color Policy Network released a report on state-level legislative and policy activity relating to economic security, immigration reform, and reproductive rights and what they mean for women of color, their families, and communities. The brief, State Legislative Roundup for 2011, provides an overview of state-level wins and losses.

On July 11, the National Partnership for Women and Families and Family Values @ Work organized more than 200 paid sick days activists for the 2011 National Summit on Paid Sick Days and Paid Family Leave. Advocates, policy experts, workers and business leaders from 23 states and the District of Columbia gathered to discuss the movement to secure paid sick days and paid family leave taking root nationwide, and met with their members of Congress and urge them to support the Healthy Families Act. Watch a photo slideshow and a short video that chronicles one woman’s “day of action” on Capitol Hill. Read a blog post.

National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum announced that "Reproductive Health Disparities: Pap Knowledge and Screening Rates among Asian Pacific Islander College Women," the latest research from their California Young Women's Collaborative, produced by Asian Pacific Islander students from CSU-Fullerton, was published in the Californian Journal of Health Promotion. Check it out!

The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance joined over 200 organizations around the country to call for a halt to the controversial "Secure Communities" program and protest the inadequacies of proposed oversight strategies. In a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton, civil and immigrants rights organizations, faith leaders, and law enforcement officials denounced the Department of Homeland Security's newly-established advisory committee, which was established without public input, is devoid of transparency or accountability, and does not include immigrant community members.

Events and Opportunities

The 2nd Annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice starts today! The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights are partnering around the theme, Caminamos: Justice for Immigrant Women. The week of action will engage people in advocating for immigrant women's rights and re-centering gender in the immigration dialogue.

The Jobs with Justice National Conference is just a few weeks away! Some program highlights include sessions like Stop the War on Workers; Workers Unite to Turn the Tide on Immigration Enforcement; and Caring Across Generations. Register and learn more.

29 July 2011

New Report Offers Alternative Approaches to Ending Child Sexual Abuse; Federal Policy Deadline Reignites Debate

Decades into naming child sexual abuse as a widespread, serious issue that affects nearly every community and family, public discourse continue to miss the mark on how best to address it. Across the country, fear-based strategies, rooted in the myth that strangers are the most likely offenders, continue to characterize the predominant response.

The spotlight on this week's deadline for states to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Act (AWA), however, may reveal growing skepticism about the efficacy of current mainstream approaches to ending sexual abuse. The AWA creates a national sex offender registry and establishes uniform standards for registering sex offenders and notifying communities. By the July 27 deadline, only 14 states had “substantially implemented” key AWA provisions. Many argue its benefits do not exceed its costs—particularly amidst such a plethora of state budget crises.

Meantime, as lawmakers across the country contemplate how to best ensure safety in their communities, a new report [pdf], commissioned by the Ms. Foundation for Women and produced by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) offers alternatives.

The report, A Reasoned Approach: Reshaping Sex Offender Policy to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse, broadens the discussion of what works to keep children safe. “Ending child sexual abuse requires a reasoned approach to sex offender management,” says Patricia Eng, Ms. Foundation Vice President of Program. “This report offers a basis for centering policies around children and communities as a way forward.”

25 July 2011

One Step Closer to Reforming Women’s -- and Communities’ -- Health Nationwide

[August 1, 2011 UpdateSecretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, accepted the Institute of Medicine recommendations that key preventive health services for women, including contraception, be covered by insurance without co-pays or deductibles. More.]

After learning that a record number of anti-choice laws were passed in the first half of 2011, we were ready for some good news.

Now, thanks to an independent committee of medical and health experts charged with recommending how health care reform should consider women’s preventive health, we have something to cheer. If the Department of Health and Human Services accepts the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) findings, released last Wednesday, women may soon have far greater access to family planning and a range of services intended to help keep women—and their families and communities—healthy. 

Among the most groundbreaking—and contentious—of the committee’s evidence-based suggestions is that insurance companies eliminate co-pays and deductibles for contraception, paving the way for millions of women to access the complete range of FDA-approved methods. Once law, this would mark an enormous milestone in the women’s reproductive health movement, which has long sought to remove the barrier of cost to family planning.

19 July 2011

[Video] Anika Rahman: Women Still Struggle in Wake of Recession

Two years into what was characterized as a shift from "recession" to "recovery," the latest unemployment numbers continue to paint a dire picture for women, suggesting that what women reported in a Ms. Foundation poll earlier this spring -- that many are faring far worse than even one year ago -- shows no sign of abating. Just last week, Spotlight on Poverty, an anti-poverty initiative led by a diverse group of foundations, policymakers, and advocates, produced the following webcast interview with Ms. Foundation President and CEO Anika Rahman, who discusses the ongoing relevance of the poll's findings and what she and growing numbers of people are calling a "womancession."

