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3/4/2015 - Obama Administration Announces Global Initiative for Girls' Education

The Obama Administration announced yesterday expanded efforts to help adolescent girls worldwide attend and complete school through an initiative called Let Girls Learn.

According to a White House press release, the new effort will build on investments the US already has made in global primary school education and expand them to help adolescent girls complete their education. First Lady Michelle Obama is teaming up with the Peace Corps to carry out the initiative, who will recruit and train about 650 additional volunteers to focus specifically on adolescent girls' access to education. The volunteers will be charged with starting conversations in the communities to figure out what's keeping girls from school, then working with leaders, parents and the girls themselves to come up with ways to remove those barriers.

When girls receive an education, they are more likely to improve their own quality of life as well as the standard of living in their communities. Yet 62 million girls around the world aren't in school, and attacks on girls who are have been on the rise. These facts persist in a global environment where girls' education has come to the forefront as a human rights issue and various nations are taking action to get girls into the classroom.

Last year, the world watched as Nigerians took action for over 200 girls who were kidnapped from a school in Chibok by military insurgency group Boko Haram - a group which opposes girls' education. In Afghanistan, USAID has launched programs to support girls' education. Nations like Malawi are taking action against child marriage, and advocates like Kakenya Ntaiya are speaking out against the practice that so often disrupts girls' futures.

In the most recent issue of Ms. magazine, Ntaiya tells her story of escaping child marriage and, ultimately, opening a school for over 150 girls in Enoosaen. "I wanted to see a different future for them," she said in the piece, "[and] school was the place I could achieve that." In the same issue, the magazine profiles the film Difret, which is backed by Angelina Jolie and tells the true story of an Ethiopian girl who was kidnapped on her way home from the fifth grade to be forced into child marriage.

Girls Learn International (GLI), a Feminist Majority Foundation program, educates and energizes US students around the global movement for girls' access to education. GLI pairs its middle and high school chapters in the US with partner schools in 11 countries where girls still lag behind boys in access to education and are far less likely than boys to stay in school past the primary grades. By opening communication between students and managing exchange projects, GLI fosters cultural understanding and fuels activism for girls' human rights around the world.

3/3/2015 - Nebraska Could Become the Next State With Marriage Equality

US District Judge Joseph Bataillon ruled Monday morning that Nebraska's same-same sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. The decision means same-sex couples in Nebraska could get married within a week.

The federal judge issued the preliminary injunction after the case was brought to him by seven same-sex couples in the state. Bataillon called the ban an "unabashedly gender-specific infringement of the equal rights of its citizens."

A state request was issued to stay the decision, but Bataillon denied the move but announced the injunction would go into effect on March 9 to give time for administrative work.

In 2000, Nebraskans voted to adopt a state constitution that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman - they also voted not to recognize civil unions, domestic partnerships or any similar relationship between two people of the same sex.

One of the plaintiffs in the case brought to Bataillon is Sally Waters, who currently has stage-four breast cancer and who wants to see her 2008 marriage in California recognized in Nebraska in order to allow for financial protections for the children she has with her partner.

The office of the Nebraska Attorney General is studying the decision and will present a statement at a later time.

Next week, Nebraska could become the 38th state with marriage equality.

3/2/2015 - Iranian Activist Wins International Human Rights Award for Hijab Campaign

Journalist Masih Alinejad was awarded the Women's Rights Award at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy last week for her activism supporting Iranian women who choose not to cover their heads in a hijab.

Alinejad's Facebook page, "My Stealthy Freedom," has gained international attention and more than 700,000 followers by posting pictures of Iranian women without the hijab. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the government made it mandatory for women to cover their heads when in public or in a governmental building. In the years since then, women have been protesting what one woman on the Facebook page called "our most basic right, our right to choose what to wear."

