05 December 2013

Youth-Serving Organizations Take the Lead to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

An excerpt from a PreventConnect post by David Lee, MPH, the Director of Prevention Services at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault. You can read his full post here

While the headlines in newspapers highlight horrific cases of child sexual abuse in youth-serving organizations, after a PowerInPrevention Ending Child Sexual Abuse web conference last October, I felt hopeful learning about the opportunities that these organizations can take to advance the work to end child sexual abuse.

15 November 2013

Congratulate Gloria Steinem on Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Ms. Foundation for Women co-founder Gloria Steinem will be presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama on Nov. 20. She joins such esteemed honorees as Toni Morrison and Helen Keller in receiving the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The Ms. Foundation couldn’t be prouder! In its announcement, the White House noted that Gloria has helped launch many organizations dedicated to advancing civil rights – organizations like the Ms. Foundation for Women, which she co-founded 40 years ago alongside Patricia Carbine, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Marlo Thomas.

Today, we carry their vision forward by investing funds, time, expertise and training in more than 100 trailblazing organizations nationwide. We remain committed to eliminating the barriers to every woman’s health, safety and economic well-being.

Help us congratulate Gloria! Show your appreciation for her contributions to the women’s movement. We’ll collect your sentiments and share them with her following the event.

06 November 2013

Ms. Foundation Fellow Lindsay Rosenthal Co-Authors Report on Sexual Violence in the Military

Congratulations to Ms. Foundation for Women fellow Lindsay Rosenthal on the publication of a report she co-authored while at the Center for American Progress!

Twice Betrayed: Bringing Justice to the U.S. Military’s Sexual Assault Problem” explores the history and scope of sexual assault in the military and the consequences to both survivors and military effectiveness. Among the report’s strongest recommendations to address this crisis is the need to remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command.

Lindsay brings this expertise to the Ms. Foundation – and not a moment too soon, as Congress prepares to debate legislation to address sexual assault in the military.

30 October 2013

Enough Abuse Campaign Setting Standards In Child Sexual Abuse Prevention

By Jetta Bernier

A recent Ms. Foundation report properly described child sexual abuse as “one of the most pressing issues of our times.” This was not an overstatement. Every year, 35 million adults come into contact with more than 70 million children in youth-serving organizations (YSOs) across the country; over 50 million children attend our public and private schools. These settings are designed to provide children with guidance and opportunities for learning and personal growth. However, they can also unwillingly provide the "cover" and access to children and teens that sexual abusers and exploiters require. Consider the sobering facts from a U.S. Department of Education report which indicates 7 percent, or 3.5 million school children, report having had physical sexual contact from an adult in their school, most commonly a teacher or coach. When non-touching sexual offenses were included, the figure rose to 4.5 million. Clearly, without a comprehensive strategy to prevent sexual abuse, youth organizations and schools will not succeed in their obligation to protect our children from this insidious threat.

As a result of national attention generated by the Penn State scandal, many institutions are recognizing the pressing need to develop more effective prevention strategies to combat the problem. In a survey conducted by MassKids with small to mid-sized YSOs, however, most reveal they don't know where to begin to strengthen their policies to prevent abuse and don't have the resources to hire risk management consultants to guide them.

A capacity building grant from the Ms. Foundation has supported the Enough Abuse Campaign’s efforts to address this identified gap. Through our "GateKeepers for Kids" program, we are educating school and youth-serving leaders about the basics they need to strengthen child safety policies and practices. We have produced a practical 12-page guide detailing the latest training, screening and reporting strategies in the field; a comprehensive assessment tool to help an organization identify its strengths and vulnerabilities; an online bank of policies, video tools and resources; and fact sheets that include steps to develop a code of conduct so that inappropriate behaviors can be identified early before they escalate to abuse, to match an organization's policy to its unique mission and clients, and to modify physical spaces to reduce opportunities for sexual abuse to occur.

To spur prevention efforts further, the Enough Abuse Campaign is convening a first-of-its-kind Prevention Summit on November 19th near Boston to help jumpstart the effort to set a new standard for child safety among school and YSO leaders, advocates, policymakers and funders. National and state leaders will provide participants with: an understanding of the scope of the problem; the latest, practical tools they need to review and improve their policies; specific skill-building around screening, reporting, modifying physical spaces, dealing with disclosures from staff and children, and handling alleged abusers in ways that support both accountability and compassion. The Learning Community we plan to organize post-summit will provide an ongoing vehicle for the exchange of prevention ideas and strategies far beyond the event itself, including the mobilization of new advocates pushing for legislative changes aimed at preventing child sexual abuse.

Taken collectively, we believe these efforts will help generate a new culture of safety and accountability within organizations whose mission is to ensure the right of every child to a healthy and safe childhood – one free from sexual abuse and its devastating effects.

For more information about summit speakers and session topics, and to register, please visit www.enoughabuse.org.

Jetta Bernier is executive director of MassKids and directs its Enough Abuse Campaign. To learn more visit www.masskids.org.

18 October 2013

Blame, Inappropriately Directed

The heinous Maryville, Mo., rape case has reignited cultural tendencies toward victim-blaming.

Emily Yoffe, of Slate, admonished college women to stop getting drunk, citing a study showing that more than 80 percent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol. One could reasonably assume that an equal or greater percentage of campus sexual assaults also involve men. Men are more likely rapists than women so, by Yoffe’s reasoning, women would be wise to avoid interactions with men.

But that’s not what she – or anyone else – is suggesting. Everyone knows that men, specifically, are not the problem any more than a few shots of Patrón are the problem.

How do we eliminate rape and rape culture? Certainly not by blaming victims or putting the onus on women to protect themselves.

It’s hard work changing a culture that values hyper-masculinity and treats women and girls as sexual property. It’s not so neat and simple as telling women to stop drinking, stop going out late at night, stop wearing short skirts. It takes courage to demand community accountability, and to change the cultural conditions that create rapists.

Media outlets may lack that courage, but the Ms. Foundation for Women stands strong in its belief that violence against girls and women can be made a rarity, rather than a shameful reality.

The first step requires treating rape survivors with dignity and respect rather than second-guessing victims' decisions surrounding their assaults.

Instead of “What did she expect to happen at one in the morning after sneaking out?” (as Fox News guest Joseph DiBenedetto asked about one of the Maryville victims), we should be questioning the motives of the perpetrators: “Didn’t they think twice about picking up girls late at night and sneaking them in through a window? Didn’t the boys know that alcohol would lower their inhibitions and cloud their judgment?”

And, especially, in reference to the prosecutor reopening the case: “What did the boys expect to happen when they raped these girls?”

Those are the questions no one is asking.

02 October 2013

Government Shutdown Harming Women Most In Need

As is often the case, the people most negatively impacted by governmental failures are the ones who can least afford the setback. The current government shutdown is no exception.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is considered “non-essential,” allowing it to be shut down, effective yesterday. Nearly 9 million low-income women and their children rely on this program for food, nutritional information and health care referrals. (Since when is food “non-essential” to survival?) That includes breastfeeding support and infant formula, including specialized formula for children with illnesses or allergies, which isn’t readily available elsewhere.

Fifty-three percent of U.S. infants rely on WIC to meet their full nutritional needs. With mothers most often assuming primary parenting responsibilities, this leaves millions of women without options. Utah’s WIC program was the first to shut down yesterday, sacrificing 65,000 residents in need of nutrition assistance. While states will be permitted to tap into additional funding that could sustain them through October, future funding remains uncertain.