Caring Across Generations: A Movement for Everyone, Especially Women

There was no doubt that a movement, not just a campaign, was launched on July 12 at the first-ever national CARE Congress, an event spearheaded by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Jobs with Justice. [Watch the video.] Over 700 people from diverse sectors nationwide -- unions, domestic worker, disability and immigrant rights groups, faith-based and women's organizations -- gathered in Washington, DC to kick off Caring Across Generations, a movement to ensure access to quality in-home care for the elderly, people with disabilities and others in need, and to ensure dignity and well-being for workers who deliver this critical support. Senior White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis offered resounding endorsements and shared how the need for quality care and quality care jobs had touched their lives. In fact, everyone was encouraged to share their stories, unearthing that we all have someone we love who needs or will need care, and underscoring how access to care is inherently linked to securing rights and respect for those who provide it.

[Watch these wonderfully moving stories about how people of all walks of life share a common vision for long-term care.]

Caring Across Generations will be successful in large part because so many Americans -- no matter their political stripe, citizenship status, race, class, age or ability -- can relate to the fundamental issues it addresses, especially as the Baby Boomer generation ages (beginning this year, someone turns 65 every eight seconds [pdf]) and the demand for in-home, long-term care exponentially grows. We all want to make sure our aging or unwell parents or grandparents are given the care they deserve, that our community members with varying ability can live productive, happy lives in their homes rather than institutions. And we want the option of being able to provide this care ourselves with the support of policies like paid family leave without destroying our finances or losing our jobs.

And while everyone can -- and should -- get on board for improved access to quality "direct care," as it is known in the industry, women have an especially critical stake, and role to play, in the movement's success. Because at the core of this and related advocacy like domestic workers' rights and affordable, quality child care campaigns, is a longstanding call to assign greater value to what's traditionally been considered "women's work." And in assigning it greater value, we can bolster support for everyone who assumes paid or unpaid caregiving roles. We can lift the burden from individuals' shoulders -- across gender -- who struggle in isolation to meet their families' needs, we can guarantee living wages and basic labor protections for the mostly women workers who deliver this indispensable care, and we can ensure collective responsibility for protecting what we have -- like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security which provide a lifeline to care for so many already -- and creating what we need, including millions of new jobs in a time of economic crisis and a path to citizenship for the immigrant women of color domestic workforce.

At the forefront of this movement are women who know just how transformative the reframing of caregiving and "women's work" could be, and understand that if you secure the rights and well-being of those most affected by injustice -- care workers, and care recipients and families among them -- we will all be better off. We, for the sake of rights and well-being of all women, all families, and our entire nation, should join them.

Weekly Round-Up: Grantees Making Waves Nationwide

What with budget battles that always seem to target women and families first, an economic crisis that is particularly grueling for women, and a record number of anti-choice measures introduced nationwide, our grantees, women activists leading change across the US, have been hard at work. Here is just a sampling of some of their recent wins and campaigns:

Grantee win alert! Earlier this month, Connecticut Governor Malloy signed paid sick days legislation into law. Ellen Bravo of Family Values at Work discusses this win and the broader campaign for paid sick days in an op-ed with Edith Prague for the Women’s Media Center, and in this Spotlight on Poverty webcast.

Grantee win alert! Young Voices and their allies were able to prevent cuts to child care in the Rhode Island state budget -- an uphill battle that many are fighting in states nationwide. Congratulations on a huge victory that provides inspiration and hope for similar campaigns around the US!

Grantee win alert! Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice along with the Strong Families coalition, fought and won the removal of racist anti-abortion billboards in Oakland, CA. Watch the videos that helped give a personal voice to the campaign.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles was forced to remove billboards which read “El lugar mas peligroso para un Latino es el vientre de su madre,”/“The most dangerous place for a Latino is in the womb” thanks to advocacy by women of color-led groups, including grantee California Latinas for Reproductive Justice [pdf]. In denouncing the "heinous" billboards, they wrote, "The problem in our communities is not abortion. What Latinas/os truly need to thrive is access to quality health care, good paying jobs to support their families, and quality education to provide positive life opportunities." 

11 July 2011

Watch Care Congress Live Stream Tuesday Morning

If you will not be in Washington, DC tomorrow, join Ms. Foundation grantees the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Jobs With Justice at a live stream of the first Care Congress. The program will run from 9:45am to 1:00pm EDT. Watch as more than 600 people work to transform long-term care in the United States for our loved ones, the workers who provide the care, and the families who struggle to access and afford that care.