Compulsory head covering has been protested by Iranian women in varying degrees since the law passed over thirty years ago. Perhaps one of the most severe and dramatic actions against the law came from Homa Darabi, a pediatrician in Iran who killed herself in 1994 through self-immolation in the middle of a busy square, where she tore off her headscarf and yelled messages such like "Death to oppression! Long live liberty!" Darabi had been fired after refusing to wear the hijab, as she claimed it interfered with her ability to care for her patients and be a good doctor. Media coverage for Darabi's protest and death was poor, and sources within Iran painted Darabi as mentally ill.

The human rights award was presented to Alinejad for giving voice to "voiceless" women like Darabi, and for Alinejad's part in "stirring the consciousness of humanity to support the struggle of Iranian women for basic human rights, freedom and equality."

"From seven-year-old schoolgirls to 70-year-old grandmothers, women in Iran are all forced to wear the hijab," said Alinejad in a statement for the Geneva Summit. "Hopefully this award will create an opportunity for the voices of Iranian women who say no to the forced hijab to echo throughout the halls of the United Nations."

2/27/2015 - This Bipartisan Bill Will Hold Colleges Accountable for Ending Campus Sexual Assault

A bipartisan bill aimed at holding colleges and universities accountable for rape and sexual assault cases was introduced in Congress yesterday, spearheaded by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Some of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act's key key provisions include a requirement of confidential reporting systems on colleges and universities, minimum training requirements for campus personnel, and stricter penalties for schools found to be in violation of Title IX or the Clery Act. Senator Gillibrand expressed her confidence in these new provisions, explaining that "for the first time it is in [a college or university's] best interest to solve the problem, and do so aggressively."

Joining those announcing the bill were Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, co-founders of End Rape on Campus. "Campus violence does not have a political party, and we need this bill because our students need better than the current status quo," said Clark, reminding the audience that currently one in four women attending college experience sexual assault.

"It's time for our students to be students again- without the challenge of single-handedly holding their schools accountable, and without the fear of sharing their degree with their rapist," said Pino, calling on Congress to pass the bill. "The time to fight is now."

Pino and Clark's stories are told in an unprecedented documentary opening this weekend in New York City and Los Angeles. The Hunting Ground details the campus rape epidemic and the stories of many survivors of campus rape and sexual assault in their fight for justice. It also highlights campus activism that has risen in response to the lack of action taken by colleges and universities to combat sexual assault and support survivors.

Paige McKinsey, president of Feminist United, the Feminist Majority Foundation affiliated student group at Mary Washington University, is one such student organizing around this issue. She is hopeful that her university is taking more notice to the issue of campus sexual assault, but recognizes that there is still a long way to go. "I think that no university right now is doing as much as they could or as much as they need to be doing to support victims and survivors," McKinsey said.

The Act was first introduced to Congress last year, but was not approved. The bill has been strengthened, however, and Senator Gillibrand and the 12 Senators who support the bill are confident that this time it will pass.

2/27/2015 - Houston Is Finally Testing a Backlog of Thirty-Year-Old Rape Kits

The city of Houston, Texas has finally begun testing decades-old rape kits - and in just one week, those have led to hundreds of leads.

Houston is one of the first of the major cities nation-wide to clear their backlog of over 6,000 untested rape kit s- some of which were more than thirty years old. So far, the evidence from these test kits has lead to 850 DNA matches, 29 filed cases, and 6 convictions.Police are continuing to review evidence from the kits to see if charges can be made in other cases. The city was able to process the untested kits with the help of a $4.4 million plan approved by the Houston City Council last year.

"This milestone is of special importance to rape survivors and their families and friends because it means their cases are receiving the attention they should have years ago," said Houston Mayor Annie Parker at a news conference.

Cities across the country possess thousands of untested and unprocessed rape kits. Six years ago, it was discovered that the city of Detroit had over 11,000 untested rape kits in an abandoned police storage unit. Since then, the Detroit police department has been working to eliminate the backlog, and have processed over 2,500 of the kits. In Memphis, there are almost 12,000 untested rape kits. There are over 4,000 in Las Vegas. Last November, Cyrus Vance, the district attorney of Manhattan pledged $35 million to try to eliminate the backlog of up to 70,000 untested rape kits nationwide.