Additionally, more than 20 Head Start programs have already been shut down, with more expected if the shutdown drags on. Again, this primarily devastates women, not only with the loss of educational and other services for their children, but also with the last-minute need for child care in the absence of a caregiver.

It’s not just low-income women who will feel the pinch.  Federally funded domestic violence shelters may be at risk of losing reimbursement for their services, along with youth-serving organizations and state coalitions that receive federal sexual assault prevention funds.

While Republicans and Democrats play a dangerous game of chicken, it’s the most vulnerable women who suffer.

30 September 2013

Access Denied: There's nothing to cheer about on the anniversary of the Hyde Amendment

Last year, the Ms. Foundation for Women published this post to raise awareness about the implications of the Hyde amendment. This year, our state of affairs remain unchanged. Please sign on to the ALL Above all petition to repeal the Hyde amendment once and for all. 

The relief that women experienced following the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing access to safe and legal abortion was short-lived. After merely three years, zealous politicians managed to impose their own personal agendas with the passing of the Hyde Amendment, systematically excluding millions of low-income women and women of color from accessing abortion care. 
With broad support from anti-choice legislators, the Hyde Amendment banned federal Medicaid coverage of abortion. Denial of Medicaid-funded abortions subsequently retracted low-income women’s ability to obtain a safe and legal abortion. The rights they gained in 1973 were essentially stripped away.

Today marks 36 years since the Hyde Amendment was enacted. Millions of women who rely on Medicaid for health care are still excluded from accessing abortion care. The restrictions imposed by the Hyde Amendment leave many women in a difficult situation—choosing between basic necessities like food and rent or the medical services that are standard among the majority of private health plans.

This injustice must end. Stand up for choice. Stand up for women’s constitutional rights. Please sign this petition from ALL Above All to repeal the Hyde Amendment.

26 September 2013

Secret survivor’s tools for strengthening your prevention efforts

Sharing one’s story of child sexual abuse is an example of reciprocal empathic connection. In telling the story the individual shares a deeply intimate narrative that connects those that listen with an experience of sorrow, strength and perseverance. Those that receive the story are provided with the opportunity to shift their worldview by connecting and supporting another through the process of healing from trauma.
Secret Survivor’s Tools for Strengthening Your Prevention Efforts, illustrated the power of the personal narrative in a focused prevention strategy. The Ending Child Sexual Abuse Web Conference series sponsored by PreventConnect and Ms. Foundation for Women understands that creativity has an important role in changing and reshaping social norms. The series co-hosts Cordelia Anderson and Joan Tabachnick facilitated a thoughtful discussion with Sara Zatz from Ping Chong + Company and Billye Mulraine from Kingsbridge Heights Community Center about their work using the medium of storytelling in prevention efforts.
Check out the recording of this web conference for details about these actions and more.

23 September 2013

Countdown to Health Care: Fighting for Equity for Women

By: Ellen Liu, Director of Women's Health for The Ms. Foundation for Women

There is a lot that organizations like Northwest Health Law Advocates (NoHLA) can do to make sure women are front and center in the Affordable Care Act, according to NoHLA’s Staff Attorney, Emily Brice. “More specifically, [we need to prioritize] women who are particularly vulnerable because they’re lower income, immigrants, have limited English proficiency, or who face other barriers to enrollment.” In Washington State, nearly one in five women between 19-64 years old is uninsured.

The Seattle, Washington-based organization is a Ms. Foundation grantee and works to increase access to health care and basic health care rights through legal and policy advocacy.

“We always knew that the federal government clearly cannot do this alone,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently told The Washington Post. While the Obama administration has highlighted aspects of the health care overhaul that are important to women — like preventive services without cost sharing and contraception coverage with no co-pays — current government outreach to support women’s enrollment in health coverage is limited, especially among the women who stand to benefit the most.

In Washington state, NoHLA and its network of partners have stepped in, pushing for greater equity in enrollment services ahead of the October 1st launch of the signup period for insurance plans in state marketplaces under the new law.

After learning from state officials that the Washington exchange would provide only very limited language access services — merely translating the state’s exchange website into Spanish — they “leapt into action and started doing education work,” Brice said. The effort, which began in December 2012, included raising awareness about the changing demographics in Washington state. In the past two decades alone, the number of limited English proficiency persons has risen 210 percent representing one of the fastest growth rates in the country. Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Russian-speaking communities account for the highest numbers.

Of course, demographic shifts have become a national reality, as well. The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured reports that as of 2009, approximately 21 percent of nonelderly people in the United States spoke a language other than English at home. People who identify as having limited English proficiency are uninsured at much higher rates than the rest of the population, at a staggering 50 percent.

Beyond demographics, it all comes down to a person’s right to health. The ACA prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, color and national origin for any health program or activity receiving government funding and for any plan offered through the new ACA insurance marketplaces. This requirement was derived from Title VI of the historic Civil Rights Act, and was bolstered in 2000 by President Clinton's Executive Order 13166 to improve access to services for individuals with limited English proficiency.

NoHLA’s pioneering initiative invoked the legal requirements for Washington state to provide language-access services. As a result of the ongoing negotiation process, today, the Washington exchange has agreed to translate the enrollment application and other key materials immediately into eight languages, and into every other language as needed by individual clients. It will provide oral interpretation services in more than 150 languages, as well as offer relay services and other key services for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Washington has now become a leader in language-access services and an example for other state exchanges.

In addition to language access, there were concerns about cultural competency and sensitivity in outreach, or “what we call ‘plain talk’ here in Washington State,” Brice explained. “Are the materials that are being distributed understandable for someone with a 6th grade education? Are they written in a way that regular people can access?”

Expanding access to care also means an expanded need to improve health care literacy. “Folks who have never before been able to access insurance coverage need to be able to learn how to use it,” Brice said.

NoHLA’s solution to making sure these important concerns become institutionalized was advocating for the creation of a Health Equity technical advisory committee, appointed by the state’s health Exchange Board and charged with considering issues of health literacy, cultural competency and hard-to-reach populations. Currently, NoHLA works closely with members of the committee to advocate for joint goals in overcoming access and enrollment barriers.

Thanks to NoHLA and its partners, Washington women will experience a considerably easier process of enrollment that is culturally sensitive, produces materials in their appropriate language and demystifies complicated health care terminology.

But the goal is not simply higher rates of women’s enrollment; it’s the improved health outcomes of thousands of Washington women previously denied that opportunity.

The Ms. Foundation is proud to support pioneering leaders like NoHLA as they eliminate barriers for women, fight discrimination and ensure that affordable, quality health care is not a privilege but a basic human right for all.

