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.

28 March 2013

Elizabeth Brosnan: San Diego – America's Finest City?

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 Elizabeth Brosnan, executive director of Christie’s Place

During my first six months living in San Diego, I was amazed by its beauty, affluence and diversity. It truly was everything I thought America’s Finest City should be. Then I began my career in HIV and quickly learned that in the shadows of this affluence lies the truth about San Diego: a region lacking the resources to address the dire health needs of our most vulnerable residents, like Maria.

Maria had been HIV+ for more than 10 years and hadn’t been to the doctor for the last five years. Despite many health challenges, Maria is raising seven children. Maria became the guardian for four of the children when her sister’s drug addiction became likely to result in losing the children to the foster care system  a system Maria knew well. Contending with abuse since she was a child, Maria found the strength to leave the abusive father of her biological children and was struggling to support her family as a single parent. As mothers know all too well, caring for herself was last on Maria’s list of competing priorities.

But last year, life changed for Maria when a peer navigator from Christie’s Place connected with her. The peer navigator helped Maria move from isolation and into care  care that is saving her life and strengthening her family. The CHANGE for Women program provides child care while Maria attends medical appointments, food to feed her family and the support she needs to successfully manage her health. Maria recently married and is looking forward to becoming a grandmother in the future . . . a future she did not think was possible just a year ago.

Each year, Christie’s Place serves hundreds of Marias. We believe that no woman or child should live in fear. Sadly, many HIV+ women and their children are living in fear, isolation and poverty. Hope for these women and children lives at Christie’s Place  a women-led, women-focused agency that delivers coordinated and comprehensive social services to women, children and families impacted by HIV in San Diego County.

Christie’s Place is dedicated to the memory of Christie Milton-Torres a 30-year-old woman who passed away from AIDS-related complications in 1994. Christie and her mother Irene became tireless advocates with a vision to have a center where women and families could go to get support and care. April 8th will mark 17 years since Christie’s Place started as a small grassroots organization and has since grown into a full-scale social service organization serving women and families.

In 2010, San Diego County estimated that a stunning 69 percent of HIV+ women were not receiving care. These are real women, in real pain, terrified about their future and the futures of their children. Women who can’t get health insurance, women who can no longer work, women who need access to health care to continue to live, and women who need help caring for their children. Each year, while the number of women living with HIV grows, the funding doesn’t. And each year, they beg for services  beg for hope. We have to do better than this. This is not the world I want our children to inherit.

There was a time when I wondered, “How could I, and how could Christie’s Place, truly make the systems-level changes needed to address this public health crisis?” Then I had the privilege of attending the Johnson & Johnson/UCLA Healthcare Executive Program. This program, coupled with support from the Ms. Foundation for Women in the areas of policy and advocacy development over the past decade, resulted in the birth of the CHANGE for Women program – a program grounded in women’s power to ignite change.

Thanks to support from funders like AIDS United, Johnson & Johnson and MAC AIDS Fund, CHANGE for Women is now a community-wide initiative that has increased access to care. The investment in building the capacity of a small, women-led organization has been transformative on many levels. We set a goal of improving access to care by 15 percent and we are almost there! Today, 57 percent of HIV+ women in San Diego are not in care  down from 69 percent just two years ago.

On National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I think of what Christie and her mother fought for. I wonder if I am personally doing right by her legacy and if she would think we are doing enough. One of my favorite quotes from Nelson Mandela is, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” When we started CHANGE for Women, it was my hope that we could accomplish great things, even if they seemed impossible. While we are far from done, today I know that Christie would be proud of our achievements . . . achievements that once seemed impossible.

We are determined to make San Diego live up to its slogan  to make it “America’s Finest City” for women living with HIV/AIDS.

A version of this post was originally published on Elizabeth Brosnan's Huffington Post blog. Christie's Place is a Ms. Foundation for Women grantee.

27 March 2013

Therese Hughes: The Untold Stories of Female Veterans

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 Therese Agnes Hughes

A few years ago, I started recording stories about women who cracked the military glass ceiling. The project’s focus radically changed after my first couple of interviews. I met former Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs Tammy Duckworth in Washington, D.C. At the start of the interview, Assistant Secretary Duckworth let me know she had changed her mind and would not be conducting the interview. I was very disappointed and struck silent by her words. I asked her why she had had a change of heart. What she humbly shared with me was the value of the military women who are not already in the news and the importance of telling their stories, instead. She credited those women with allowing her to reach her success.

Over the past two years, I’ve networked with the women veterans that now-Congresswoman Duckworth mentioned. They are enlisted, and they are officers. They are retired, separated from service and serving on active duty. They live in our cities and communities across the nation.

They are women like Army National Guard Lt. Col. Kelly Brown, who graduated from West Point and became a pilot, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While in Afghanistan, Brown was responsible for engaging Afghan citizens on the ground. In partnership with Taimoor Eshaqzai, Deputy Minister of Youth, she helped establish Afghanistan’s first National Youth Council. Brown helped make sure that girls were equitably represented on these councils. She says, “In Afghanistan, 68 percent of the population is below the age of 25 years …Girls represent 50 percent of that demographic. To say that the youth is the future of Afghanistan and that women are an important part of that future is no small statement…Working with Afghanistan’s cultural considerations [they vary somewhat between provinces], we mandated that the National Youth Council would be comprised of an equal number of boys and girls from each province.”

They are women veterans like Amelia Diaz Taylor, a medical corpsman in the Navy's Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service division, and one of a handful of Hispanic women to serve during World War II. “Two of my brothers joined the Navy. I wanted to do something for the war effort, too. We were farm workers. I am Mexican-American, and I was young. Both of my parents had to sign my enlistment papers. I was required to provide my birth certificate to a federal judge because the Navy recruiters thought I wasn’t a U.S. citizen.” Diaz-Taylor convinced the judge she was a citizen and served as a medic for the remainder of the war, in San Diego. “At this time, the Balboa Park in San Diego was set up as a MASH Unit. The boys would come home in terrible shape. Medicine was not advanced at this time. We could do little for most of them. We could only comfort them and calm their fears.”

And they are women like Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Angela Salinas, who enlisted in 1974 on a dare. “I was a woman in the Corps when the Corps was wondering what to do with women in their ranks.” Selection for the “Enlisted Commissioning Program” increased Salinas’ opportunity to grow professionally. She became the first woman assigned as a combat service support ground monitor, the first female assigned as plans and policy officer for a major combatant command, and the first woman to command the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. Today Salinas speaks to young women both in military and civilian life. She often says, “I didn’t set out to break a glass ceiling. I just worked to be the best possible Marine I could be.” Salinas is the highest-ranking Latina in our nation’s Marine Corps.