"This is not a Houston problem," Parker said in her remarks. "It's not a Texas problem. It's a nationwide issue that built up over years and years." If Houston and Detroit's example illustrates anything, it's how important it is for the entire nation to work to fix it.

2/26/2015 - If This Bill Passes Federal Law Will Add Consent to Sex Ed Curriculums

Right now, federal law does not require health or sex education to include sexual assault prevention - but that could change with a new bill introduced by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Tim Kaine (D-VA).

The Teach Safe Relationships Act of 2015, which was introduced earlier this month, would require all public secondary schools in the country to include teaching "safe relationship behavior" in order to help prevent domestic violence and sexual assault. Women between 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, making the bill particularly important in ending an epidemic of sexual violence.

McCaskill, who has also pushed legislation to combat military sexual assault, noted that sexual assault prevention starts young. "One thing we've learned in our work to curb sexual violence on campuses and in the military is that many young people learn about sex and relationships before they turn 18," she said in a recent statement. "And one of the most effective ways to prevent sexual violence among adults is to educate our kids at a younger age."

She was echoed by Kaine. "Education can be a key tool to increase public safety by raising awareness and helping to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence, but many students are leaving high school without learning about these crimes that disproportionately impact young people," he said in a press release. "With the alarming statistics on the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and in communities across the country, secondary schools should play a role in promoting safe relationship behavior and teaching students about sexual assault and dating violence."

The Act came after Sen. Kaine met with members of One Less, a University of Virginia group that advocates for rape and sexual assault survivors. UVA's policies surrounding campus sexual assault have been in the spotlight since Rolling Stone released an article about the college's mishandling of a gang rape.

2/26/2015 - President Obama Pushed for Immigration Reform at a Florida International University Town Hall

President Obama attended an immigration town hall at Florida International University yesterday to discuss immigration policy. It marked the first time a president has ever visited the FIU campus.

Obama spoke largely about his two biggest promises for immigration reform: that undocumented persons contributing to the community should get priority for staying here in America, and that his Administration will focus on "deporting criminals, not families."

President Obama was joined at the town hall meeting by Eric Narvaez, an Army veteran who returned home after fighting for his country to discover that his mother was facing deportation. "I love this country," he told Obama, "but I'm facing another war - trying to keep my mother here." The President thanked him for his service, emphasizing that his administration is not prioritizing people like Narvaez's mother for deportation.

"The message I want to send today is that we are not prioritizing people like your mother for enforcement or deportation," the President responded. "We are prioritizing felons, criminals, gang members - people who are a threat to our communities - not families who have lived here a long time."

"People that are here to better themselves, to better our country, that pay their taxes, that do the right thing - why not keep them here in America?" asked FIU student Alian Collozo, echoing the President's sentiment.

President Obama later mentioned that his executive actions are a short term solution, and that a long-term solution must come out of Congress. He has, however, promised to veto any bill out of Congress that would cripple Homeland Security over immigration issues.

FIU President Mark Rosenberg opened the town hall meeting. "We live immigration in this community," he said, "so this is the appropriate place to have this conversation."

2/25/2015 - Obama Just Vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline, But The Fight Isn't Over

President Obama used his executive powers to veto the highly contentious Keystone XL pipeline construction proposal yesterday. The veto marked the third of his entire presidency.

"The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously, but I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people," Obama wrote in his veto. "And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest -- including our security, safety, and environment -- it has earned my veto."

Vetoing the pipeline has been a long fight. Two years ago, the Sierra Club organized a rally of 50,000 people to protest the construction of the pipeline.

"Keystone XL is a dirty and dangerous pipeline," Mara Crowley of Energy Action Coalition said at the Sierra Club protest. "It's literally going to cut our country in half, carrying a very dangerous fuel, and it will cause runaway climate change."