12 September 2013

Labor Rights are Women’s Rights

The Ms. Foundation for Women charges forward in its unwavering commitment to fortify and extend labor protections to workers across the country. This week, Aleyamma Mathew, Senior Program Officer for Economic Justice, joined an army of progressive organizations and labor union leaders at the AFL-CIO convention. She strategized with group leaders who represent minorities, women, youth, environmentalists and LGBTQ people to resolve how they could unite and work together to strengthen the labor movement to effectively defeat “entrenched corporate interests" and achieve "shared prosperity," as labor leader Richard Trumka expressed. Click here to learn more about labor's new approach to coalition building

Return to the Ms. Foundation for Women website

11 September 2013

Inspiring a Movement: Ending Child Sexual Abuse at the 2013 National Sexual Assault Conference

By Natalie Sullivan, Ms. Foundation for Women interim Program Officer, Safety

Last week, the Ms. Foundation for Women hosted a mini track on child sexual abuse prevention at the National Sexual Assault Conference in Hollywood, Calif. In partnership with PreventConnect, a project of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, OAASIS Oregon, Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, Ping Chong + Co., Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina and Samaritan Counseling Center, Ms. hosted five workshops on child sexual abuse prevention. 

The 2013 National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC) kicked off with flying colors on the morning of Aug. 28, 2013 – the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Opening speaker Lynn Rosenthal of the Office on Violence Against Women set the tone for the conference by offering that “there is a connection between the work [we’re] doing for women’s freedom and King’s work.” Faye Washington, of the YWCA Los Angeles, added, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.” With such calls to action, 1,400 of us from across the U.S. spent the next three days gathered together to “Inspire a Movement, Invest in Change, and Imagine…” what a world without sexual assault would look like, and what it would take to build a vibrant movement to arrive there.

I was thrilled and humbled to be in the presence of a diverse range of movement makers. From service providers to therapists to policy makers to teachers to activists (and many, many more), we roamed the halls, meeting rooms and streets of Hollywood strategizing about how to end the culture of violence and sexual abuse that is so pervasive in our lives and communities. The Ms. Foundation, alongside our grantee partners, was lucky enough to host five workshops specific to ending child sexual abuse – an issue that too often has fallen on the periphery of and between existing movements – with the guiding belief that ending child sexual abuse is one of the most strategic actions we can take to improve the safety of communities everywhere. Our mini track, “Building a Movement to End Child Sexual Abuse,” highlighted several cutting-edge strategies currently led by our grantee partners across the U.S. to prevent child sexual abuse.

We opened our mini track with Foundations for Change: Sharing Key Approaches to Ending Child Sexual Abuse, hosted by David Lee, Leona Smith DiFaustino, Cordelia Anderson and Joan Tabachnick. Drawing upon lessons learned and strategies shared throughout our and PreventConnect’s National Web Conference Series to End Child Sexual Abuse, this workshop led attendees through an introduction to the various strategies currently used in the field to prevent child sexual abuse, including policy advocacy, faith-based organizing, perpetrator prevention and survivor activism.

Next, Christi Hurt and Sarah Vidrine of Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina led a workshop on what it took to build a statewide coalition in North Carolina focused on creating a state primary prevention policy package to end child sexual abuse. Christi and Sarah walked attendees through the process of building a coalition that brings diverse communities, multidisciplinary teams and the voice of survivors to the table, while maintaining focus on one sole objective. The workshop proved to be a fertile space for the exchange of ideas, examination of how to overcome challenges and exploration of how other states might be able to take on such a model.

Our third workshop, Convening to End Child Sexual Abuse: A Strategic Choice for Movement Building, was led by Klarissa Oh, Linda Crockett, Cordelia Anderson, Billye Jones Mulraine, Christi Hurt, Randy Ellison and myself. During this workshop, we explored why convening is key to movement building and why storytelling is crucial in the work we do to end violence. We invited attendees to consider how they might do the same in their own work.

Day two of our mini track kicked off with Linda Crockett and Deb Helt of Samaritan Counseling Center’s Safe Church Project. Linda and Deb showcased the Safe Church project, an interactive one-year ecumenical group training designed to shift congregational culture to inspire prevention of child sexual abuse within churches and communities. Currently launched in Pennsylvania, they are planning to take the project national soon.

Finally, our mini track closed with an arts-based workshop led by Sara Zatz and Amita Swadhin, who hosted a documentary screening of Ping Chong + Co’s Secret Survivors. In addition to showing the documentary, Sara and Amita guided attendees through an interactive discussion and creative workshop on using the arts to end child sexual abuse. They presented the Secret Survivors toolkit designed to complement the documentary and support community and education partners in sparking dialog to end child sexual abuse.

This conference enabled child sexual abuse to come out of the shadows and into the foreground into a national dialog of violence prevention, and I thank CALCASA and their partners, National Sexual Violence Resource Center and Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape for their vision in organizing this conference.  I continue to be moved and pushed in many ways by the brilliance and depth of knowledge of those who do this work. For me, conferences reinforce the benefit of face-to-face exchanges of ideas, breaking down silos, so that we continuously remember how each of our pieces of work supports the greater whole. This year’s NSAC fully lived up to those expectations, laying the groundwork for progress and continued movement building to end violence.

26 August 2013

Ban the Scan: Fighting Child Care Barriers in Mississippi

The Ms. Foundation for Women is standing in solidarity with low-income families in Mississippi and the child care providers who serve them as they fight injustice.

Ms. grantee Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative recently helped win a preliminary injunction against a fingerprint scanning system that would stigmatize low-income women, who rely on federal subsidies, and erect operational barriers for child care providers. This system has the potential to harm both low-income families and child care business owners.

Low-income parents who receive federal child care vouchers would be forced to scan their fingerprints when dropping their children off at child care each day. This system treats low-income parents like criminals, singling them out from the higher-earning families at their child care centers.

It’s standard practice for child care providers to charge weekly or monthly rates, for families both paying in full and using subsidies. But under the fingerprint scanning system, child care providers would be paid only for the specific times that children receiving vouchers are present. Child care providers would experience a decrease in reimbursement when children who rely on subsidies are absent.

Families might decline the voucher system for privacy reasons, and child care providers may stop accepting children who rely on vouchers because of the decrease in reimbursement. The end result could be a severe curtailment in child care access for low-income families and a loss of jobs for child care providers whose businesses fold.

Mississippi has allocated $12 million to Xerox over five years to operate this system – money that would be better spent enrolling more children in the voucher program, according to Cassandra Welchin at the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative.

We couldn’t agree more! The Ms. Foundation is following developments closely and spreading the word about the impact on women and families who need our support the most.

Return to the Ms. Foundation for Women website

21 August 2013

Infographics for Change: Elizabeth Blasi and California Latinas for Reproductive Justice

This summer, Ms. launched its inaugural fellowship program with New York City’s Parsons The New School for Design, pairing three Parsons MFA design students and graduates with three different Ms. grantees working in reproductive justice. With an eye on serving economically, racially and geographically marginalized women in particular, the partnerships will produce public education campaigns and interactive tools to better equip women and girls in the fight for their right to accessible, comprehensive health care. 

By Contessa Gayles, Ms. Foundation intern and graduate student in journalism at NYU

Committed to “discovering ways that design can enhance educational engagement, encourage civic participation and motivate people to exercise their capacity to impact their own community,” 23-year-old Elizabeth Blasi will be entering her second year at Parsons’ Transdisciplinary Design MFA program this fall. “My personal connection to women’s health and reproductive justice stems from being raised in a strong Catholic, and often financially impaired, household,” Blasi tells Ms. She explains how, in her experience, being raised Catholic meant discussions about contraception were never on the table. The cultural, economic, racial and policy barriers that adversely impact women’s ability to make appropriate health decisions for themselves and their families, and the significant disparities in health that result, have inspired Blasi to  put her design skills to use for the advancement of all women’s right to health.

