31 January 2013

In honor of the Ms. Foundation’s week of action on child care, 2012 Fellow E. Tammy Kim interviewed Lourdes Alarcon, 40, a working mother of two and member of Parent Voices, a Ms. Foundation grantee fighting for affordable and accessible child care in California. Alarcon spoke of her struggles to balance school, work and child care in the wake of her husband’s departure to Mexico under threat of immigration enforcement.

Ms. Foundation: Tell us about your background and your children.

Lourdes Alarcon: I’m from La Paz, Bolivia. I emigrated in 1992 and am a naturalized U.S. citizen. I have two children: Xavier, who is 7; and Itzel, who is 5.

Ms.: What is your work history?

LA: I lost my job in 2008 as a school secretary. A lot of deportations and hate against Latino immigrants happened then, just around the time my husband decided to voluntarily leave the country.

Nobody wanted to hire me because I didn’t have reliable child care; I needed child care desperately. Meanwhile, my unemployment expired, so I had to go back on welfare, CalWORKs.

They give you some cash aid and they try to train you and provide you with job entry. But even if I get a job, I cannot support my children at $9 or $10 [an hour], for minimum wage without health care and benefits.

I decided to pursue a career in education, to get my Associate’s degree and eventually start working again. I graduated from City College of San Francisco, and the job market was still slow, so I decided to continue. I transferred to San Francisco State University.

Ms.: What kinds of child care have you used?

LA: Being a student, I qualified for child care at San Francisco State University—only my youngest child joined. There is one teacher for every four children; the quality is amazing. They have a beautiful playground, a place to grow plants, chickens, science projects, a storyteller coming every week. It makes a difference in my child’s life. But I had to do a lot in terms of paperwork—I had to be on the waiting list for six months—and it was pretty hard on me.

My dad picks up Xavier after school. He gets $1.99 per hour—the state gives me a subsidy for someone in my family to take care of my child.

You have to pay $1200 a month for quality child care that’s licensed. [Unlicensed providers] are low paid, so you can find someone who gives care in their own home, but they have many children to meet their quota, to make some money. Sometimes it’s not quality [care].

Ms.: What have you observed about child care providers?

LA: Child care providers are, in a way, exploited. People may think that child care providers “watch” your children or change a diaper, but I think it’s one of the most important jobs because it’s taking care of the future. These are the future individuals who are going to be working and doing things, so I think that’s the most important job. Teaching and child care are usually diminished. They’re not well paid, and they’re not well recognized.

Ms.: What is your vision for child care and early childhood education?

LA: I think education goes from 0 to 18. Extra funds or extra revenue should go into education, and we should not divide the child care system from the education system.

Ms.: How have you advocated for this vision?

LA: Organizing. The budget cuts in California were horrible. They affected me in every aspect of my life. So I had to advocate for Prop 30* in order to take care of my community, my children and myself. My goal as an organizer is to light up the government officials so they make better decisions, not only for child care services but also for the whole education system.

*Proposition 30, approved by California voters in November, generates money for the state budget by temporarily raising the sales tax and income taxes for the wealthy. Parent Voices was active in this fight.

What the Fellowship Means to Me

By E. Tammy Kim, Ms. Foundation 2012 Fellow

I am grateful to the Ms. Foundation for Women for awarding me its inaugural fellowship to support reporting on gender and economic justice. Deep, investigative pieces about marginalized communities demand significant time and resources; unfortunately, increasingly few media outlets pay their writers—particularly for social justice stories. In this moment of media saturation and dwindling resources, the Ms. Foundation has allowed me to focus on stories about gender inequality.

My current task is two-fold: first, and primarily, to research and write in-depth journalism on low-wage domestic and child care workers, and low-income women struggling to obtain child care; and second, to contribute economic research and analysis to the Ms. Foundation's new Advocacy and Policy department.

In my first five months as a fellow, I have interviewed young undocumented mothers, nannies from Nepal and the Philippines, care workers in Atlanta, New Yorkers receiving welfare, Latina day laborers seeking cleaning and factory work, and African-American child care providers and parents in New Jersey. The resulting stories—translations of these women's experiences as workers and caregivers—are already published or forthcoming in major media outlets, including The American Prospect and The Nation.