This veto, however, doesn't mean that fight is over. While the veto has stopped pipeline construction from being forced through legislation, the project is going back to review in the State Department, where it has been for the past six years. From there, Secretary of State John Kerry will make an official determination, "which will likely sway the President's final decision."

2/25/2015 - Malawis Parliament Voted Unanimously to End Child Marriage

The Malawian Parliament voted unanimously last week to ban child marriage, an important move for a country with one of the highest child marriage rates in the world.

The legislation raises the minimum legal age of marriage to 18. An estimated 50 percent of Malawian girls becoming child brides, and approximately one in eight girls are married by 15.

Women's rights activists are optimistic for what this new law may mean both for Malawian girls and for the development of the country. "This law is very important because of the number of girls who drop out of school because they are going to get married, and because of the high number of girls who are dying when they are giving birth," said Jesse Kabwila, who was advocating to get the bill through Parliament.

"What marriage does to the kids is it really destroys their future, it destroys their hopes, it just turns them into something they are not supposed to be," Kakenya Ntaiya, who avoided a child marriage after being engaged at age five by opting instead to undergo the brutal process of female genital mutilation, told Ms. magazine in their Winter 2015 issue. Ntaiya now runs the Kakenya Center for Excellence in Enoosaen, which currently is home to over 150 girls. "I wanted to see a different future for them," she continued, "[and] school was the place I could achieve that."

Child marriage is a global problem, specifically in regions of Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. In Niger, three-quarters of the country's girls are married before they reach 18. This bill in Malawi furthers recent progress on the issue of child marriage, which the world has begun to recognize as a human rights violation.

Last summer,the African Union launched a historic campaign to curb child marriage. "In 2012, the first International Day of the Girl was marked with a UN call for commitment at the local and governmental levels to end the practice. A new film," Difret, tells the true story of an Ethiopian girl who was kidnapped in the fifth grade to be a child bride. The successful movie, backed by Angelina Jolie, is also profiled in the most recent issue of Ms. Girls Learn International, a program of the Feminist Majority Foundation, has also joined the effort to end child marriage, including attending the 58th UN Commission on the Status of Women.

2/24/2015 - FMLA Update Will Expand Protections for Thousands of Same Sex Couples

The US Labor Department updated the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) this week to update the meaning of "spouse" to include same-sex partners who reside in another state.

The FMLA update means employees in legal, same-sex marriages can take family medical leave to take care of their spouse even if they live in another state. The change could affect up to 118,000 spouses.

"The basic promise of the FMLA is that no one should have to choose between the job and income they need, and caring for a loved one," US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said Monday in a news release. "With our action today, we extend that promise so that no matter who you love, you will receive the same rights and protections as everyone else."

Experts estimate many of the 1.38 million same-sex couples in the country could get married and therefore be eligible for FMLA protections. About 70,200 Americans who are in same-sex marriages are raising children, and 80 percent of these parents are employed.

"Until the Supreme Court settles the issue of full nationwide marriage equality this summer, fairness and equality - and the Supreme Court's decision in the Windsor case - demanded this important change," said David Stacy, director of the Human Rights Campaign, which collected and submitted more than 19,000 comments to the Department of Labor last year to support this change.

The Supreme Court ruling in US v Windsor struck down a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that had the definitions of "marriage" and "spouse" as only applying to opposite-sex unions. The recent FMLA update is in line with this ruling.

2/23/2015 - Princeton Women Were Once Barred From These Clubs - Now, They Run Them

Princeton University's eating clubs are important social events for many students - and despite a history of sexist behavior and barring women, Princeton women have recently been in the spotlight for securing leadership roles in them.

Currently, four of these clubs are headed by women, which is the highest total since 2002. "I think the consensus that the club came to this year is that we're establishing a culture where women are running, and women are winning, Liz Lian, a 22-year-old senior in Princeton's Ivy Club, told The New York Times.