For her fellowship, Blasi is working with California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ), a statewide policy and advocacy organization for the advancement of the reproductive health and rights of California Latinas, in the state that is home to the nation’s largest Latino population. Latinas in the U.S. face the most significant health disparities when it comes to insurance coverage among women. An average of 37% of nonelderly Latina women are uninsured, compared to 13% of white women. Given this statistic, it should come as no surprise that a 2011 report from the Guttmacher Institute identified Latina women as having the highest unintended birth rate in the country: over double the rate of their white counterparts. Another study from the institute that same year identified California as the state with the second-largest unintended pregnancy rate in the country, behind only Mississippi.

With attention to the challenges that intergenerational, cross-cultural and cross-linguistic communications present, Blasi is designing a series of infographics to visually illustrate Latinas’ experiences and perspectives on reproductive health. The data presented will focus on barriers to health care access, dispelling common misconceptions and the intersection of immigration reform and the Affordable Care Act. Blasi will also develop a crowd-sourced platform for Latinas to share their personal reproductive justice stories to be disseminated over social and digital media platforms.

Here's more from the series on Ms.' 2013 Parsons fellows: A Tool to Teach Health Literacy: Paweena Prachanronarong and Young Women United and Mapping ACA Insurance Enrollment: Lauren Slowik and West Virginia FREE.

16 August 2013

A Parting Note from the Ms. Foundation’s Inaugural Fellow

By E. Tammy Kim, Ms. Foundation 2012-2013 Fellow

Like every journalist with the nerve to fancy herself a “writer,” I take more than a few cues from the New Yorker’s Janet Malcolm. In one of her distinctly psychological ruminations, she describes journalists as “connoisseurs of the small, unregarded motions of life,” and journalism as having a “mandate to notice small things.”

These details, the texture of life, are what distinguish thorough, reported stories from the quick write-ups and editorializing that dominate this media moment. But deep storytelling takes a lot of time and money—they are a luxury that few outlets and individuals can afford.

For the past year, I enjoyed the rare, substantial gift of journalistic support from the Ms. Foundation for Women. With its integrated vision of media, grantmaking and policy in the service of women, the foundation enabled me to write in-depth, investigative stories on child care and low-wage work. My research and conversations with affected women across the country have, I hope, informed the organization’s work more generally.

Here are some of the pieces I wrote in the course of my fellowship:

  • “The Invisible Workforce: Why Do the People Raising Our Children Earn Poverty Wages?” in The Nation (Aug. 2013), on in-home family child care providers in New Jersey, with an accompanying short video.
  • "What Separates Welfare from Work" on Open City (July 2013), on welfare-to-work and child care subsidies in New York, featuring former Ms. Foundation grantee Community Voices Heard.
  • "The Fourth Circuit’s NLRB Smackdown" in The American Prospect (June 2013), on recent court decisions further hampering the National Labor Relations Board.
  • "A Brooklyn Corner: Day laborers who clean for ultra-Orthodox Jewish households are learning about their rights" in The Nation (Apr. 2013), on women day laborers and the informal domestic economy in Brooklyn.
  • And keep an eye out for my story examining cuts to child care and kinship care subsidies in Kentucky, forthcoming on Al Jazeera America later this month.
I hope these stories ring true and further our collective work toward economic justice for all. With deep gratitude to the Ms. Foundation and my colleagues, and as I move on to a staff writer position with Al Jazeera America, I look forward to continued partnership and better, deeper storytelling.

The Ms. Foundation’s incoming fellow, Lindsay Rosenthal, will begin next month in her role identifying the best strategies for increasing access to health care services for girls currently in or transitioning from the juvenile justice and foster care systems. 

Return to the Ms. Foundation for Women website

14 August 2013

A Tool to Teach Health Literacy: Paweena Prachanronarong and Young Women United

This summer, Ms. launched its inaugural fellowship program with New York City’s Parsons The New School for Design, pairing three Parsons MFA design students and graduates with three different Ms. grantees working in reproductive justice. With an eye on serving economically, racially and geographically marginalized women in particular, the partnerships will produce public education campaigns and interactive tools to better equip women and girls in the fight for their right to accessible, comprehensive health care. 

By Contessa Gayles, Ms. Foundation intern and graduate student in journalism at NYU

“I am a woman of color who had a child when I was young,” Paweena Prachanronarong, now 32 years old, tells Ms. “At that time, I was in school, so I had to drop out and had no income . . . I've been there, and if there is a way to help clear obstacles for people, I want to help.” Now, with an MFA in Design and Technology from Parsons, Prachanronarong is doing just that, using design and innovative solutions to help young women and girls of color in need.

For her fellowship, Prachanronarong is paired with the Ms. grantee Young Women United. The organization works to improve access to comprehensive sex education and health care, and to advance reproductive justice for young women of color in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where people of color are the majority. Young Women United was one of the leading organizations advocating for the passage of New Mexico HB 300. The bill, which was signed into law this past spring, establishes statewide requirements for public school districts and charter schools to enact policies that provide excused absences to pregnant and parenting students. This gives more students a fighting chance at finishing their high school educations, while simultaneously chipping away at the institutionalized stigmatization of young parents.

Continuing this commitment to youth empowerment, Prachanronarong is designing a tool to teach health literacy to Albuquerque’s young people. This goes beyond knowing how to decipher the label on a prescription bottle; it concerns everything from learning the difference between a school-based clinic and a public health office to patient-physician confidentiality to the local rules about parental consent for reproductive care.

This expanded definition of health literacy is increasingly important, as young people in the U.S. younger than 18 continue to experience poverty at significantly higher rates than adults. They need -- and have the right -- to know how to access and pay for care. And while the information is out there, it is rarely framed or communicated to young people in an accessible way. “The end result will definitely be something fun, like a game,” Prachanronarong explains. “This tool will also educate youth about their rights so that they can advocate for themselves.”

Here's more from the series on Ms.' 2013 Parsons fellows: Mapping ACA Insurance Enrollment: Lauren Slowik and West Virginia FREE

Return to the Ms. Foundation for Women website

07 August 2013

Mapping ACA Insurance Enrollment: Lauren Slowik and West Virginia FREE

This summer, Ms. launched its inaugural fellowship program with New York City’s Parsons The New School for Design, pairing three Parsons MFA design students and graduates with three different Ms. grantees working in reproductive justice. With an eye on serving economically, racially and geographically marginalized women in particular, the partnerships will produce public education campaigns and interactive tools to better equip women and girls in the fight for their right to accessible, comprehensive health care. 

By Contessa Gayles, Ms. Foundation intern and graduate student in journalism at NYU

“As someone who has had a very personal struggle with my own health, I believe that women should be empowered by their health choices – not just merely have access to the bare minimum of care,” Lauren Slowik, 30, tells Ms.

Slowik’s condition lasted the bulk of her 20s and required three different surgeries. Her multiple health insurance providers constantly tried to find ways to categorize her costly illness as a pre-existing condition in a bid to deny her coverage. Now a graduate from Parsons’ Design and Technology MFA program and a new Adjunct Professor of Interaction Design at Parsons, Slowik is using her skill set to help other women access affordable care.