These stories represent three of the nearly 700 women veterans interviewed. They are from the three oldest military branches: Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Each veteran’s experience is unique and each female veteran’s story strengthens the opportunities for all women.

26 March 2013

Jane Hinton: Powerful Voices: Embracing Youth Activism

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.

“Powerful Voices has made me realize that …no matter how much women are looked down on in this society, I still matter. I still have a voice, and I do realize it is powerful,” raves Shaundriqua Webber. This 15 year old activist from Seattle participated in a program at Powerful Voices to help strong girls become strong women. Through Powerful Voices, Shaundriqua gained newfound confidence and power in her own voice. She was invited to speak out about the issue of teen prostitution to almost 200 people at the Powerful Voices’ annual Girlvolution Conference.

Almost 20 years ago, Powerful Voices’ founders came together to build an organization to address disparities faced by girls at their roots. By developing and implementing innovative, evidence-based programs that facilitate leadership skills, and foster the development of critical thinking, we have promoted the individual and collective potential of more than 5,000 adolescent girls since 1995. Through groundbreaking events like the Girlvolution Conference and publication of alternate media, Powerful Voices creates platforms for youth to voice their opinions on social justice issues that are the most relevant to them.

We focus attention on girls who face the largest disparities – girls of color, living with a low income - by meeting them in public middle schools and juvenile detention facilities.

Powerful Voices celebrates the survival skills, accomplishments and dreams of girls. Program Manager Molly Pencke notes, “It is part of my consciousness to challenge adultism (my own included).” Molly encourages people “not to devalue or tokenize youth but to listen to girls whose voices have typically been silenced and give them a platform to be heard as valuable, active, contributing members of our society.” Read more.

Powerful Voices teaches youth activists to analyze oppression and then encourages them to address inequality in their everyday lives and communities, now and as they lead us in to the future. And the program is making a real difference. As Shaundriqua says, Powerful Voices gave her “more confidence, something new that I didn't know about the world and, most importantly, a sense of belonging.”

Jane Hinton is executive director of Powerful Voices

25 March 2013

Jane Eaton Hamilton: No Legal Impediment

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 Jane Eaton Hamilton

In June 2003, my friend Tanya and I sidled up to the counter at London Drugs, where marriage certificates were sold, and requested applications. The whole business of a drug store was going on behind us; chatter, tills, merchandise moving over beeping scanners, money changing hands. Drugs were being dispensed. But my heart was thumping hard like I was about to get caught doing something illegal.

Name of bride. Well, that one was easy, at least. My beloved, Joy, was “butchier,” so I could be, for legal purposes, whatever she wasn't.

Three years earlier, Joy and I had been denied our first marriage license – the prerequisite to becoming litigants in Canada's same-sex marriage case.

Although our case was federal (because in Canada, who can marry whom is federal jurisdiction), we had slowly wound our way toward the Supreme Court of Canada by moving up provincial channels. We had already lost at trial in the British Columbia Supreme Court, and then won upon appeal in British Columbia Appellate Court. The feds were ordered to change the law but had been given 15 months to implement the change.

Then an amazing thing happened in Ontario's lower court: The lawyers won their arm of our case, and their remedy wasn't delayed. According to the courts, Canadian gays and lesbians could wed immediately.

A federal law had been overturned. Technically, this meant that same-sex marriage was legal everywhere, which is what led us to reapply for marriage licenses in British Columbia.

I put myself down as bride. And beside me, Tanya put herself down as bride. Then we conferred a bit about how to list our lovers: Grooms? Cross that out and leave it blank? Amend it to bride? Bride One and Bride Two? We settled for making the two other women brides and handed the forms to the greasy-haired boy behind the counter.

He ran his hand through his hair. He moved his weight from one foot to another foot. His cheeks were fire red, and his neck was almost purple. His eyes sidling up from the papers to catch a glimpse of us, he said, "So, let me get this straight, you two wanna marry each other?"

“No, our partners.”

He lifted his head, as if these partners were fictions. "I'm not issuing you marriage licenses. You hafta be a man and a woman, and you're, like, not."

We explained that a federal law had just changed.

"I'm callin' somebody," he said. And then, a minute later: "Okay, so we're denyin' this. My supervisor says I, like, don't hafta."

Tanya and I turned to leave.

"Hey!" he called out.

We turned back.

"So, like, listen. If I gave you marriage licenses… Can I ask you? What would you do with them, anyhow?"

I resisted telling him the rude place I might want to stick mine if I hadn't needed it for other purposes. But what we really would have done with them is precisely what we did with the ones issued in Ontario a mere couple weeks later: We got hitched.

Jane Eaton Hamilton is the author of several books, most recently the short fiction book "Hunger." Her writing has appeared in the NY Times, Seventeen, Macleans, the Globe and Mail, En Route and other magazines, and she has been the recipient of many awards, including first prize in the CBC Literary Award. She writes in Vancouver, BC.

Photo credit: Luna Nordin. 

24 March 2013

Maria Socorro Corona: Prioritizing Education

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 Maria Socorro Corona

I have five children in school. I live in a small coastal farm town called Pescadero, Calif.

Two years ago, the principal of the elementary school said, "This is the last year of the PTA; there are no more parent volunteers." Even not knowing what the PTA was, I did not want it to end, so I said I could help.

The next day, when I picked up my children, the teachers smiled. "We hear you are the new president of the PTA." That's where the story begins: I asked what PTA means.

About 85 percent of the students are Hispanic and now, for the first time in a long time, the PTA president was also Hispanic. I felt the trust and faith the community had in me. My dream was to get all of the parents involved.

It has not been easy. I am balancing my family with my waitressing job and studying for my own GED. But it is important to me because my parents were never involved. In our immigrant culture, we focus so much on work that we don’t always pay enough attention to our kids and their education. We feel we are doing the right thing.

I needed to be different. My counselor, Julie, told me one day that I was the only one who could change the culture and make education more important.

The donation part of the PTA work is easy. Everyone, Hispanic and white, happily gives. But at the events, it is always the same small group of people attending, with half of the food leftover. It makes me sad. Is it even worth it? The only reward is the children's smiles when they go on field trips or get scholarships.

But I can see a change already. This year, our leaders of the PTA are all Hispanic women. I hope this will help other parents say, “I can do it too.”

23 March 2013

Joanna Cruz: Witness to Hunger

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 Joanna Cruz

I am a mother. I am a worker. I am a witness. And I am on food stamps.