Tiger Inn elected Grace Larsen president this week, making her the first woman to head up one of the university's oldest eating clubs. The club isn't without its own internal gender discord: two officers were removed last fall for sending sexist emails, and someone spray-painted the words "rape haven" on the club's stone fence late last year. Princeton began admitting women in 1969, but Tiger Inn and another group named Ivy Club only began admitting women after a 1990 court order demanded it.

Sally Frank, a 55-year-old alumna of Princeton, took on the lawsuit that eventually made Tiger Inn admit women. Frank was one of the people targeted by the sexist emails sent by the now-removed officers. Frank is glad to see Larsen elected as president of the club. "It's extremely gratifying," Frank said. "The election isn't going to end all sexism on Princeton's campus. But it can help."

Ivy Club also recently elected a female president, Eliza Mott. She's the second in the club's history. Mott, who studies art history and is president of SpeakOut Princeton, a student group that addresses sexual violence and encourages consent, says she is excited that there is more female representation in these leadership roles on campus.

"It's an important thing to have female representation," 20-year-old Mott told The New York Times. "Perceptions change and new precedents are set."

These gains for women in leadership at Princeton have not been consistent. A 2011 report showed that despite a relatively even division of the student body between men and women, "there has been a pronounced drop-off in the representation of women in these prominent posts since 2000." The report found that women are often discouraged from leadership roles or undersell their own abilities. And, last fall, Princeton was found to be in violation of Title IX regulations due to the way administration dealt with sexual harassment and assault complaints.

2/23/2015 - Tennessee and Chicago Move Forward with Plans for Free Community College

Many Americans had not heard of the proposal to make 2 years of community college free until President Obama's State of the Union address. Tennessee and Chicago, however, have long been working to make this plan a reality for their students.

At his State of the Union Address last month, President Obama formally announced his College Promise, emphasizing that "in America, a quality education cannot be a privilege that is reserved for a few," and added that "certainly ... nobody with that drive and discipline should be denied a college education just because they don't have the money." The President's plan is based in part on Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam's announcement during his 2014 State of the State address, in which he promised two years of free community college or trade school.

"Tennessee will be the only state in the country to offer our high school graduates two years of community college with no tuition or fees," he said.
This plan will be put into action starting with the high school classes of 2015. The seniors of this academic year can apply for the Tennessee Promise Scholarship between August and November of this year, and may use the scholarship to attend any of the state's 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, or other eligible institutions offering an associate's degree program.

Rahm Emmanuel, the Democratic Mayor of Chicago, announced a similar plan last fall for students attending a City Colleges of Chicago (CCCs). This plan is a scholarship program for high school students hoping to attend a CCC, and includes strict requirements for eligibility, such as a 3.0 GPA. Even so, Mayor Emmanuel is optimistic about the doors this program could open for Chicago students. "The Chicago Star Scholarships will open more doors of opportunity for more students in the City of Chicago," said the Mayor. "Every student who is willing to work hard should have access to a quality education, regardless of whether they can afford it or not," he continued.

President Obama's College Promise would take the form of a matching grant program, in which the federal government would pay three quarters of tuition costs and the state would be responsible for paying the remaining amount. If adopted by all 50 states, the White House claims it would benefit as many as 9 million students annually, and save an average student around 4 thousand dollars.

2/19/2015 - Kate Brown Just Became America's First-Ever Openly Bisexual Governor

Kate Brown was sworn in Wednesday morning as Oregon's 38th governor, making her the first openly bisexual governor in the US.

Brown is replacing John Kitzhaber, also a Democrat, who announced his resignation last Friday. Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, were the center of a large controversy that led to state and federal investigations looking into allegations of influence peddling. Brown has worked in Oregon politics since 1991, when she began her run as a member of the Oregon House of Representatives. She was later elected to the state's Senate and most recently served as their Secretary of State.

"Few are better prepared to lead the great state of Oregon than Kate Brown," Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said following the news. "She's a known commodity to Oregonians with a distinguished record of service of over two decades. And while she'll make history as the nation's first sitting openly LGBT governor, the more important truth is that she's supremely capable of leading the state to better days ahead."