She is paired with Ms. grantee West Virginia FREE (WV FREE), a Charleston, WV-based reproductive justice organization working to increase access to affordable reproductive health care. Ahead of the Oct. 1 start of the enrollment period for insurance plans through President Obama’s Affordable Care Act health exchanges, Slowik is developing a mobile-friendly, browser-based web map to help direct West Virginians to in-person enrollment assistance locations. The  benefits of the ACA – including the ban on gender-based discrimination in insurance coverage and costs, women’s preventive services and contraception mandates and Medicaid expansion – present an unprecedented opportunity for women, particularly low-income women, to access the comprehensive care they deserve. This is particularly important in West Virginia, where nearly a quarter of women report not visiting a doctor due to costs – one of the highest state rates in the nation.  

Unfortunately, working-class Appalachian communities in the state’s rural locations are being left out of the mainstream ACA outreach. “Federal resources for public education around the Affordable Care Act are being redirected to states and locations with a higher density of people,” WV FREE Education and Outreach Manager Rachel Huff explains. “There is a gaping hole in outreach.” While the mountainous topography and the lack of broadband Internet access that results make face-to-face insurance education and enrollment all the more crucial, Slowik and WV FREE will turn to grassroots organizing and communications to make sure as many women have access to the mapping tool as possible.

Here's more from the series on Ms.' 2013 Parsons fellows: A Tool to Teach Health Literacy: Paweena Prachanronarong and Young Women United.

Return to the Ms. Foundation for Women website

23 July 2013

By David S. Lee, MPH

We have learned a lot about the problem of child sexual abuse as seen in newspaper headlines. And we need to learn more about the solutions to preventing child sexual abuse. One important piece of the solution is to focus on the power of prevention. Preventing child sexual violence requires the involvement of many people and organizations engaged in the lives of children: educational institutions, youth development organizations, after school programs, parent associations and faith communities.

As Linda Crockett of Samaritan Counseling Center’s Safe Church Project said during last week’s Ending Child Sexual Abuse Web Conference Faith Communities Engaged in Ending Child Sexual Abuse, “Faith communities have a vital role… Faith communities need to be part of the movement to push the wider culture.” Victor Vieth of the National Child Protection Training Center described how “faith has a critical role in the lives of abused children.”

There are many actions that faith communities can take to be active in ending child sexual abuse. Faith communities can develop child sexual abuse prevention policies, integrate prevention education into religious school curriculum, develop partnerships with child sexual abuse prevention organizations and discuss child sexual abuse prevention from the pulpit.

This web conference kicked off the second Ending Child Sexual Abuse Web Conference series sponsored by PreventConnect and the Ms. Foundation for Women. The theme of this series is “Power In Prevention.” The web conferences are hosted by PreventConnect’s Leona Smith-DiFaustino and led by child sexual abuse prevention experts Cordelia Anderson and Joan Tabachnick.

Click here for more information about this series and sign up here for announcements for future web conferences.

David S. Lee, MPH, is the Director of Prevention Services at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, where he provides training and technical assistance on prevention. 

18 July 2013

Economic Security Not Possible on Minimum Wage

McDonald’s is causing a stir with its unrealistic budgeting tool for minimum-wage employees. Not only were the amounts allocated staggeringly low (only $600 per month for rent, compared to the national average of $1,048), but the budget excluded things like heat, gas, clothing and child care.

Given that two-thirds of fast-food workers are women and almost one-third of minimum-wage earners are raising children, it’s likely that a significant number of McDonald’s employees require child care services.

A recent Restaurant Opportunities Centers United study, funded by the Ms. Foundation, found that working mothers in the restaurant industry spend an average of 35 percent of their wages on child care.

Unfortunately, the math just doesn’t add up in the McDonald’s scenario. That budget would require an additional $721 in after-tax wages to account for child care.

The fact is that no budgeting tool can truly help minimum-wage earners achieve economic security. So, we’re asking McDonald’s CEO Donald Thompson to instead pay his employees a living wage. Learn more about our campaign and sign our petition today !

15 July 2013

Celebrating Child Care Providers

Ms. Foundation for Women Economic Justice Grantee All Our Kin shares departing reflections from policy fellow Ana Rader, who championed family child care providers, families and children online and in person. Read Ana’s full blog post here.

The family child care providers I’ve met while at All Our Kin are remarkable. Teresa Younger’s words in her keynote at our conference have stayed with me, and I’ve mulled over them often. Quoting a colleague, she said: “The best thing I can do for myself is to drop my daughter off at day care…. I have found an amazing provider who loves her, teaches her, keeps her safe and happy…. I love being at work.” Then, “Today, we celebrate who you are, what you do, and what you make possible for the rest of us to do.”

And it’s true. The work of family child care providers is the reason many other parents —many other women — can leave their homes, enter the public sphere to work and thrive. And I’m not talking about Sheryl Sandberg, here.  Family child care providers enable the women even the feminists forget — not the women “leaning in” as they rise to corporate and political power, but those entering the workforce with low-wage jobs, who might need care overnight as they work unpredictable schedules, who are grateful for an ounce of stability upon arriving in this chaotic country. And that’s important. That’s wonderful.

But these family child care providers, these women I’ve known, are far more than their value as a stepstool for other women. In a time when we often measure women’s equality by the number of women in seats in which men once sat, these family child care providers are instead redefining what it means to be a powerful, autonomous woman. They are reclaiming caregiving as a profession requiring strategy, skill, practice and patience; reclaiming the home as a space that can be lucrative, important, dynamic and rewarding. They are teaching their husbands and sons, bringing them into the home to join them as business partners and educators of young children. Siloed though they may be in their day-to-day work, at meetings and through telephone calls these family child care providers support and celebrate each other, strengthening and growing this community of women who are neither leaning in nor opting out. This, too — perhaps this, especially — is how change really happens.

12 July 2013

Progress in Ireland, But Abortion Rights Are Hollow Without Access

By Julie Kay, Ms. Foundation for Women Senior Strategist, Advocacy and Policy

Women in Ireland can breathe a small sigh of relief today. New legislation allowing abortion when a woman’s life is at risk has moved the country one step closer to removing extremist legislative blockades on women’s human and reproductive rights. Yet, the reality is that for women in Ireland, like their American counterparts, these legal rights will be hollow if access to abortion information and services remains out of reach.

In ABC v. Ireland, a lawsuit I argued on behalf of a woman unable to access lifesaving abortion services and information, the European Court of Human Rights found that the denial of access constituted a violation of human rights. Mounting public pressure after the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, a young woman denied a lifesaving abortion in an Irish hospital last winter, combined with the human right court’s order, has forced the government to enact reforms after decades of delay and wrangling over abortion restrictions in courts, in legislative bodies and on the streets in Ireland. Since 1992, an anti-abortion majority in government had even ignored its own Supreme Court’s ruling calling for access to legal lifesaving abortion.

Worldwide, women’s health gets treated as a political pawn by anti-abortion politicians who prioritize personal political gain over women’s human rights and health. This year, in the United States alone, women face increasing barriers to necessary abortion information and services from anti-abortion forces that continue to exert control over the legislative process. Intensified anti-abortion efforts have brought legislation from conservatives nationwide, including bans on abortion both early and late in pregnancy, regulations designed to shutter clinics in Texas and other states, and false claims about fetal development. The nonsensical push to make both reproductive health care and abortion inaccessible to women in poverty continued through bans on insurance funding for abortion through the Affordable Care Act, which occurred simultaneously with conservatives’ objections to funding for family planning programs.