I believe that careful, unaffiliated reporting is a necessary component of social change. To convey truth is to ask enough questions, be present and avoid clich├ęs—of woe and success alike. Storytelling is not all, or even most, of what we must do to improve the lives of low-income women. But I have observed the impact of investigative reporting in my work as a writer, attorney, teacher and activist. I hope that my present journalistic efforts will contribute to the struggles of low-wage women and their communities.

Thanks to the Ms. Foundation for its critical support.

22 January 2013

Forty Years After Roe v. Wade, Access Diminishing

Forty years ago, U.S. women were riding a tidal wave of new rights. The Griswold v. Connecticut decision had granted married couples the right to use contraception in 1965, and Eisenstadt v. Baird extended that right to all couples, just the year before. Indeed, 1973 was shaping up to be a good year for women, with the Supreme Court guaranteeing the right to abortion in Roe v. Wade, before the end of January. Later that year, a group of committed women’s activists, led by Gloria Steinem, founded the Ms. Foundation for Women to further tear down the barriers that stood in women’s way of full equality.

But 40 years later, the tide has turned. The last two years were particularly threatening to women, with record numbers of restrictions on abortion enacted across the states.

Low-income women have been impacted most severely by these attacks on reproductive rights. Onerous restrictions such as waiting periods require that women make multiple trips to their health centers, increasing lost wages from missed work, child care fees and travel costs. Insurance and public funding bans on abortion further cause delays to equal access, as women struggle to save up enough money for their health care services. While women with financial means and resources are able to more easily navigate the barriers that emerge, low-income women – particularly, women of color – suffer the cruel fate dealt by legislators. Four decades after Roe, our foremothers never could have imagined this.

What hasn’t changed all these years later is the Ms. Foundation’s commitment to women. We’re fighting to keep lawmakers and public figures in check, to ensure that all women in the U.S. have equal opportunities and access to reproductive health care. We believe that wealth should not be a prerequisite for good health.

That’s why we work closely with trailblazing groups like ACT for Women and Girls, which is engaging young women in rural and immigrant communities in leadership and advocacy to promote reproductive justice activism. It’s why we support Young Women United, a community organization led by and for young women of color that has advanced access to comprehensive sex education at state and local levels in New Mexico. And it’s why we put our trust in Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, which promotes the policy priorities and perspectives of Latinas on reproductive rights and health.

We need your help to ensure that 40 years from now, in 2053, our daughters won’t be fighting for the same rights that our mothers and grandmothers thought they had already secured long ago. The Ms. Foundation was awarded a $150,000 Catalyst matching grant to build the capacity of women of color-led reproductive justice efforts at the state level. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar – doubled in impact. Help us leverage this opportunity to reverse the trend of restrictions on our reproductive rights.

On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, reproductive justice is inextricably tied to economic justice. Lifting up those women with the most onerous barriers to reproductive health care (and economic security) lifts us all. To secure a better future for ourselves, our families and our communities, this is a fight we can’t afford to lose.

16 January 2013

Translating Electoral Influence Into Equality

Next week, our nation will celebrate Obama’s re-inauguration – a victory made possible in large part due to support from voters of color, particularly women.

The media and pundits have made much of the influence of people of color on this election – and the changing demographics that will make people of color the majority of the population by 2050.

Although women of color are growing in electoral influence, they still face disproportionate barriers to equality, including higher rates of sexual violence, increased harassment in the workplace, cultural and language barriers in access to health care and economic disparities. How we choose to address the concerns of women of color now will shape tomorrow’s future.

Fortunately, the Ms. Foundation is at the forefront of efforts to eliminate poverty, discrimination and social injustice. We were ahead of the curve in recognizing the demographic trends and shifting our attention toward a more diverse and inclusive women’s movement. We’ve made a special commitment to building the power of low-income, immigrant and women of color to effect change that resonates in their lives, as well as the lives of all U.S. women.

