27 November 2012

Use Your Soap Boxes

By Cordelia Anderson and Joan Tabachnick, guest bloggers and hosts of the Ending Child Sexual Abuse Web Conference Series

There is certainly good news about the changing face of the media. Social media and the internet offer many opportunities for accessing information, and this web conference series is a prime example of how technology and new forms of media are connecting people like never before. However, these new opportunities don’t come without their challenges. Our recent web conference titled “The Role of Media and Pornography” brought together two national leaders known for their expertise on media and pornography, and examined the ways in which new media and technology have transformed the pornography industry to the detriment of safer communities.

During the conference, presenter Cordelia Anderson (typically a co-host for this web conference series) highlighted the impact of current internet pornography in everyday lives. She explored how we can begin to use alternative images and messages that capture the joy, consent, and mutual pleasure necessary for healthy sexuality. Anderson’s presentation helped us see the need for a culture that doesn’t censor the healthy while marketing the harmful. We need a culture that nurtures healthy sexuality and normalizes caring connections rather than disconnection. This, she argues, is essential for building communities that don’t allow for the sexual abuse of children.

Building on this theme, presenter Dr. Sharon Cooper challenged the standard notion of “what you see is what you get.” Instead, she says that when it comes to media, “what you see is what gets you.” As a pediatrician, Dr. Cooper uses her time with patients and families as a way to start conversations with parents about the impact of media messages on their children, the importance of self-worth and respect, and ways to combat the growing sexual objectification of children -- she refers to these education moments in her office as her metaphorical Soap Box, inviting each of us to do the same. One participant suggested that this could become the beginning of the SOAP BOX Campaign among pediatricians, while another creatively noted that SOAP is truly what Dr. Cooper was doing -- “Speaking Out Against Pornography.”

As bloggers, we agree that it’s time for each of us to pull out our soap box -- speaking out against abuse and objectification of children in the media and calling for models and images of healthy sexuality and relationships.

Click here to learn more about the Ending Child Sexual Abuse Web Conference Series. Slides and recordings are available for each web conference. Sign-up to learn more about upcoming sessions.


Today kicks off the first annual #GivingTuesday. You’ve shopped, saved and now it’s time to give back. Because there’s more to do for women in this nation, the Ms. Foundation for Women is asking supporters to please donate today to help serve women who are most impacted by poverty, violence and other forms of injustice.

There's more to do — and with the help of supporters like Shelley Emmer, we're doing it. Shelley not only works for the Ms. Foundation, but she is also a donor “because of its inspirational past and its promise of an even better future.”

“The Ms. Foundation has played a unique role in raising the voices of American women and emboldening and supporting leaders who have improved conditions for me, my daughter and our sisters,” said Shelley. “My donation is my small contribution to this and the next generation of women, who will reap the benefits of full equality and have the uncontested right to control their bodies.”

You can also help secure a better future for women, our families and our communities by clicking here to donate this #GivingTuesday.

The Ms. Foundation for Women’s fundamental belief is that when even one woman is held back, it diminishes us all. Please don’t hold back. Your small contribution will help keep lawmakers and public figures in check, protect and fortify our fragile successes, and secure the same opportunities for all women in the U.S.

21 November 2012

Giving Thanks for Progressive Gains and the Supporters Who Make it Happen

This Thanksgiving, the Ms. Foundation for Women is giving thanks for the transformative gains for our nation and democracy at large in 2012.

After a year filled with contentions over women’s health, immigrant rights and civil liberties, we’re celebrating a few key victories. Gay marriage wins in several states, modifications to the Dream Act, upholding of health care reform and the election of the most diverse Congress are all reasons we’re thankful.

The constitutional ruling in support of health care reform was a major relief for women and a celebratory gain for Americans. Under the new health care law, being a woman is no longer considered a pre-existing condition! The benefits of the law go further; key women's preventive care now includes birth control, well-woman visits, breastfeeding supplies, domestic violence counseling and more, at no extra cost. This is a huge win that will provide millions of women with access to the care they need to stay healthy.