The fact is that abortion in the U.S. is legal, yet inaccessible, for many women, particularly for marginalized women. Women of color, immigrant women and low-income women face greater barriers to reproductive health care nationwide. As a result, these groups experience higher instances of maternal mortality, increased health risks as a result of delayed access to abortion and outright denial of necessary and often life-saving reproductive health care. Such violations of women’s human rights occur even with greater legal access to abortion services than in other countries, like Ireland.

Unless we take affirmative steps to ensure genuine access to the full range of reproductive health care, American women will not be able to realize their full human rights of liberty, bodily integrity and full participation in society.

25 June 2013

Military Must Better Protect Women

By: Anika Rahman, Ms. Foundation for Women president and CEO

James Taranto ("Gen. Helms and the Senator's 'Hold'," op-ed, June 18) refers to efforts to reduce sexual assault in the military as "becoming an effort to criminalize male sexuality." Mr. Taranto cites a singular instance of perceived injustice as evidence of the "war on men."

Women's advocates and members of Congress alike have raised alarms about the military's repeated pattern of ineptitude at both protecting women from sexual assault and holding offenders accountable.

In fact, servicewomen have endured a long history of disrespect with regard to their health, rights and safety. It was only three years ago that emergency contraception was added to the list of medications available to all servicemembers, providing military women with the same opportunities to prevent unwanted pregnancy as civilians. And it wasn't until this January that the ban on insurance coverage for abortions for servicewomen who are victims of rape or incest was repealed—finally aligning servicewomen's rights with those of civilian employees and Medicaid recipients.

With an estimated 26,000 military sexual assaults last year alone, it's irresponsible to conclude that it is men upon whom attacks are being waged.

It seems quite clear that concrete efforts to prevent sexual assault in the military are long overdue.

A version of this article appeared June 25, 2013, on page A14 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Military Must Better Protect Women.

04 April 2013

Paid Sick Days: A Necessary Support

*Update Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed Philadelphia's City Council-approved Earned Sick Leave legislation on April 4, 2013.

This week we talked to Janet Filante, Executive Director of Childspace CDI – a long-time Ms. Foundation for Women child care grantee – about their work organizing child care providers to advocate for paid sick days as part of a Philadelphia campaign that’s heating up this spring.
Learn more about the campaign and sign the petition.

The Philadelphia City Council just passed a paid sick leave bill that would require all businesses with over 6 employees to provide their full-time staff with at least a few days of paid sick leave. The bill is now before Mayor Michael Nutter. Can you tell me why Childspace CDI became involved in the coalition supporting this legislation?

There were really three reasons we got involved: economic concerns, health concerns, and its impact on women.

First, we support child care teachers having decent working conditions, and unfortunately there are child care teachers who do not have paid sick days. So that means that they have to choose between taking a day off when they're sick or getting paid. Parents also have face these issues. Providers have guidelines saying that you shouldn't bring in a sick kid – for example if they have had a temperature within the last twenty four hours – but if the parents of these children work where they don't have paid sick days, they may have no choice. Taking a day off could mean that they might lose their job or they could lose pay, which for some people is the difference of whether they'll make rent that month.

Secondly, child care centers are environments filled with lots of germs and when providers or children don’t have the opportunity to stay home they often just keep circulating those germs. It’s important to have a healthy early care environment and ensuring paid sick leave would help make this possible. In these cases ensuring paid sick leave is both a personal and public health benefit.
Finally, this legislation is doubly important for women in their role as caregivers, because they not only need to be able to stay home and get well when they are sick, but need to take care of their children when the children get sick. Women are the majority of the workforce in these highly susceptible caregiving industries, which also typically have fewer workplace protections. Paid sick leave is an essential support for women working in these roles and for mothers caring for their children; without it, public health suffers and women are often left struggling to support their families.

So it's a very important issue both for the teachers that don't have that basic benefit and for the parents who use their programs.

What role did you play in the campaign?
The main role we played was to rally the participation of owners and directors of independent child care programs who were speaking out as business owners. This was really important because the business association was the main opponent to this bill, so the coalition really wanted to have businesses that could speak positively about why paid sick leave would be beneficial for businesses. We got business owners to testify in front of the Council, speak at press conferences and sign letters of support.

As I mentioned above, not having paid sick leave is a real health issue for child care businesses and can become a dangerous business practice. And on the other hand, we’ve found that providing paid sick days is actually a benefit to their business. It shows respect to their employees and engenders loyalty. People don't abuse it. The employees feel honored and respected and it contributes to less turnover and a better work environment.

What is the status of the legislation right now?
The bill is in front of Mayor Nutter and he has to decide this week. People do think that he's likely to veto it, as he did last year. But we are working hard to get one more vote in the Council in support of the bill so that – like New York City – we will have enough votes to override the mayor’s veto.

There’s a lot of momentum in this movement nationwide and it does seem to me that it will be one of the things that we look back at and be astonished that it wasn't a benefit that everyone had. Just like there's overtime and child labor laws, I do think we're going to get to the point where it's generally accepted that everyone should be able to have some earned sick time. It’s just common sense.

Childspace CDI

Childspace CDI is a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve the quality of jobs and quality of care in early education – defined as care for children aged zero-five, before kindergarten.

They do this by organizing teachers and directors to speak up for what they need to provide quality care and to involve their parents and peers in advocacy efforts. They also do training, technical assistance and peer support to help people adopt best practices, both in terms of how to run their businesses efficiently and best practices in the classroom.

03 April 2013

Andrea Netherwood: Dreams Without Glass

In an attempt to empower girls, this is often declared: “You can be whatever you want to be when you grow up.” While I believe we should build girls’ self-esteem and that they should be encouraged to seek their dreams, I also believe that not sharing the truth (in a sensitive, informed and age-appropriate way) can leave them ill-prepared for the realities and obstacles so many women face such as, but certainly not limited to, glass ceilings, being paid lip service instead of fair pay, being undervalued in their careers and for their contributions, and being disproportionately clustered in low-wage jobs around the world. Then there’s the excessive profiting made at the expense of women’s and girls’ self-esteem and lifelong wellbeing through pervasive and persuasive images and messages of objectification. How can we expect barriers to be broken when we protect people from the truth? It would be untrue to state that all this unfairness is coincidental or that we all get equal treatment and equal opportunities if we just work hard enough. I’m not saying that people cannot conquer limitations and unfairness because many have done just that, but it’s naïve and inaccurate to pretend barriers don’t exist.

I was 5 years old when I learned the lesson that I couldn’t be “whatever I wanted.” I remember finishing Sunday school and standing in the church lobby with my parents and a couple of female Sunday school teachers. One teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. No one had ever asked me that question before. “A priest,” I replied. Then the adults laughed (out of shock, it seemed). Clearly, it hadn’t dawned on them that that would be my answer. “A priest?” The teacher repeated. “Women aren’t priests.” 

Confused, I asked, “What do women do?”

“Women are nuns.”

“What do nuns do?” I asked.

“Help the priests.”

This was a problem because being a nun was not what I wanted to do. I did not want to help the leader – I wanted to be the leader. Nonetheless, I received the message loud and clear: Being a priest was not an option for me within the Catholic Church. Though no one came to my defense, not the teachers, not even my dear mother, I don’t blame any of them. We are all part of a system of traditions and socialization. Tradition and societal messages contribute to the normalizing of unequal treatment and unfairness, which, in turn, maintains the status quo and makes an innocent answer implausible even to those who are the direct subjects of societal discrimination.

