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.

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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.