04 April 2013

Paid Sick Days: A Necessary Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Childspace CDI

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

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

03 April 2013

Andrea Netherwood: Dreams Without Glass

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

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

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

“Women are nuns.”

“What do nuns do?” I asked.

“Help the priests.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrea Netherwood lives in Seattle, Wash.

02 April 2013

Using DNA to Convict the Right Rapist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People's Choice Q & A: Crunk Feminist Collective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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