Too often, people think that individuals on public assistance programs are lazy; I would like for them to spend one day in my shoes to change that perception.

I work 35 hours a week cooking food for other people, while struggling to feed my own family. I work the night shift so I am there to care for my children during the day – meaning that in addition to being hungry, I am tired all the time. Despite being physically tired, I became more exhausted of being ignored. I joined a program called Witnesses to Hunger in order to have a voice.

With my voice, I share that, even while working, I still qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. I receive less than $6 per person per day. What other people might spend on their morning coffee at Starbucks I budget to feed my child for an entire day and often I go without eating to make sure my children are fed. Even with the food stamps, I struggle to make the money last for the entire month. I try to buy my children healthy food, but fruits and vegetables are expensive and hard to find in my community. Where they are available, at some stands, they do not accept food stamps.

While I work hard in hopes of surviving without food stamps or other public assistance, I raise my voice so others know the importance of SNAP. I am a Witness to Hunger because I have lived hunger and want to make sure my children do not have the same struggles. For that to happen, we need strong nutrition programs to ensure our children have a strong future.

22 March 2013

Jo Hylton: Unlearn the Patriarchy

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 Jo Hylton

When I was 15, a boy at a party asked me (told me, actually) to come downstairs with him.

“I’m going to kiss you,” he said.

“No, you’re not,” I said.

“Yes, I am.”

“No, you’re not.”

“You piece of shit,” he said. “You piece of shit.”

He repeated it over and over and over.

“You. Piece. Of. Shit.”

That night, he taught me to hate myself – that because I had a vagina between my legs and growing breasts on my chest, I was worthless. He made me feel like he owned my body and that it existed purely for his pleasure. And that if I dared to exert my rightful power over my body, I was a piece of shit. That I was nothing.

If I had been older when this happened, I might not have internalized so much about myself. But I was a teenager, searching for my place in the world and trying to discover who I was. I didn't yet have the tools to deal with such an attack on my body and my (perceived lack of) power over it.

The boy was acting the way he had learned, through negative cultural influences. He had learned that my body was his because I was a girl. It existed for him and he had a right to seek pleasure from it. And I learned to hate my body because I had no power over it. The boy reinforced what I already felt – and what I continued to learn over and over again during my teenage years.

I haven’t run for office, founded an organization, planned a protest or given a lecture. But I have done something amazing. What I had learned about myself from this boy – and what’s become ingrained in many girls through our patriarchical society – I unlearned. I unlearned that I was worthless.

I learned that I am powerful. I learned that I am smart. I learned that I am brave.

21 March 2013

Pramila Jayapal: Why Immigration Policy Is ‘Sexclusionary’ (and How To Fix It)

If you’ve been following the current debate and news coverage, you probably think that immigration reform is mainly about men—the undocumented males scaling border walls, working in agriculture, doing construction work and writing code. And when you do see women, they are normally portrayed either as helpless victims of detention or deportation or as conniving leeches delivering what anti-immigrants call “anchor babies.”

Between this male-centered media narrative, and the fact that the Congress members crafting immigration proposals are almost always men, it’s no surprise that immigration policy is what I’ve dubbed as “sexclusionary.”

From the numbers alone, it’s clear that immigration is a women’s issue. Women and children comprise three-quarters of people migrating to the United States. Yet our current policy excludes them from many of the opportunities and protections of the system, and boxes them into a small number of visa categories.

As bipartisan proposals near completion in both the Senate and House, it’s critical that women across America change the conversation. We must highlight the ways in which immigration policy excludes and limits women and make sure this round of reform prioritizes issues that are essential to women’s equality.

Here are six ways that U.S. immigration policy excludes women—and corresponding ways that immigration reform legislation can be crafted to instead prioritize the needs of women.

1. Recognize the work that women do as real work. Roughly 60 percent of undocumented women work outside of their homes, many in industries where employment is temporary, informal or unverifiable—think domestic caregiving and service work. The remaining 40 percent work at home taking care of their children and families. A plan that attaches citizenship to proof of work would leave out millions of women and devalue the real contributions of their work, whether at home or in the formal or informal economy.

2. And quit trapping skilled workers as dependents on their husbands. Currently, only 27 percent of all principal visa holders—those authorized to work—are women. Since the majority of principal visa holders are men, it follows that two-thirds of dependent visa holders are women. Immigrant women in the dependent visa category are not allowed to work, even though they have the same level of attainment of bachelor’s degrees as native-born women and bring skills with them. As a result, they end up staying home, financially and socially dependent on their husbands. In fact, both the principal and dependent visa categories have significant problems for women. Globally, the employment system prioritizes professions dominated by men—such as technology and agriculture—even though our labor markets have tremendous shortages in professions dominated by women. For example, experts estimate that those who need long-term care will more than double to 27 million people by 2050. Simultaneously, the direct care workforce—both for in-home or domestic care workers—will be the fastest growing occupations in the labor market in the next decade. These industries, along with restaurant and hotel industries, employ majorities of women workers but are never prioritized for employment visas. Moreover, any employment visas also need to ensure protections and rights on the job, so women immigrants can move from employer to employer and feel safe in reporting abusive employers.

3. Don’t make women wait 20 years to unite with their families. Currently, 70 percent of women enter the country through the the family sponsorship channel. As a result, the system’s inefficiencies, outdated regulations and long wait times disproportionately burden women. Today, more than 4 million people sit waiting in the family “backlog”—meaning they have applied legally for their close family members to enter the country, but must wait for excessive periods to be reunited with their families. If you are from Mexico, the Philippines or India, for example, the wait times can be as long as 20 years. Same-gender partners are also excluded from sponsoring family members at all, since federal immigration law does not recognize same-sex couples for the purposes of family sponsorship. Left with no options, many same-sex couples end up living apart, across country borders or becoming undocumented in order to stay together.

4. Make the U.S. once again a safe haven for survivors of violence and trafficking. Human traffickers and smugglers prey on immigrant women desperate to join their families. Women asylum seekers or refugees also often see the U.S. as one of their only options to escape terrible abuse and conditions in their home country. Until 1996, America had a proud history of protecting these women. But everything changed under that Congress. Lawmakers created new barriers for asylum seekers and, in the years since, policy makers have continued making it easier for survivors of gender violence (including rape) to be deported to their countries of persecution or detained for long periods of time. The disregard for important protections for women immigrants was only highlighted by recent ugly squabbles around reauthorization of the Violence against Women Act. The ultimate passage of VAWA—after protracted battle and high-profile failures—was secured only after eliminating a tiny expansion of the number of visas for immigrant women to come forward and report domestic violence without fear of retribution. It is more essential than ever that this round of immigration reform restore the U.S. history of providing a haven for immigrants who are victims of domestic violence, as well as ensuring protections for pregnant women, asylees and refugees, abused women and unaccompanied minors.