Follow the Care Congress on Twitter. Join the National Domestic Workers Alliance at @CaringAcrossGen and use the hashtag #carexgens.

More on the Care Congress
Previous post
Institute for Policy Studies

08 July 2011

Obama's Twitter Town Hall: Where Are the Women?

Spending my summer at the Ms. Foundation for Women, I was immediately struck by one thing after watching a live feed of the July 6 Twitter Town Hall with President Obama on the economy and jobs: women were completely absent. This is particularly striking given how active women are on Twitter and how they choose to use it: Radian6, an organization that analyzes social networking trends, estimates that women have over 98,357 conversations about politics, of which 70 percent are about women and politics and 40 percent about the economy [i]. So why wasn't this reality reflected in Obama's town hall? Why was there not one single question about women and the economy selected? Of the 169,395 questions that were tweeted, I find it hard to believe that issues concerning women and the economy did not trend.

A breakdown by Radian6 of the most common questions #AskObama shows that financial security was one of the most tweeted topics (33.6%). Aren’t women and families seeking answers to financial security as well? We know they are, we know that they are having these conversations on Twitter, and we know that they #Ask[ed]Obama. To highlight a few:
@LisaMaatz: I'd still luv answer @BarackObama: how R U fighting4 #fairpay 4wmn after WalMart vDukes #SCOTUS decision? #askobama #walmartwmn #aauw #fem2

@9to5: We're rebuilding our economy 4a new era &need jobs that r #familyfriendly! Will U include #paidsickdays in rebuilding economy? #AskObama

@Thetaskforce: #AskObama 46% of Fortune 500 co have #lgbt nondiscrimination policies - how will you ensure fed. employment protections?

@Msfoundation: July2009-May2011 women lost 100,000 jobs while men gained 900,000. How will you stop women from losing out in the recovery? #AskObama #fem2

@RWV4Healthcare: Pls, RT! In tough times women cant pay xtra 4 preventive healthcare. Will u tell insurers to drop copays 4 contraception? #AskObama #RWVCiP
Every day, individuals and organizations across the country engage in discussions online about economic injustices that women face including barriers to paid sick leave, equal pay, and health care coverage.

So, again, what happened on July 6? One problem could have been inequality in decision making. Eight curators were chosen by Twitter to help select questions for the town hall. At first glance, it appeared that three of the eight were women -- an obvious injustice right there. Then looking more closely, I discovered that one of the curators, ModeledBehavior, is a team of 3 men. That means only three of ten curators fielding questions were women. [ii] What would have happened if women had been equitably represented?

Perhaps the issues being raised by women were not retweeted frequently enough to attract attention. And yet CBS News in their Political Hotsheet overview of questions posed to Obama highlighted a popular retweet surrounding reproductive justice advocacy:
“A variety of organizations that advocate for reproductive rights, such as Planned Parenthood, are retweeting a question from the group Raising Women's Voices that presses the president on extending his health care reforms. Mr. Obama's health care reforms included a provision to make preventive care free for patients, but these groups say that policy should include contraceptives. "Pls, RT! Women shouldnt have to pay xtra for preventive healthcare. Will u tell insurers to drop copays 4 contraception?"
Since the curators come from news backgrounds themselves, it seems improbable that CBS News would notice a trending women’s advocacy tweet that 10 other news reporters could not find.

I understand; the town hall was only able to field 18 questions in little over an hour. And I didn't expect every question to highlight the contextual issues that keep women in poverty. However, when questions concerning NASA (wasn't this forum about jobs and the economy?) are chosen over those economically pertinent to over half the US population, I begin to get confused. Especially given the rise of what Ms. Foundation President and CEO Anika Rahman has been calling a “womancession.” Between July 2009 and May 2011, women lost 109,000 jobs while men gained 959,000.[iii] Even more disheartening, of the 1.762 million jobs added to the economy between January 2010 and May 2011, only 17.3 percent went to women. [iv]

Yet despite how poorly women are faring, they continue to be ignored in national policies related to job growth and the economy. And if we can’t even receive the appropriate attention in a social media forum such as Twitter -- where we know we have such a huge presence -- how can we hope to make real progress within politics? It's well past time that reporters and politicians alike give equitable attention to women's voices speaking out against social injustice. The only way we can fight the jobs crisis and really fix the economy is if politicians hear women's resounding call for policies that address the entire US population. More than half of our country -- and our economy -- cannot be ignored.