By second grade, I daydreamed I’d be a musician; I wanted to write and sing songs. I didn’t dare share that dream with anyone. In the fourth grade, I wanted to be the first female president of the United States of America, and I knew one day we would have a woman president. However, I feared I might be the second woman president. “No one remembers the second,” I thought. I kept that dream secret, too, for fear of being told I couldn’t do it (mostly because my grades weren’t that great!).

Now that I’m an adult, being president is no longer a goal or a dream for me, yet I continue to believe we should elect the most qualified and best candidate, period. When we do finally elect a woman for president, sexism, stereotypes and discrimination will not magically disappear. The world has already seen women leaders and presidents in other countries, and sexism and misogyny have not gone away. Racism certainly didn’t end after Obama became president. When we as a nation elect a woman to be our president, she will have broken the ultimate barrier. At the same time, she will be judged harshly and differently than a man – her looks, clothing and haircuts will be “hot topics” and the majority of women will still face glass ceilings, be clustered in lower-wage jobs and face a slew of other unfair obstacles. Though I hope we will close the wage gap in my lifetime, closing the wage gap does not close the gap between male-dominated industries often earning more respect and far higher wages than female-dominated fields.

As a teenager, I was misinformed about feminism and shied from it until one day a friend called me out. So, I looked feminism up in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and read, “fem•i•nism: the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” It turns out that I was a feminist and didn’t know it. It didn’t mean “women who hate men” or any other distorted and inaccurate meaning. I had previously based my notion of feminism off a TV talk show (hey, I was a kid). It wasn’t until after I read the definition that I realized the speaker on the show, whether intentionally or not, was misrepresenting feminism’s true meaning. Anyone can be a feminist; ending sexism can never be achieved without men on board. There have been numerous outspoken men who have championed equality of the sexes. Sex discrimination is the oldest form of human discrimination, and women and girls are the largest group to be actively discriminated against worldwide.

The road to equality isn’t a straight one, and we are all a product of our time. It is critical for people all over the world to continue striving for justice and realize that justice is bigger than our individual causes. No matter what strides we make, we must always remain vigilant. We can never become complacent and think the struggle is over. We do not live in “the land of the free.” How can we when federal benefits and protections are not afforded to same-sex married couples, when in many states two consenting same-sex adults cannot legally marry, when the prison-industrial complex continues to expand, and when profits are increasingly more important than people, animals, the land, clean air and clean water? Thinking we’re free doesn’t make it so; rather, these erosions go unchecked and unchallenged. No matter what era, the insidious erosion of human rights will continue if we do not take action against it. It is unfair to continuously pass the burden of righting our wrongs to the generations to come.

This is a critical time. We are a human collective with finite resources on a finite planet. As citizens of the world, we need as many brilliant minds as possible to contribute to global solutions; this can only occur if we champion human rights. When we judge, restrict or minimize people’s ability to explore and use their talents, the world misses out on new ideas, innovations in the arts and sciences and great leaders.

We must strive for a world in which everyone has the opportunity to satiate curiosities, explore and dream.

Andrea Netherwood lives in Seattle, Wash.

02 April 2013

Using DNA to Convict the Right Rapist

By Julie F. Kay, Ms. Foundation for Women senior strategist

The recent conviction of two Steubenville, Ohio, teenagers who callously joked about their crimes on social media reminds us of the shocking nature of sexual attacks and the need to address such violence through a reliable and fair criminal justice system.

Yet, unlike in the Steubenville case, when an attacker’s identity may be in question, enormous pitfalls remain in our criminal justice system, including some that can lead to wrongful convictions. A new law passed in Kentucky last week allows vital access to DNA evidence for those who contend that they are wrongly convicted of rape or sexual assault.

The Ms. Foundation for Women and our allies in Kentucky – Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, Kentucky Domestic Violence Association, Kentucky Health Justice Network, Kentucky Jobs with Justice and Councilwoman Attica Scott – were pleased to join this important initiative led by the Innocence Project.

This law is an essential tool for stopping sexual assault and rape. When innocent people are incarcerated, the true perpetrators of violent crimes remain unpunished and often commit more crimes. Wrongful convictions make our criminal justice system less fair and less effective and make us all less safe.

Kentucky now joins a majority of states that allow access to DNA testing and analysis for individuals convicted of rape and other violent offenses who maintain their innocence. These bills help restore justice for the innocent and lead to greater safety for women and girls by helping identify the true perpetrators of sexual crimes.

Considering the epidemic prevalence of sexual assault and the trauma it causes, we need every tool possible to thwart sex crimes, including recourse against wrongful convictions that leave the real perpetrators free to reoffend.

People's Choice Q & A: Crunk Feminist Collective

What do you do?
We are a collection of 14 feminist bloggers, many of whom were raised in the South, educated in the South and currently living in the South. We are scholars, activists, advocates, artists, writers, teachers and cultural critics who are working tirelessly to make sure there are more diverse voices in feminism and that the narratives actually speak to the many issues affecting people in their everyday lives. We advocate an ethic of care for one another and ourselves, and oftentimes we use our platform to try to be the voice that says, “You are not confused or wrong. That was discrimination you just experienced or witnessed. You have a right to be angry. Let’s talk back.”

How did you become interested in women’s rights/social justice?
While some of us were raised in households focused on social justice, there are many Crunk feminists who came to understand women’s rights through women’s studies courses and/or attending women’s institutions.

Why and when did you decide to transform your interest into action?
We decided in 2010 that blogging would give us an opportunity to shift national conversations around women-of-color feminism and also potentially provide us the resources and home base to do activist work in our local communities.

Do you think your work can help make real change in the world?
We do. In fact, we are already having an impact in our small corner of the universe. Our blog posts are being taught in college classrooms around the country. We also have a lot of readers who are not a part of the academy, and we consider that a major success. One of our goals is to make feminism accessible beyond the Ivory Tower, by speaking to issues that affect everyday people.

The Feminism 101 Workshop for Girls that we did in Atlanta was a tangible, hands-on kind of success, and that is a program that we are working to get the resources to expand and institutionalize. We were able to do our first offering in that program as the result of financial support entirely from our readers. Our Feminist Care Packages initiative, which we undertook with other online feminists groups, have been instrumental in both calling out and providing resources for the sexist behavior of rappers.

Who or what inspires you?
That list is so long, but we’ll say that feminist activists across the generations inspire us. So, Barbara Smith, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Loretta Ross and Byllye Avery. Alexis Gumbs, Janet Mock . . .

Do you call yourself a feminist? Is the term still relevant today?
Yes, we very intentionally chose to call ourselves feminists, rather than womanists, for instance. The term feminist is connected to a long history of political struggle for rights, equality and justice. We want to be allied with that struggle. Moreover, we do not want to go around benefitting from the privileges and rights that feminists won for us, while avoiding the label and the challenges that come with it. By calling ourselves feminists, we demonstrate that people of color have a role to play in feminist work and that feminism can benefit our communities as well.

Is the history of women’s rights important to you? Do you have a favorite figure from that past?
History is very important to us. Many of our posts attempt to draw critical connections between past feminist figures and the work we are currently doing. Anna Julia Cooper and Ida B. Wells frequently show up in references on the blog. But we also love Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldua. This list could go on and on. 