5. Protect families and ensure due process. Too many women and children unfairly bear the brunt of detention and deportation. As a Colorlines investigation uncovered, 23 percent of all deportations in a two-year period were issued for parents with U.S. citizen children. The stunning number of deportations taking place each year—over 400,000 in 2012 alone—have left tens of thousands of families destroyed and torn apart by outdated laws that punish aspiring Americans. Women, in particular, as primary caregivers are deeply affected. California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard has proposed a fix to this, offering a bill that could be integrated into immigration reform legislation. The bill would provide protections for deported parents and for undocumented family members who care for young relatives.

6. Promote the ability for women to fully integrate into society. Approximately 10 million immigrant women speak limited English and need help from the federal government to learn our language and laws and ensure they can contribute their skills fully. English classes that currently exist often exclude women because they are tied to workforce training, take place at community colleges that require a basic level of English to enroll, or are held at times that are impossible for people who are caretakers to leave their homes and family responsibilities. Immigration reform legislation that includes an English language requirement without addressing these issues will leave millions of women at a severe disadvantage for the future. bell hooks described feminism once as “a movement to end sexist oppression.” By this measure, immigration reform offers a powerful moment for women to ensure their voices and priorities are at the forefront. If that happens, U.S. immigration policy can start working for women, rather than against them.

Pramila Jayapal is a distinguished taconic fellow at Center for Community Change and a co-chair of the We Belong Together campaign.
This article originally appeared in COLORLINES on Monday, March 18 2013. http://colorlines.com/archives/author/pramila-jayapal

20 March 2013

Veronica Arreola: Who is Writing the Narrative?

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. 

What do you feel is the biggest issue facing women today? 

Connections. The biggest issue facing women today is seeing that all our issues are connected. We can't reduce violence against women until we have full economic justice that would allow a woman to walk away from her abuser without having to choose to live in her car with her children. What kind of choice is that? We can't rally for abortion rights without repealing the Hyde Amendment so low-income women have better access to what is coined "choice." We still need to acknowledge how race and class impact the issues that the feminist movement usually organizes around.

How did you become interested in women’s rights/social justice? 

As long as I can remember, women's history and rights has been an interest of mine. I believe it stems from being a tomboy and coming up against "no girls allowed" rules on the playground, or just looking at the sports teams I followed and realizing that there weren't any women on them. Or looking at presidential history and realizing we aren't there, either. In the fourth grade, I made a zine (This was the mid-80s, so I had no idea that's what I was doing!) of first ladies because I did not feel they were getting as much respect as their husbands. It just grew from there.

How does your work advance equality? 

I am the director of the Center for Research on Women and Gender's Women in Science and Engineering Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The program was established to work on the facts that 1) women do not enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors at the same rate as men; and 2) nationally, we do not graduate enough of those women. For me, it is always an equity issue. First of all, STEM majors, especially engineering, are consistently some of the top-paying careers. They also have the smallest wage gaps. But we have seen many instances in which the lack of women at the laboratory decision table leads to bad science. For example, air bags were designed for the average man, heart disease was labeled a man's disease for years, and the most outrageous example is that, until the mid-90s, most breast cancer research was done on men because women's reproductive cycles and hormone fluctuations were too messy to deal with. Now that's some equity right there.

What keeps you motivated to keep working for women’s rights/social justice? 

We keep winning! It does not always seem like we win, but we are. There are some serious policy disappointments, like abortion coverage, in Obamacare, but we won on birth control and other preventative measures. I have to keep those wins in mind or else this work would wear me out. Don't get me wrong: I get as outraged as any other angry feminist, but I also take time to celebrate our victories and especially point them out to my students. We have a long way to go, but at the same time, we have a lot of victories to be proud of.

Why are women’s stories, particularly the stories of low-income women and women of color, so often left out of the mainstream conversation? 

We have to look at who is writing the narratives. This is why I think blogging is powerful. Too many times in the corporate press and even in blogging, if low-income women and women of color aren't telling their stories, we will be overlooked. That is why I love the Chicago Abortion Fund's My Voice, My Choice blog. There are some low-income women, all women of color, sharing their stories. I like to talk about them as much as I can so that perhaps their stories will get into the mainstream conversation. And they have! Ebony did a great piece on one of the leadership women.

What are the biggest struggles you’ve faced bringing these issues to light? 

As a Latina, I've been asked to be the emissary to "my people," rather than have a larger discussion as to why Latinas might not be attending this or that event, why Latinas aren't writing about this, etc. So much to unpack there! It's the biggest struggle with being "a movement." We have a lot of parts to this movement and, for the most part, I think we are all working toward the same goal, but in our own way. We don't need to all be working on the same exact issue, but we do need to respect each other's work. If we disagree, do it with respect.

Veronica Arreola is the author of the award-winning blog Viva La Feminista, written at the intersection of motherhood and feminism.

19 March 2013

Jeannette King: A Mother's Courage

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 Jeannette King

My name is Jeannette King, and I am completing a Master’s in Elementary Education at Goddard College. But I am not the person who got me where I am today. That person is my mother.

Jacqueline Scott King Dawkins is an extraordinary woman whom I am proud to call my mother. She did not walk in rallies for women’s rights; she was too busy being a wife and a mother to three children. My mother gave up her chances to finish her bachelor’s degree many times because she could not find affordable child care for her small children. When she and my father divorced and he stepped out of the picture, she became mother, father and cheerleader to her children. She took jobs in the Catholic and private school systems to cover the cost of our tuitions when money was tight, and she became a permanent fixture in the principal’s office when I was being bullied in the classrooms.

It was not until my mother turned 59 years old that she was able to receive her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She will graduate this spring with her master’s at 66 years old. I cannot begin to thank her for sacrificing her education to be sure that my sister, brother and I had ours. My sister is working on her second master’s and I am in the middle of my first. We are where we are today because of my mother and her tireless work to keep us educated, well-fed and with a roof over our heads, even in times of trouble. She had no support system. It was just us against the world for as long as I can remember. But we all made it.

18 March 2013

Jamie Feldman: Write Like a Man

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 Jamie Feldman

When looking at gender representation in the workforce, the focus seems to be on women gaining ground in the sciences, but what does that say about the arts? As a woman who works in literary arts, theater and film, I am frequently reminded that the vast majority of top writers, directors and producers are men. It’s great that we root for female engineers and mathematicians, but why don’t we extend that same enthusiasm toward equality in the arts?