By Stephanie Kershaw

Stephanie Kershaw is a communications intern at the Ms. Foundation for Women as part of Duke University's DukeEngage Moxie Project. "As my senior year approaches," she says, "I have been spending my summer immersed in the world of feminism, activism, and social justice for women in order to better understand how I can impact social change." 


[i] Coates, G. (2011, July 5). Radian6 Goes to Washington: Twitter #askobama Townhall. Retrieved July 7, 2011, from Radian6: http://www.radian6.com/platform-blog/2011/07/radian6-goes-to-washington-twitter-askobama-townhall/#idc-container
[ii] https://twitter.com/#!/townhall/july-6-curators/members
[iii] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010, February 26). Databases & Tools: Data Retrieval: Employment, Hours, and Earnings (CES): Table B-5. Employment of women on nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted. Retrieved June 8, 2011, from United States Department of Labor: http://bls.gov/webapps/legacy/cesbtab5.htm
[iv] Id.

01 July 2011

Revive the Nation Through Child Care

Recently, child care has been at the front of our minds at the Ms. Foundation. Proposed deficit reduction measures have inordinately affected women and children and federally-financed child care initiatives have been  key targets of right wing budget cutters. This past Tuesday we joined a group of Ms. Foundation grantees working on child care issues in low-income communities at a panel discussion they convened at New York University. And Carol Burnett from grantee Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative published a powerful op-ed in the Jackson Clarion Ledger.

Burnett writes, “last month alone 4,000 Mississippi children lost their child care subsidies -- paid for through the Child Care Development Block Grant program [a Federal subsidy assistance program] -- which helps parents afford child care and stay employed.” Organizations on the ground at the local level see the painful effects of federal policy -- every day thousands of women and children throughout the country have their lives upended by decisions made in Washington conference rooms.

Nationwide groups like MILICCI work tirelessly in their communities, dealing with local issues and budget cuts and mobilizing very specific constituencies (including parents, home care workers and child care center administrators). While these fights may seem diffuse they are based on the common belief that child care should be accessible and equitable, that it must meet the needs of the children, parents and workers involved. That is why the organizations -- Childspace CDI, Philadelphia, PA; Parent Voices, San Francisco, CA; All Our Kin, New Haven, CT; and the National Council for Research on Women, New York, NY -- that we joined on Tuesday at the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University wish to build a strong national voice advocating for accessible quality child care.

The Ms. Foundation has long believed that the voices of the people involved -- the women, families and workers that rely on an effective and equitable child care industry everyday -- are the best ones to advocate for just policies. They know the issues, feel the reality, and have the solutions. As Carol Burnett writes, Mississippi does not offer any assistance to the “70 percent of families” in the state that are eligible, so “they are left with few options. Many will be forced to quit their jobs or give up education programs that would help them secure stable employment. With further reductions in child care assistance now proposed in Congress, this situation is likely to grow worse without a persistent public outcry.

Along with our grantees, the Ms. Foundation vows to raise our collective voices and fight for effective national child care policy. The economy won’t recover if our families can’t feed themselves, our nation won’t thrive if our children are not cared for. We urge the adoption of policies that build a true foundation of strength -- a nation with strong children, families, child care workers and communities.

22 June 2011

Join Grantees in Panel on Child Care in Low-Income Communities

We know that access to affordable quality child care can be the deciding factor between self-sufficiency and welfare for many families across the US, including single-parent households and low-income families. Without affordable care for her child a single mother cannot hold down a job, pay the rent, or put food on the table. We also know that child care workers and professionals -- the people we trust to take care of our children -- are often paid a pitiable wage, have little access to workplace protections and other support services.

And now deficit cutting proposals on a national, state and local level are attacking the few services we do have, playing a numbers game with the lives and futures of our children and families.

We do not take this status quo for granted! We believe that child care is an essential service for working families and that the industry and its workers must be respected as such.

That is why the Ms. Foundation supports the work of child care advocacy groups from across the nation. Four of these groups will assemble on Monday June 27 at NYU to discuss these issues. Join the Ms. Foundation, the National Council for Research on Women, All Our Kin, Parent Voices and Childspace CDI for a panel discussion:

Advocating for Quality: Innovations in Supporting Child Care in Low-Income Communities
Child care advocates focus on two key goals: increasing access to quality care for children and families, and advancing the economic position of child care providers. The panel presents case studies of grassroots nonprofits that are simultaneously addressing both concerns in their communities, and discusses their strengths and challenges in achieving these goals.

Monday, June 27
12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

1 Washington Square North
Room 112
Free and Open to the Public

Join the conversation, help keep our children, families and communities strong!