Since women were so instrumental in getting President Obama re-elected, how can he return the favor? Tell us which issues are most important to you. If you were president, would you repeal the Hyde Amendment, giving low-income women abortion coverage through Medicaid? Would you ensure affordable child care? Or expand the Violence Against Women Act to include protections for LGBTQ women, undocumented immigrants and Native Americans?

How would you help women – particularly, women of color – translate electoral influence into equality?

10 January 2013

Building a Movement to End Child Sexual Abuse

By: David Lee
Ending child sexual abuse cannot be done solely by cleverly worded brochures, sophisticated social media campaigns, or dynamic classroom presentations. We need to have a robust social movement of people from all walks of life working to create changes in our society, creating policies to promote safety and prevention efforts to ensure child sexual abuse will not happen in the first place.

Last year PreventConnect was pleased to collaborate with the Ms. Foundation for Women to sponsor a series of web conferences on ending child sexual abuse. Over the course of the year, Cordelia Anderson and Joan Tabachnick hosted web conferences that served as an online gathering place for thousands of people to share their insights into what it takes to build a movement to end child sexual abuse.

From this series, I learned about how the arts, healthy sexuality, youth serving organizations and the media can play a role in preventing child sexual abuse. I was inspired by speakers who described their “soap box” moments to spark change, by survivors who envision a world without child sexual abuse, and by the tenacity of policy advocates who seek social change.

Most importantly, I recognized the collective power of all of the advocates, survivors, prevention practitioners, therapists, sex offender management professionals, educators, artists, and others, to create change. Ending child sexual abuse is an ambitious goal, but together we will make a difference.

While I know a web conference series is not enough to build the changes we need, this series provides a strong foundation for the work. Recordings and materials from all of the web conferences are available. I encourage you to check them out:

Including Child Sexual Abuse in the Sexual Violence Prevention Movement (May 3, 2012)

Using Media to End Child Sexual Abuse (June 7, 2012)

Preventing the Perpetration of Child Sexual Abuse (July 19, 2012)

Voices of Experience: the role of direct experiences in social change (August 30, 2012)

Healthy Sexuality and Caring Connections: Foundations for Prevention (September 10, 2012)

The Role of Arts in Ending Child Sexual Abuse (October 10, 2012)

Depictions of children in media and pornography: Implications for prevention (November 14, 2012)

After Sandusky: What we have learned to prevent child sexual abuse in youth-serving organizations (November 19, 2012)

Policy changes that help and hinder our ability to end child sexual abuse (December 10, 2012)

If you want to learn more about upcoming activities please sign-up to be notified of future activities.
David Lee is the Director of Prevention Services at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault and manages the national online project PreventConnect.

07 January 2013

Pursuing Equality Through Advocacy and Policy

This week we’re thinking of Hillary Clinton. Not just in the “glad she’s out of the hospital” way, but also in gratitude for all that she has done for women worldwide. She’s been an advocate for women throughout her personal life and professional career – from attorney to First Lady to senator to Secretary of State.

She’s broken so many glass ceilings in her lifetime, as the first female chair of the Legal Services Corporation, the first former First Lady of the United States to run for public office and the first former First Lady to serve in a president’s cabinet. And she has set an example for working mothers across the country by seamlessly balancing family and career.

In the face of gender-based bias, hateful attacks and systemic barriers, Hillary rose to the top, creating new opportunities for public dialogue about women’s rights.Let's show Hillary Rodham Clinton some gratitude! Tell her how much you appreciate her work for our nation.

As she prepares to step down from her post as Secretary of State, the Ms. Foundation is grateful for her leadership. And we’re mindful of the need to support more women as they fight for equality at all levels of leadership.

It’s perfectly fitting today that the Ms. Foundation announces the second year of its fellowship, funding a talented leader pursuing equality through advocacy and policy initiatives, as we celebrate Hillary’s accomplishments and wish her good health.

Click here to download the Ms. Foundation Fellowship application. Applications must be submitted by Feb. 15.