Brown has a lot of work to do after the political drama under Kitzhaber, but her inaugural speech Wednesday promises transparency and hard work. "We must work together to address these and other real problems in real time," Brown said, "to strengthen Oregon's recovery from the recession; to improve access to quality education and health care, and create more living-wage jobs in every single corner of the state."

Brown's election represents a victory for women and LGBT folks, who are underrepresented in gubernatorial positions as well as in all levels of national and state leadership. Women currently hold only 24.2 percent of all available elected state positions in the US, and only 22 percent of Americans have an openly LGBT elected official representing them at any level. Only five other women in America are currently serving as governors alongside Brown.

Although no bisexual person has ever been elected governor, openly bisexual people have served in state and national legislatures since 1997, when Evelyn Mantilla became the first openly bisexual state official as a a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives - where she remained until 2007. Openly bisexual lawmakers Kyrsten Sinema (R-AZ), Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee), and South Dakota Sen. Angie Buhl (D) have since been elected to office.

In the documentary Breaking Through, Brown said when she was working in law, she was "terrified" about the idea of her employers finding out she was dating a woman. "I was walking on eggshells the whole time," she said. "Like I couldn't be who I am - I'm not free to be myself. It feels like you're cutting off your legs or your arms. It feels like you can't be a whole person."

2/19/2015 - Feminist Activists Protest TPP and Bruneian Penal Code Outside Beverly Hills Hotel

Activists gathered across the street from the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles yesterday to call on Congress to exclude Brunei from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The crowd included organizers from the Feminist Majority Foundation, FMF board member Mavis Leno, as well as leadership from organizations such as 1 Billion Rising, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and Unite Here who organized the rally. The rally was held in a park across the street from the Beverly Hills Hotel as it is owned by the Sultan of Brunei, who has recently enacted a cruel and strict penal code that places the lives of women and the LGBT community in danger of harsh punishments.

The penal code, which went into effect last May, calls for harsh punishments for women who become pregnant outside of marriage, women who have abortions, for adultery, and for anything deemed "indecent behavior." It also threatens women who engage in same-sex relations with fines, imprisonment, or whipping, and men who engage in same-sex relations with flogging or death by stoning.

The City Council of West Hollywood passed a resolution on Tuesday opposing "fast tracking" of the TPP, and encouraging "transparent, public debate during TPP negotiations." The resolution cited many concerns with the TPP, including a partnership with Brunei, but emphasized the negative effects of "fast track" legislation, "which would prevent Congress from amending the trade agreement and would require an up-or-down vote in 60 days." The resolution stated "'Fast Track' procedures make it impossible for our elected representatives to adequately study and assess the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty presented to them in order to determine if this proposed Agreement is in the best interests of the American people." The resolution is currently awaiting the Mayor's signature.

Mavis Leno, FMF Board Member and wife of anti-TPP activist Jay Leno, echoed her concerns about "fast tracking" the TPP, as well as her frustration that the TPP negotiations have not been transparent and have largely happened in secret. She stressed that the United States should not be negotiating with a country whose policies so negatively impact women and the LGBT community.

Lindsey Horvath, a coordinator with 1 Billion Rising, spoke of the responsibility the United States has in this potential trade deal at the rally. "When our LGBT community is being stoned to death, it doesn't matter if that's not happening in our backyard. When our [local business and our dollars] are supporting that behavior, we're supporting it; we're responsible," she said.

Right now, President Obama and the United States are negotiating a potential trade partnership with 11 countries, including Brunei, through the TPP. The Feminist Majority and members of Congress are sounding the alarm, and the Feminist Majority released a petition asking people to urge their representatives to vote against the TPP agreement.

"At a minimum, the US should not enter into a partnership with a country that just last year adopted a penal code authorizing torture and violence against its citizens," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority, in a blog for the Huffington Post, "we must call on the President to seriously address the impact of the TPP on human rights," Smeal added.