Examine the recent Academy Awards. In the directing and screenwriting categories (15 nominations), only one woman (a co-writer) was nominated. For acting, the awards have been segregated into actor and actress categories. Whether this is a good thing is debatable. Sure, it allows women more visibility in the entertainment industry, but by separating the awards, are we saying that men and women must be judged differently for the same accomplishment? And, if so, what exempts the other categories in which men and women compete (or work together) for the same awards?

VIDA’s annual count of women represented by top literary publications was recently released, with dismal results. Some believe this is because men and women write differently, although as someone with a unisex first name, I can tell you, this is false. I’d be lying if I said my name hasn’t been an advantage.

Once, when I had been “found out” as a woman, I was told my writing had been accepted because I write like a man. It is this type of rhetoric that maintains the unfair advantage and contributes to inequality.

I am a woman and I write like me: an artist, an individual and a human being.

17 March 2013

LeAnne Moss: Conversations on Feminism

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 LeAnne Moss

Last month was the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s classic, “The Feminist Mystique,” which is often credited with being the catalyst that birthed the women’s movement. Over these five decades, there have been fits and starts in this movement, and a wide range of emotions in what “feminism” is and isn’t.

In the last week, I’ve had some interesting and different conversations about women and feminism.

The first experience wasn’t so much a conversation as an interaction. I was one of 12 women in a two-day workshop on being a powerful woman. At one point, the instructor – a dynamic woman in her mid-50s who had been talking about her experiences as a short woman of color claiming her own power – made an off-the-cuff remark, “I’m not a feminist. You know, I’m not the bra-burning type.”

My voice was one of many challenging her on this view of feminism. I was heartened to see that the younger women in the group, those in their 20s and early 30s, were speaking the loudest. Once the instructor answered affirmatively to their question, “Do you believe women should have equal rights as men?,” we felt better about moving on.

The other conversations had to do with the lack of family-friendly policies and attitudes in a progressive organization, and the pros and cons of “taking back” the word feminism. To the latter point, my colleague and friend in her 50s didn’t think we had to take back the word. That’s beside the point, she argued. “Let’s just do the work, whatever we call it.”

Indeed, whatever we call it, the volumes of research still show that women face structural, behavioral and attitudinal challenges. Fifty years later, we still face challenges that affect not only our lives but those of our children, partners and other family members. We need to keep the conversation going to show how advancing the status and lives of women benefit all of us. And we need to acknowledge that these challenges are not ours alone to face. We have the support to do this work, together.

16 March 2013

Erin Matson: Maternity Policies That Suit Women’s Individual Needs

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 Erin Matson

We've heard a lot about Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer in the context of being a new mom, little of it flattering. She was bashed for taking a short maternity leave, and now she's bashed for creating a nursery next to her executive suite.

As a feminist, I was flabbergasted by the idea that because she's a woman in the spotlight, she had a duty to society to take a long maternity leave. Simply the idea that any woman's consideration of what's best for her and her family should come second to what society thinks is best for her or society twists on outdated "women are public property" ways of thinking.

I'm also irked we aren't intimately familiar with names of the 95.8 percent of men leading Fortune 500 companies, and the gyms they've built and the cars they've customized and the planes and private retreats set to their exact specifications. With few exceptions, the media refrains from picking apart your big money and big perks if you're a CEO -- and a man. Although I'm willing to bet if a man CEO built a nursery next to his office, he'd be cast as a hero, not a villain.

As a pregnant woman trying to navigate parental leave for the first time, I want to scream: Why do we act like a working woman, or her newborn baby, must disappear?

This isn't about personal preference. It's about policy. The United States is the only industrialized country without mandatory paid parental leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act, which mandates unpaid leave, does not even cover employees of small businesses. Pregnant women, new parents and families are thrown to the wolves.

Working women of all socioeconomic classes are in the workforce. Our children aren't going away. And working fathers need to be included equally in this discussion.

15 March 2013

Dara Pearson: Helping Women Live To Their Fullest Potential

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 Dara Pearson

I was raised in the Unification Church, a fundamentalist, patriarchal religion in which women had no voice and no power. My parents had an arranged marriage, and my sisters and I were to have the same. I remember being a kid and having a tenacious loyalty to the church because it was everything that I knew. But I also had an ongoing feeling of dread that I held the same fate as my mother, who seemed flatly sad and empty most of the time. Although it was incredibly confusing, I remember promising myself that my future would hold something different, something bigger, although I didn’t know exactly what.

I now work with battered women at a shelter for domestic and sexual violence. In many ways, they are the same women that I grew up with. The church covered up the emotional, physical, financial, sexual and spiritual control of women in much the same way that they covered up tax evasion and an elite financial empire.

In many ways, it feels like home, to witness women on the edges of male dominance and exploitation. But this time, it’s different. I get to be a part of changing that, part of helping women access safety, find their voices, and develop the idea that they can strive for more and live to their fullest potential. And it’s truly rewarding work because each hour of each day is spent looking for ways to improve the quality of life for women and their children, whether it’s through higher education; employment opportunity; sustainable affordable housing; establishing supportive, quality relationships; helping women access reliable child care; or establishing the fundamentals of physical and emotional safety. Sometimes we come full circle to find that the most fulfilling life is about giving what we ourselves have been blessed enough to find.

14 March 2013

Cheyenne Connors: This is What Rape Culture Looks Like

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 Cheyenne Connors

This weekend I am visiting my friend at Antioch College. In order to do this, I am taking a five-hour bus trip. I have books, music and bus people to entertain me, and I am totally comfortable with this.

Do you want to know who is not comfortable with this? My entire family. They aren’t stopping me, of course, since I am 20 years old and they learned long ago that I make my own decisions. They have all, however, warned me very specifically about “skeevy old men” and to “sit in front of the bus.” I nodded, smiled and agreed.

Of course, I was silently fuming. Not because they are wrong in these warnings, and not that they are trying to do anything but help me be safe, but because I am expected to keep myself from being raped on a bus. If someone did rape me, I can only imagine that part of my family’s reaction would be, “Why weren’t you more careful?”

As I got dressed, I thought about each article of clothing. Was this tank top too revealing? (Maybe). What about this eye shadow? Too much? (It’s dark purple because it brings out my eyes). What about my red lip stain, my scarf, my silver chain? Would they be used against me in the Court of Rapists?