The newfound diversity of the 113th Congress is also remarkable. Our nation gained four new African-American representatives, 10 new Latinos and five new Asian Americans. A record one in five senators will be women, the first openly gay congressman of color has been elected and our new Congress is more religiously diverse. The first two Hindu congresspeople, the first Buddhist senator and the first non-theist have all been elected. Progressive values have reached a new level—the election of four new LGBTQ congresspeople, including the first openly bisexual congresswoman, provides reason to cheer this holiday season. These changes reflect the growing diversity of our nation, our politics and our commitment to eliminating barriers that create injustice.

The progress made in the past year can be attributed to years of hard work at the state and community level. While we are thankful for this progress, there’s more to do in the fight for women’s equality. With your help we’re doing it, and we won’t stop until all women’s rights are secured across the U.S. Thank you to all our supporters, allies and grantees—we couldn’t do the great work we do without you.

13 November 2012

Ensuring That Disasters Don’t Leave Low-Income Women in the Cold

By Ellen Liu and Aleyamma Mathew, Ms. Foundation for Women Program Officers

It has been little more than two weeks since Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Eastern shore, and we’re again being hammered – this time by Winter Storm Athena. Harder-hit areas like Staten Island and the Far Rockaways are being cruelly subjected to what seems like a never-ending state of emergency response. 

Natural disasters have a way of exposing the underbelly of the beast.  They tell us a bigger story about our society -- which communities are prioritized and which left behind, who is most vulnerable and who is least, who is able to recover quickly and who is impacted well into the long term. 

Six years ago, Hurricane Katrina laid bare the racial and socioeconomic fault lines of New Orleans, as well as the nation.  It exposed the horrific economic injustice of the most vulnerable, many of whom were women of color and low-income women. 

Sandy, like Katrina, reminds us that natural disasters exacerbate the systemic inequality and injustice already inherent in societies.  We know that women are at greater risk of gender-based violence during and immediately after disasters, which may impact them well beyond the disaster.  A study conducted in Mississippi post-Katrina showed that gender-based violence rose from 4.6 per 100,000 per day when Hurricane Katrina hit the state, to 16.3 per 100,000 per day a year later, while many women remained displaced from their homes and were living in temporary shelters and trailers. Displacement, the challenges of permanent housing and lack of transportation to shelters exacerbate the circumstances and render women even more vulnerable.

The U.S. Census Bureau data two years following Katrina showed that labor force participation rates dropped 6.6 percent for females, as compared to 3.8 percent for males.  A primary reason is that women are often under-employed in the lowest-wage jobs, most vulnerable to crisis situations where they are the first to be laid off and the last to be re-hired.  Women are more likely the managers of their households, with primary caretaking responsibility for children and the elderly. Their situations are worsened by the lack of work supports such as family medical leave, paid sick days and child care, which become even more critical during a crisis.

Many child care centers were destroyed during Katrina, but since government agencies did not recognize child care as an essential service in post-disaster relief and re-building of the economy, low-income families were disproportionately impacted in their ability to regain financial footing. Those without alternative child care arrangements were simply unable to return to their jobs.

When the Ms. Foundation for Women responded to Hurricane Katrina’s catastrophic impact on the South, we knew we had to meet the immediate needs of women, but also ensure that women’s leadership and priorities remained central to the recovery and rebuilding, both in the short and long-term.  And so as we rebuild from Sandy and recover from Athena, officials must keep several key principles in mind:
Women must be placed at the center of response and recovery. 
Women are often the managers of their own households and are at the center of community life. In times of crisis, women must be viewed as community assets, and their input must be considered throughout the recovery process. 

Key work supports are essential.
Women’s participation in the economy must be recognized, and key work supports, including child care, must be provided in this road to recovery and self-sufficiency.  In particular, low-income families must be adequately supported to ensure that they regain their financial footing. Supports for low-wage workers include paid sick leave and subsidized child care.

Women need safety after the storm.
We must be vigilant in supporting families and ensuring that women and children are safe from harm at all times. Women must be able to access services that ensure personal safety. Cell phones are a critical lifeline for women in danger.

The aftermath of a natural disaster is when the reckoning begins.  As crisis mode gives way to clean up, recovery and re-development, we must be most attentive in ensuring that those communities and individuals who are most vulnerable are not forgotten or rendered invisible. 

Indeed, our experience at the Ms. Foundation tells us that recovery and re-building is most successful when the most marginalized women are at the center of our efforts.  It is the collective investment in the power of women, families and communities that burns brightest through the storm and its aftermath. 