21 June 2011

Anika Rahman to Keynote Women's Leadership Forum

Ms. Foundation President and CEO Anika Rahman will speak on "Igniting Change With Global Impact: How Do We Make a Difference" at Women's Leadership in the Global Economy, the third annual Women's Leadership Forum sponsored by the Council of Urban Professionals on Tuesday, June 28 in New York City. Rahman will share her vision and strategy for championing change across critical issues facing women, including equal paying jobs, work-life balance and the need for young girls to pursue their dreams without gender limitations.

The event is for women executives at the Senior Vice President level and above. Learn more. Register online.

Answer the Supreme Court With Paycheck Fairness

The Ms. Foundation and our grantees denounce the Supreme Court ruling in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., v. Betty Dukes, et al. The ruling means thousands of women who were subject to lower wages and unequal promotion practices cannot use the courts to plead their case as a group and must file their grievances as individuals. To stop this injustice from happening again we must ensure the protections of fair pay and nondiscrimination are written into the law. The Paycheck Fairness Act will allow victims of wage discrimination to sue for damages, and requires employers to prove that any disparities in pay between men and women are job-related. That is why we and our partners at the National Women's Law Center and the National Partnership for Women & Families and many other grantees, call for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act.

National Women's Law Center Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger said:
Congress must do all it can to ensure that this decision does not stand, including by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act. The women of Wal-Mart -- and women everywhere -- must have a real chance to gain equal pay and a fairer workplace.
National Partnership for Women & Families Senior Advisor Judith L. Lichtman said:
The pursuit of justice for the women of Wal-Mart and women facing discrimination around the country is far from over. The Wal-Mart women will continue to challenge the company's policies in the courts, and we will continue to call on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and other measures to restore our civil rights protections.
Answer the Supreme Court with positive action. Join in calling Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

16 June 2011

This Just In: Domestic Workers Win Global Recognition!

The International Labor Organization today adopted the first ever global rule that recognizes domestic workers and sets international labor standards to protect their rights. Congratulations to Ms. Foundation grantee, the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), and their allies for this tremendous win!  We're so proud to have been a long-time supporter of this inspiring movement.

So how do wins like this take place and what do international human rights conventions mean for the people they're meant to protect? In an earlier post, NDWA Director Ai-Jen Poo helps explain the internal process and movement building that helped realize the vision of internationally recognized labor rights for domestic workers. The next step will be organizing to convince countries around the world to ratify this critical global agreement. For more details, see NDWA's press release below:

Victory at Last! Domestic Workers win Global Recognition with the Adoption of the ILO Convention for Domestic Workers

Geneva, June 16, 2011 - Today Governments, Employers and Workers of the world at the 100th International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland adopted the First Convention and accompanying Recommendation on Decent Work for Domestic Workers. When the vote was announced, domestic workers unfurled a banner that read “C189: Congratulations! Now for the “domestic work” of governments- RATIFY.” Support for the Convention was overwhelming, with 396 voting in favor, and only 16 voting against (all employers), with an additional 63 abstaining. The Recommendation passed with 90% approval.

Juana Flores, US worker delegate to the ILC “With the passage of this International Convention and Recommendation, I am emotional thinking of all of the domestic workers- their sweat, their hard work, the abuses they’ve endured—and I myself have lived this experience. Today, at a global level, the work of cleaning houses, caring for children, the elderly, and disabled is recognized as work-- work like any other.”

This is truly a historic event and a step forward for an estimated100 million domestic workers worldwide, primarily women.

Some governments attending the ILO have already indicated their willingness to ratify the Convention. Domestic workers from around the world will continue their organizing with efforts at the national level to ensure that governments put the contents of the Convention into the law of each country.

About the Convention: The Convention starts by recognising the “significant contribution of domestic workers to the global economy” and that this work is “undervalued and invisible, and is mainly carried out by women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of disadvantaged communities”.

It affirms that domestic workers’ have the same fundamental rights that all workers have:
•    the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining,
•    the elimination of all forms of forced labour,
•    the effective abolition of child labour, and
•    the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

With this Convention, there is global consensus that domestic workers must enjoy and governments are called on to ensure effective protection against all forms of abuse, harassment and violence.

About NDWA: The National Domestic Workers Alliance organizes domestic workers in the United States for respect, recognition, and labor standards. Through leadership development, strategic campaigns, and alliance building we seek to help build a powerful movement for social and global justice. www.domesticworkers.org

About IDWN: The International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN) is made up of domestic workers’ unions and associations around the world, including Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, North America, and Europe. Support organisations include International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) and Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO). www.domesticworkerrights.org