I don’t know, but I hope not. And, quite frankly, if anyone tries anything, they may find themselves without corneas or testicles. But it’s ridiculous that I have to think about this. This is what rape culture looks like. 

Cheyenne Connors is 20 years old.

13 March 2013

Aishwarya Dongre: Their Worries Are Justified

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 Aishwarya Dongre

I am 18, and I travel 30 kilometres one way to college. I am the ordinary girl with the zeal to lead the ordinary life, without being touched and felt up every time I travel by the bus or train. I walk down the platform stairways to have the man behind me brush past my bottom. I stand on the bus with the filthy one thrusting himself upon me. He doesn’t spare the old aunt who is sitting on the senior citizen’s seat on the bus. He doesn’t refrain from singing a vulgar song and smirking. No, he does not keep his hands to himself.

I live in a democratic country, in a city as posh as Mumbai. Until I was 10, my mom would discuss how girls at night were safe within the wraps of this city. Today, broad daylight ensures molestation within this “safe city”. My parents won’t allow me to travel alone at night; they won’t even trust my guy friends to drop me off after a party. They continuously monitor my clothes, not because we are a conservative Indian family, but because they don’t want me to “ask for it.”

I might scream at that man who feels me up, even if I am his granddaughter’s age. I tell the conductor to look into my eyes, not my chest, to talk. But my parents and society fear the worst with regard to me. They feel those men whom I speak against will track me down and might throw acid at me. Their worries are justified.

No, I will not blame the government. Nor will I blame the police, and make ridiculous remarks like, “We need police patrolling every corner of every city.” I express shame at the lowly and perverted acts and thoughts of the men of this nation. I wear a skirt, a short dress or a damn sleeveless top. I wear it for the pure joy of being feminine, not to seek attention or lewd remarks. No, I do not regret being an Indian. No, I will not hate Delhi or Mumbai. I regret belonging to a society in which women are just objects to play around with and provide sexual satisfaction. I grieve. Deeply.

Aishwarya Dongre lives in Mumbai, India.

11 March 2013

Carol Pencke: 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.

Why you are committed to supporting women and girls? 

I became involved in the women’s movement from racial justice work; they were so similar. Then I became active in reproductive rights because, as a mother and former teacher, I value children above everything. All children should be born into wanted families and then nurtured by the whole of society. The idea that some people value fetuses above living children is still obscene to me.

Why is the Ms. Foundation important to you? 

The Ms. Foundation is the national and regional model for women’s funds. It provides not only cash grants, but also wonderful technical support, networking and advocacy and public education on women’s issues. I was privileged to be a project manager for the Ms. Foundation for three years so I saw that the organization does exactly what it purports to do – build sustainable organizations that support women and girls.

What are the milestones to be celebrated this year for Women's History Month? 

That the Ms. Foundation is 40 years old! That many of us who worked in the women’s movement at its start are now retiring from paid work, yet still proud feminists. That when I started working, women were paid 59 cents on the dollar for work comparable to a man – and now that has risen to 77 cents.

That we have more women in government, as corporate leaders, and foundation and nonprofit directors. Our girls see themselves as capable of opening any door. Title IX is a huge step forward. We need to recognize those gains.

At the same time, reproductive rights are under attack again, despite overwhelming support for Roe v. Wade by the general populace. So, we need to avoid complacency. 

What do you wish for Ms. Foundation at 40? 

Much more funding, especially building its endowment as women do their estate planning. Aggressive outreach to communities of color, LGBTQ people, low-income people and younger people in both granting and giving.

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

The continued march to full participation in this society and in the world. This will come with much hard work, but we see that women have the abilities and strengths to persevere, even under the most dire circumstances of poverty, war and oppression.

Sunny Clifford: Advocate for Women

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. 

What do you do with your life? 

I graduated from Oglala Lakota College in June 2012 and worked at a tribal park on the Pine Ridge reservation for the summer season. I now work at a correctional facility full-time, while continuing to advocate for women’s rights.

How did you become interested in women’s rights/social justice? 

In 2006, the legislature attempted to ban all abortions in my home state of South Dakota. This led me to become aware of the blatant violations of women’s rights, like this one, that were occurring across the country.

Why and when did you decide to transform your interest into action? 

The first time I decided to take action was when I campaigned for the re-election of my tribal president, Cecelia Fire Thunder. Fire Thunder was the first person I heard speak up for women, not only Native Americans, but all women. It was important for me to campaign for her because I wanted to see changes on the reservation in terms of violence against women and access to abortion. In order to become witness to these changes, I realized I had to become personally involved in the battle.

Do you think your work can help make real change in the world? 

Yes. I think anyone has the capacity to change the world, no matter how small their action is or how many people see it.

Do you call yourself a feminist? Is the term still relevant today? 

I love to call myself a feminist, but I think it’s unfortunate that the term is relevant today because it proves women still do not have the rights necessary to be who they want to be.

Is the history of women’s rights important to you? Do you have a favorite figure from that past? 

The history of women’s rights has often left out Native women; nevertheless, every woman’s history is important to me. My favorite figures from the past are the unknown women who stood up for themselves and took control of their lives during periods of history when it was often dangerous to do so.

What do you like to do when you aren’t thinking about changing the world? 

I love food, so I love eating. Also, I love to read and there is hardly a time when I’m not thinking about what more I can do to make some changes in the world.

What’s the last good book you read? 

The Hunger Games.

What keeps you motivated to keep working for women’s rights/social justice? 

Ensuring positive change for our future generations so that we can all continue to improve the world.

What world would you like to see? 

I would like to see a world in which women choose who they want to be and how they want to live without restrictions or limitations. I would like to see women earning the same pay as their male counterparts. In terms of reproductive rights, it seems that we’re often fighting to not go back to the early 1970s, before Roe vs. Wade.

How long do you think it will take for us to get there? 

It will take us as long as it takes everyone to become aware of the importance of these issues and recognize that they are worth changing.

10 March 2013

Corky LeTellier: Equality Through Education

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 Corky LeTellier

Women's History Month. What a long way we have come. Tumult in the 1960s changed us, gave us a big leap forward. From one generation not speaking about sex and the human body to the next clamoring for medically accurate information to make informed decisions about sexuality. From backstreet and sometimes fatal encounters to safe access for our health care.

The birth experience itself was on a path to come full circle. My mother had no choices about giving birth, even though her husband was a doctor. By the time I was ready for a child, I was nurtured through the process and given all the options.