11 November 2012

Veterans Day: Let’s Fight for the Women Who Fight For Us

The progress women in the military have made is truly remarkable. During the American Revolution, women served exclusively as nurses, water bearers, cooks, laundresses and saboteurs. In the past decade alone, we’ve seen a lot of firsts for women. We saw the first women in U.S. Naval history take command of a fighter squadron, we saw the first woman become Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard and we saw the first woman receive the rank of four-star general in the U.S. Army. The days when a small number of women tended to the health and domestic needs of servicemen are long over. Approximately 205,000 of the 1.4 million-member active-duty force are women.

While these turning points and accomplishments are impressive, women in the military have not had it easy. Women in the military are victims of sexual assault at greater rates than the general population. A startling one in three servicewomen has been sexually assaulted compared to one in six civilian women. While efforts to stop sexual violence against women in the military have been put forth, little progress has been made. What’s just as shocking as the lack of protection women have is the lack of reproductive rights women who serve our country have. At this time, women in the military who are impregnated through rape cannot get abortion coverage through their federal health care plans. This is a huge injustice. Women in the military deserve equity and should have the same access to reproductive services as the general population.

Passage of the Shaheen Amendment would provide an essential step in the direction of reproductive justice for military women. This amendment would give servicewomen the same rights to access abortion services that federal employees have. This amendment is currently being debated in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. In honor of equity, rights and justice, we ask you to stand with servicewomen by joining former Ms. Foundation for Women grantee Service Women’s Action Network’s campaign asking Congress to give servicewomen the same health insurance coverage they give to other federal employees. This Veterans Day, let’s fight for the women who fight for us. Let’s honor all armed service veterans, servicemen and servicewomen who make America the great nation that it is.

07 November 2012

A Win for Women

Last night was a late one for many of us, and we were tired. Not just “in need of some coffee” tired, but also tired of the attacks on women, tired of the empty pandering by politicians.

But today brings with it fantastic optimism because the real winner in the 2012 election was women!

  • The 113th Congress will have a record-breaking 19 female senators, including the first openly gay senator! (To put that in perspective, it’s still only one-fifth of the Senate, so we have much work to do before women are equally represented.)
  • New Hampshire likewise made history, electing the first all-women delegation – in the House, the Senate and the Governor’s office.
  • Todd Akin – who famously said that the female body would prevent pregnancy caused by “legitimate rape” – and Richard Mourdock – who declared that pregnancy resulting from rape was a “gift from God” – were defeated.

Decisive wins across the United States affirmed progressive values, including major gay marriage wins in several states. After a year of relentless attacks on equal pay, reproductive health and everything in between, women have spoken. Fifty-three percent of votes were cast by women – higher than our actual proportion of the population. We voted on the issues most important to us – abortion, jobs, health care, the economy and equal pay.

Not surprisingly, those are also issues that the Ms. Foundation cares deeply about. While we celebrate the gains women made last night, I hope you will join us in addressing the unfinished business that remains.

06 November 2012

The Power Behind the Vote For Women

By Candice Carnage 
Vice President, Finance Administration

As I waited for three hours in line to vote this morning, I felt empowered.  I proudly cast my ballot with an appreciation of the sacrifices and struggles of the women before me.  As an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, I voted to honor my foremothers who laid the groundwork for the right for women to vote. Despite gross opposition, direct encounters with racism and harsh criticism, our founders championed political activism by participating in the historic 1913 Women's Suffrage March

It was not until Aug. 26, 1920, that women in the U.S. were officially permitted to vote, following the ratification of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing that "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
Although this was a great triumph for the women’s suffrage movement, within a decade of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, state laws and vigilante practices (mirroring voter suppression efforts we see today) effectively disenfranchised black women in the South.  Today, women of color remain targets for voter suppression efforts.  Clearly, there is still more to do.

Half a century later, the influence women yield in determining the outcome of the presidential election is unprecedented. The fifty-five million unmarried women are seen as a “large, politically powerful and rapidly growing part of the electorate.” While these numbers are impressive, it is important for all eligible women, married or not, to harness their power by voting in accordance with issues that will affect them and their families. For this election, studies show that women care most about abortion, jobs, healthcare, the economy, and equal rights.