What do you like to do when you aren’t thinking about changing the world?
We like to hang out, often with each other, when we are in the same city. We’ve got some near-gourmet chefs in the Collective. (Taste one of Crunkadelic’s Audre Lorde Have Mercy Chocolate Cupcakes, and you’ll understand.) Most of us are voracious readers, raucous dancers and can frequently be found moonlighting at a Karaoke spot.

What’s the last good book you read?
“Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America” by Melissa Harris-Perry. “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander. “The Summer We Got Free” by Summer McKenzie. “A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism is Not a Dirty Word” by Julie Zeilinger. “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Cheryl Strayed. “Fledgling” by Octavia Butler. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J.K Rowling.

What keeps you motivated to keep working for women’s rights/social justice?
The fervent and unyielding belief that another world is possible.

What world would you like to see? How long do you think it will take for us to get there?
A world in which rape is uncommon and virtually non-existent.

A place where folks can live, work and go to good schools in the safe communities of their choosing.

A world with less policing, both at the state level, but also less social policing of bodies, identities and ideologies.

A world in which women and girls can flourish in the fullness of their humanity, without having to fight, struggle and die for the right.

In short, a world where feminism is unnecessary because gender equality simply is.

When President Obama was elected, so many African-American people said, “Not in our lifetime did we think this was possible.” Clearly, we need to re-think the bounds of possibility. So, we would say that, with diligent and committed intergenerational movement work, we will see significant gains in these areas in our lifetime.

31 March 2013

Ashley Welde: Speaking Up

The Ms. Foundation for Women is celebrating Women’s History Month with a blog carnival featuring the voices and profiles of women across the country. This Month of Action is generously supported by our friends in Seattle. 

By Ashley Welde

In 2001, I left my corporate job for a fantastic dot-com opportunity, doubling my salary and achieving a director title. I was co-leading a project with another male director, and our client was a music company with all male stakeholders.

Initially, gender didn’t seem to be an issue. My work was valued, and I developed a business model with significant new revenue streams that the client hadn’t previously considered. It was the highlight of our six-month project.

A week after the project ended, celebration was in the air. A male colleague asked if I was ready for the party.

“What party?” I asked.

“At the steak and cigar bar with the client. You didn’t know?”

No, I didn’t know.

Whether on purpose or by oversight, as the only senior woman on the project, I’d been excluded from the festivities. I was stunned and angry. I called my boss, who hadn’t worked on the project, for support. He thought I shouldn’t do anything, as it would make waves with the client. What good would come from complaining?

I grew more furious. Be silent? I couldn’t do that.

I called our department head whom I suspected had planned the event, and he made a feeble attempt to cobble together an excuse. Ultimately, I skipped the party. I’m a vegetarian, cigars aren’t my thing, and the venue was seemingly chosen with boys in mind. But, by confronting our department head, I had hopefully prevented this from happening to another woman in the future.

I hadn’t realized blatant sexism like that could happen in 2001. I don’t think all men are bad; many men have championed me throughout my career. But the experience made me more proactive about advocating for myself and co-workers who might be marginalized. Every woman – and man – can be a trailblazer by speaking up for what’s right.

Ashley Welde lives in Rye Brook, NY.

30 March 2013

Pat Judge: Nun or None?

The Ms. Foundation for Women is celebrating Women’s History Month with a blog carnival featuring the voices and profiles of women across the country. This Month of Action is generously supported by our friends in Seattle.

By Pat Judge

This year, Women’s History Month coincided with the choosing of a new pope, and I couldn’t help but think about the Vatican’s treatment of American female clergy. When I thought about the ongoing investigation, scrutiny and general mistrust that the Vatican displays toward women in religious orders, I decided it is because Rome has always acted as though “nun” were spelled “none”! Therein lies the problem. Remedial work in spelling might do wonders. Perhaps then the pursuit of so many of the nuns — to try to bring the simple message of the gospel to people — would be recognized.

For so many years, nuns have looked after the poor, the needy, the marginalized, the afflicted and the oppressed. They work in orphanages, shelters, daycare centers, hospitals, prisons, soup kitchens and in services to the very least among us. This witnessing seems to be the very essence of their religious life. And it is very often in contrast to what the hierarchy at the Vatican is doing on a daily basis. These women have never been content with just going about. These women go to the people.

This year, while the world celebrates the 266th male leader of the Catholic Church, I’m proud to acknowledge the oft-overlooked accomplishments of nuns. I hope that in the future, we can celebrate women being seen as equal, valuable members of the clergy. In an age in which women can be firefighters, CEOs, pilots and politicians, it's high time we had a woman priest — or pope!

29 March 2013

Julie Edsforth: Ms. Foundation Donor, Seattleite

The Ms. Foundation for Women is celebrating Women’s History Month with a blog carnival featuring the voices and profiles of women across the country. This Month of Action is generously supported by our friends in Seattle.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you are committed to supporting women and girls?

Accumulated experiences from childhood and early adulthood came together for me at the age of 29, at the dawn of feminism’s third wave, when I co-founded Powerful Voices, a non-profit in Seattle designed to address issues of injustice at their root by supporting teenage girls in public schools and juvenile detention. I not only found a channel to direct my concern about how girls are socialized, marginalized and objectified, but I also learned that sheer determination and persistence by even a small number of people can re-shape an entire community’s response to these challenges. That’s how it was for Powerful Voices and how it can be for each of us in our own families, neighborhoods and society at large today. The door into my activism continues to be the issues and experiences of women and girls, but it opens into a room that includes the debilitating effects of racism, economic injustice and poverty and environmental destruction. Though this room (like my daughter’s clothing-strewn bedroom) can be messy and overwhelming at times, it is my personal spirit of hope and optimism that sustains me.

Why is the Ms. Foundation for Women important to you? 

I’m intrigued by the Ms. Foundation’s national focus and how it connects to what is happening in my own local community. Even as women’s issues are segregated and siloed from other issues in the progressive movement, so are the people and organizations working within the women’s movement. I like that the Ms. Foundation is a convener of groups and organizations working on similar issues across the United States. There is so much potential in the cross-fertilization of ideas and innovation. Also, I grew up seeking living examples of ways of being in the world that I wasn’t finding in my suburban, middle-class, conformist community as a teen in the late 1970s and '80s. Ms. magazine, Marlo Thomas, Gloria Steinem – they are the iconic images of feminism! The mere existence of these people and resources were a lifeline for me as I developed my own sense of agency and awareness about how to be in the world.

What do you wish for the Ms. Foundation at 40 years old? 

What’s fascinating to me is that the Ms. Foundation has spanned several waves of the feminist movement. At 40, it would be great to see the Ms. Foundation integrate those phases of its life into a coherent whole and strengthen our collective consciousness around feminism, building a narrative that is fluid and flexible and incorporates a diverse set of perspectives strong enough to break down the wall of resistance to fairness and opportunity for all.

What do you hope to see happen for women over the course of the next 40 years? 

I hope to see more of our country’s combined time and treasure going toward the women’s movement. I hope to see us finally build in constitutional protections for women. I hope to see more men embrace the label of feminist. I hope to see the societal norms shift away from tolerance of inequality to abhorrence of inequality. I hope to see a radical reduction in human suffering at the
hands of ignorance and bigotry.

Julie Edsforth lives in Seattle, Wash.