The collective “we” became feminists, worked to gain our independence, began to demand equality. That led to many of us assuming that the culture would change – and it has, to a large degree. We married, had babies and hoped that by teaching our daughters and sons about interconnectedness and the humanity of all we could take more steps forward.

Perhaps we overestimated our reach and became complacent. While my children were young, I went to trade our old car for a new one. The salespeople insisted that I have my husband's permission. Had things really changed? Were women becoming part of the greater circle of humans or still being held back? Did we really want to waste half of our society's brain power?

After two abortions (I am a slow learner), one that almost took my life, I find it amazing that women are not more outraged and vocal against these new restrictions on access and safety. For the past five years, I have been teaching young men and women about puberty, sex, choices for birth control and communication.

In so many parts of the world, women are still struggling to gain some measure of respect. Women in this country have to be visible to prove that there is hope through education for equality, for safe accessible health care and for the choices they can make with their own lives.

Corky LeTellier is a mother (to Ms. Foundation for Women Senior Manager, Institutional Relations, Sunny Daly) and grandmother, a sexuality educator, a quilter, a real estate agent, a caretaker, a volunteer and a lifetime learner. She recently moved out of the mountains of California to help out her mother in Naples, Fla.

09 March 2013

Rebecca E. Blanton: Recognizing Women Veterans

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 Rebecca E. Blanton

Women veterans are slowly gaining recognition for their service, but have yet to achieve the same level of recognition as men. I have been steeped in research about women veterans in California and listening to their voices. One thing I have heard is that women who have served in the military do not necessarily see themselves as veterans.

Encapsulating this is a comment by one woman who stated, “I wish I would have known I was a veteran.” In her mid-50s with a bachelor’s degree, married to a veteran and having served in the Army for four years, she had spent much of her life thinking she was not a veteran. For her, like many, a veteran is an older man who served in combat - not a woman and not someone who served during peacetime.

It is important not only that the public recognizes former servicewomen as veterans, but also that women veterans identify themselves that way. First and foremost, their service and sacrifice needs to be honored. We ask women to give of their time, their bodies and their careers to serve this country, which deserves the appropriate respect in society.

Second, when women do not recognize their own service, they remain disconnected from the benefits they have earned. Women veterans use their educational and tax benefits less frequently than their male peers, mostly because they don’t know about or don’t think they qualify for the same benefits even though they have given the same service.

Third, civilians need to understand the sacrifice we ask our military families, especially women, to make. If we don’t recognize women veterans, how will we come to understand the full implications of asking women to go to war? Our analysis can’t be limited to the male perspective.

It may seem basic, but simply changing the question we ask from, “Are you a veteran?” to “Have you served in the military?” could do a lot to change the way women veterans see themselves and change the way we all recognize their service.

Women in gender studies and the women’s movement have focused a lot on the power of language. Changing the universal from he to s/he or alternating between she/he has altered the way we conceive of the default person. It is no longer just men who dominate the universal concept of a human.

We need to do the same for our women veterans. We need to change the dialogue to recognize their service. Simply changing the way we ask about service history can increase the number of self-identified veterans. This small change will lead to fewer women veterans diminishing their own contributions and will increase the number of Americans who recognize that women are now a key part of our military.

Rebecca E. Blanton is the Senior Policy Analyst and incoming Executive Director of the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

08 March 2013

On International Women’s Day, Reflecting on the Status of Women at Home, by Julie Kay

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.

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

In comparison to the adversity faced by women worldwide, women in the U.S. might think, “What do we have to complain about?”

The truth is that, after decades of progress in advancing women’s rights, we still have miles to go in our own country. This International Women’s Day offers an opportunity to reflect on the status of women at home and commit to making the U.S. a leader in advancing all women’s rights.

As the Ms. Foundation for Women’s new report, “More to Do: The Road to Equality for Women in the United States,” concludes, we are at a critical time for women in the U.S. today:
  • Our economy marginalizes women and consistently relegates women of color to the lowest-paying jobs.
  • Quality, flexible and affordable child care is inaccessible to working families, particularly those headed by women.
  • Control over women’s bodies is legislated by people who, as we saw throughout the debate over “Obamacare,” prioritize political posturing over women’s health.
  • Gender-based violence remains a prevalent and complex problem in the U.S., despite important inroads such as the recent renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. 
On International Women’s Day, let’s set high goals for the U.S. and challenge ourselves to make this a place in which a woman may obtain justice and equality regardless of her race, socioeconomic status, age or immigration status. The U.S. should be a beacon of rights, rather than a place that offers privilege to some while turning a blind eye to others’ inequality.

Today is a chance for us all to celebrate our victories on behalf of women in the U.S. but also to commit to deepening these rights and expanding them to all women. We need to repeal barriers to living-wage jobs and enable quality child care, abolish disparities in women’s health care by increasing enrollment and coverage through the Affordable Care Act, and working to end violence against women and sexual abuse of children.

International Women’s Day reminds us of the importance of striving toward a world in which all women are able to obtain their full human rights.

07 March 2013

Valerie Deering: 'Destruction of Personal Property'

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 Valerie Deering

I am a survivor of domestic violence.

It started with my family of origin and culminated in one brave act to call law enforcement after I had been thrown down stairs by a man who “loved” me.

During my month-long stay with him, while I was being treated for breast cancer, he said and did many disturbing things to me. Luckily, once the police were called, the situation became a state matter.

Like many women, I began to feel guilty about calling the police because the man became even more abusive and threatened to throw me out if I didn’t recant my story. So I did, on paper.

The man became even more violent. It was as if the paper were a permission slip to treat me as an object, his property.

Finally, I escaped – but only after he made more threats to my safety, causing me to experience an enormous moment of clarity.

Despite the evidence of cuts and bruises and the police testimony, this man was exonerated from domestic violence. However, he had broken a piece of my furniture in his rage.

The final verdict?

Guilty of destruction of personal property. 

I’m glad to hear that he was handed some sort of consequence for his violent behavior. But how telling is it that his consequence was for destroying a piece of furniture rather than tossing a woman down the stairs?

Surviving domestic violence taught me that I have power. I just gave it away for so long. Now I use it for good in the world, helping others realize their own power. A year ago, I started a women's foundation for the education, empowerment and rehabilitation of women and girls who have been touched by domestic violence – which is way too many, as you know.

Valerie Deering lives in Overland Park, KS.

06 March 2013

Rayna Holley Letterman: The Life of an Overqualified Military Wife

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.

As the wife of a soldier, I might as well wear a big, red scarlet letter on my chest when I go in for an interview because there are actually businesses out there that refuse to hire military wives. Is it unfair? Yes. Am I being labeled for no reason? Absolutely. Are those businesses missing out on some of the most qualified, dedicated, reliable employees out there? You betcha, and here’s why.