On this Election Day, there is a lot at stake for women’s rights. Now is the time to vote on issues that matter most to women.  Women have fought long and hard for the right to vote, and we can’t give up our power now.  Don’t take your vote for granted. To honor the struggles of our foremothers, make your voices heard today. 

02 November 2012

Facing Hurricane Sandy, Reminders of Women Less Fortunate

By Christie Petrone
Senior Manager, Public Relations

With 8 million people, New York City can sometimes seem vast and impersonal. But the city is comprised of so many small communities, places that more often resemble small towns than a big city. It’s those women, men and children from diverse backgrounds – with wealthy and poor often living side-by-side – that form the city’s backbone. This week, each of these communities was, in some way, touched by – and, in many cases, devastated by – Hurricane Sandy.

Thousands of New Yorkers remain without power, including the Ms. Foundation’s fearless leader, President and CEO Anika Rahman. More than 100 families lost their homes in a raging fire in Queens during the hurricane. And parts of Staten Island are still under water. But the dozens of lives lost are the most heartbreaking of all.

Throughout this difficult week, my heart – and the hearts of all Ms. Foundation employees – were with women in the most vulnerable communities, those already impacted by economic injustice and struggling to cope with another blow.

When I stocked up on supplies ahead of the storm, I thought of the women who can’t afford to buy a week’s worth of water and groceries in advance.

When I shelled out $30 for baby formula for my toddler, just in case the electricity faltered and the regular milk spoiled, I thought of the women who could not risk spending money on something they might never use.

When I debated whether to evacuate my apartment – considering paying for a hotel or staying with friends – I thought of the women with limited access to resources and support systems, who had nowhere else to go.

When the Ms. Foundation closed its offices due to power outages, I didn’t worry about being paid. But I did think about the hourly wage women for whom every day away from work meant lost income – and more difficulty paying bills.

When the subways shut down, paralyzing transportation, I thought of all of the domestic employees, restaurant workers and others who don’t have the option of working from home and who risk losing their jobs because of flooded subway tunnels.

When my daughter’s daycare shut down on Tuesday, I thought of the Polish immigrants who love my daughter like their own, and I wondered if they’d still be paid.

And when her daycare reopened on Wednesday, I thought of the daycares that might still be shut, and of the low-income mothers forced to choose between going to work or caring for their children.

During every step from hurricane preparation to disaster recovery, I was reminded that the everyday struggles of those less fortunate are exponentially more challenging in emergency situations.

It reaffirmed to me why the work of the Ms. Foundation for Women is so important. And why we must never give up in our fight to achieve economic justice – equality for and among all women – certainly, in the good times, but most especially, in the bad.

Photo Credit: May S. Young

Investing to End Violence Against Women

[This post originally appeared on WomenThrive]

With all of the talk in political news about “the war on women,” the real violence women and girls endure every day is often overlooked. Whether in the home or at school, in the workplace or in the military, gender-based violence jeopardizes the right to fundamental safety that all human beings need to survive.

Since the earliest days of the women's anti-violence movement, the Ms. Foundation has been among the first to fund domestic violence shelters, sexual-assault hotlines and other intervention services for women survivors. In more recent years, we have supported a range of community-based strategies to stop violence before it occurs—particularly, violence directed against women, girls and LGBTQ individuals.

Among the most serious threats to women’s safety is child sexual abuse, which is at the root of many other problems women and girls face later in life, including domestic violence, prostitution, incarceration and homelessness. Girls are disproportionately affected by child sexual abuse — one in four girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. Attuned to this harsh reality, the Ms. Foundation for Women is leading the charge, working alongside sister organizations to correct the power imbalances that precipitate abuse.

This year, the Ms. Foundation has invested more than $750,000 in organizations working to end child sexual abuse. We’re supporting the efforts of Darkness to Light and Stop It Now! to urge federal policy officials to prioritize prevention among youth-serving organizations. And we’re enabling Samaritan Counseling Center to expand its Safe Church Project, designed to help congregations develop policies and practices to protect children and youth from sexual abuse.

In order to realize our common vision of ending violence against women and girls, including child sexual abuse, women’s advocates from all corners must work together to build a robust national movement working in numerous communities, capable of inspiring hope in all of us and holding perpetrators accountable. Join the Ms. Foundation and help us prevent abuse in the lives of all women and girls.

-- Kayla Santalla