There is a stereotype associated with military wives that prevents companies from taking a chance on women like me. Hiring officials automatically assume that as a military wife you’ll be moving in two to three years to a new base or that your personal life will interfere with your work if your husband deploys. Job interviews always seem to take a turn for the worst whenever I’m asked, “So, what brought you to Hawaii-Texas-Washington?”

There are very few military wives who I’ve come across who haven’t attended college or some type of trade school. In fact, a heck of a lot of us have or are working toward getting our master’s degree because our husbands have signed over their GI Bill to us. And, when we’re rejected from job after job after job, we decide if we’re not working, we might as well go to school. In other words, we’re educated.

Military wives are also amazing at multitasking. We can do laundry while finishing up a paper for grad school while cooking dinner with a 3-year-old hanging off our leg while talking to our husband long distance from Afghanistan. You think we can’t handle writing a few press releases? In other words, we get stuff done.

And finally, military wives are the most dedicated employees you’ll ever hire. We’re so used to being rejected because of our husband's career choice that when someone does take a chance on us, we’re extremely grateful and will do whatever we can to stay at that duty station so we can keep that job – which means you never have to worry about us jumping ship or not making a deadline.

When I met my husband, I was working as a news producer in a top-50 market. I gave up my career, my friends and my family to be his wife. It took me five years, two moves across the world, lots of volunteer work to keep my skill set current and thousands of hours spent filling out applications online before someone finally took a chance on me.

I’m happy to report that I’m working full-time again as an editor for a public affairs office near Seattle. I’m excelling in my career, and my boss tells me every day how lucky the office is to have me. My hope is that more corporations and businesses will realize what an untapped resource the military spousal community is. There are thousands and thousands of overqualified military wives out there who are unemployed. They’re just waiting for someone to take a chance on them like my boss did on me.

Rayna Holley Letterman lives in Seattle, Washington.

05 March 2013

Molly Gaebe: Using Comedy to Highlight Absurdities

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. 

Pick any weekday in the past couple of years and there is a pretty good chance I was sitting alone on my couch, watching the nightly news, on the verge of crying about the state of politics and women’s issues in the U.S. Election years were particularly trying on my tear ducts and neck muscles, as I strained my head back and forth to no one at all with an expression that said, “Are you guys seeing this?!”

Now, instead of lamenting to my couch, I get mad, I laugh and then I write. I moved to New York to become a comedian and realized, after working at a reproductive health non-profit, that I could make a positive contribution by using comedy to highlight the absurdities of a political system that was wreaking havoc on women’s rights.

My anger and passion now have a positive outlet. Comedy has always been the common denominator, and I found that, by framing some decidedly unfunny political topics in a humorous way, I reached far more people that normally would not be inclined to pay attention.

On a more personal level, as a doula for abortion patients, I've been able to connect with women from all kinds of backgrounds. To be able to offer support to these women is a privilege, and I am continuously blown away by the strength and beauty of every woman I encounter.

I don’t have any extraordinary talents or smarts, but goddammit, I've got timing. And if that’s one thing that I can offer to this world to make a positive impact, I will.  

If you need me, I’ll be on my couch, trying to change the world. 

04 March 2013

Julia Bluhm: A Peek Inside My 15-Year-Old Mind

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 Julia Bluhm

Okay, so I’m 15, and I know I haven’t lived most of my life, yet. But I feel wise. Since I think a lot, I have been able to relate most of my problems back to the mass media’s stupid standards.

I’m super lucky that I go to a ballet school that encourages healthy, fit dancers instead of just super-skinny dancers. The “being thin is better” motive still seeps into everyone’s minds, though, through the mass media and through the pressures of the ballet world. It’s kind of scary for me because I really want to be a ballet dancer. But although there are ballet companies that pressure dancers to be really thin, there are also companies that appreciate strong, healthy, muscular dancers. So that makes me feel a little better.

I also have plenty of friends (dancers or not) who are unhappy with their bodies. I have known of several girls with eating disorders, and many of my friends try “diets” and attempt to lose weight. Of course, I always encourage them that they don’t need that and that they’re awesome the way they are… but I guess they all assume that I’m just trying to make them feel better. Seeing my friends like this makes me feel really useless and upset.

Why does this happen? Why are we all programmed to hate our bodies? I’m pretty sure you know the answer to that, but I’ll tell you anyways. The mass media. We ingest thousands of images every day featuring an unrealistic and impossible idea of beauty, and it affects us all, whether you realize it or not. Stereotypes and judgment are also super common, and those ideas come from the media, too. I actually wrote a blog about my realization having to do with the media’s influence.

Now here’s the good part: What are we doing? How are we changing these problems, to make my life, your life and a bazillion other people’s lives better? Well, we’re doing a lot. Slowly, but it’s happening. There are thousands of organizations working to smash stereotypes and redefine beauty. Protests and petitions are being started, and giant online actions are occurring. Yay! Even in the ballet world, we are beginning to break down the barriers. There are ballet dancers like Misty Copeland (a soloist at American Ballet Theatre) and Kaitlin Jenkins (a dancer and star of the ABC show “Bunheads”) who have been very successful and haven’t needed to be unhealthily thin to do it.

I hope that women of all varieties will be given the amazing opportunities that they deserve without stereotypes or judgment getting in the way. I think it’ll happen. Yeah. It will. 

03 March 2013

Summer Starling: Shaping Public Discourse on Sexuality

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 Summer Starling

To say today that I study sex still feels strange. I’m the hybrid first-born of a feminist mother and a conservative father, both from the South, where the active silencing of discussion about sex and sexuality is as entrenched into the social fabric as chicken after church on Sundays. And it is a burdensome hush.

Feminist poet and activist Audre Lorde relayed advice she got while preparing her 1977 speech “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”: Her daughter simply said that you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent. Silence is oppression.

A culture of voicelessness around sex – from slut-shaming to parental discomfort to counter-productive sex education policies on down – makes it that much harder to truly understand disparities in STD rates, choices young people make about condoms and how they communicate about sex. Fighting sexual health disparities begins with authentic voices.

Training to become a research scientist to address adolescent sexual health is allowing me to refine my voice in public discourse about sexuality from an informed place. I see this as my biggest personal triumph and the way I’m most suited to help make a difference. I hope my work helps girls in some small way to actualize and voice what matters most to them for their (sex) lives. Isn’t that what feminism is all about?

Summer Starling lives in Berkeley, Calif.