2/18/2015 - New Bill Would Create a Registry of Military Sex Offenders

Due to loopholes in the system, many convicted sex offenders in the military are not registered as sex offenders when they complete their service. A new bill, introduced in Congress by Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Mike Coffman (R-CO), and Pat Meehan (R-PA), would fix that.

The Military Track, Register and Alert Communities Act of 2015 (Military TRAC Act) would create a Department of Defense sex offender registry to which offenders would be required to submit their names. The Military TRAC Act would make that registry available to the public and would make sure information about offenders is available to civilian law enforcement agencies.

"[The public] shouldn't have to wait for a convicted rapist to re-offend before they get the information they need to keep their children safe," Rep. Speier said in a press release. "This is a frightening loophole and it must be closed."

Almost 20 percent of convicted military sex offenders were not officially reported and listed on US sex offender registries, according to Scripps data. This failure by the system makes it easier for offenders to attack civilians. Matthew Carr, for example, was convicted of assaulting seven women while in the US Air Force. After Carr was released he assaulted another woman and avoided punishment for some time even after the victim's mother was suspicious of Carr - because the mother failed to find him in a sex offender registry.

"Cracking down on sexual assault in the military extends beyond just punishing those who committed the heinous crimes," Rep. Mike Coffman said. "It must also protect both civilians and soldiers after the assailants leave their respective service. Sexual assault is a serious scourge and we must do all we can to ensure these predators are monitored similar to the way sex offenders are dealt with by civilian authorities to prevent them from striking again."

While the bill would be significant to protect against those actually convicted of sexual assault in the military, less than 1 percent of all military sexual assaults result in a conviction - and are more than 19,000 assaults reported every year in the military.

2/18/2015 - Lawmakers Push Forward with Abortion Restrictions Across the Nation

In states such as Washington, Arizona, Minnesota, and South Carolina, lawmakers are introducing bills placing restrictions on abortion access.

In Washington, two bills are being introduced to restrict abortion care access. The first is house bill 1678, a piece of "personhood" legislation similar to other "personhood" bills that have been unsuccessfully introduced in many other states. The language of the bill grants full personhood and the rights that come along with that title at the moment of conception. The second bill, SB 5289, would require the notification of the parent of a minor seeking an abortion within 48 hours before the abortion takes place. The bill includes an exception for minors who successfully petition for a waiver from a judge. The bill states that the legislature's reason and purpose for proposing the bill is "to further the important and compelling state of interests [of] protecting minors against their own immaturity." Currently, 21 states require parental consent for a minor seeking an abortion.

During the weekend of the Super Bowl, lawmakers in Arizona introduced state bill 1318, a bill that aims to eliminate insurance coverage of abortion care. Existing law in the state of Arizona bans health insurance coverage for abortions unless a person pays for an optional rider, as well as an additional insurance premium. There are exceptions for abortions in the case of saving the life of a woman, but there are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. SB 1318 would eliminate the optional rider. Kate Sabine, executive director of NARAL Arizona, said that this bill would "restrict the private sector from contracting with privately-contracted insurance agencies to access women's health care."

In South Carolina, a 20-week abortion ban made it through the state's House of Representatives last week. HB 3114 would ban any abortion after 20 weeks, after which anti-choice advocates contend fetuses can experience pain. This argument has been disputed by medical experts, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association. A similar 20-week ban was defeated in the state House in Virginia less than two weeks ago.

In Minnesota, lawmakers have rolled out five anti-abortion bills that bar Medicaid and other public health programs from covering abortion services, require abortion clinics to be licensed as outpatient surgical center, allow state inspections of clinics with no warning, and make telemedical abortion impossible. These bills all add extraneous requirements on abortion providers that are unnecessary to safely complete abortions or echo larger problematic policies like the Hyde Amendment, and their purpose is clear: to make abortion less accessible, especially for poorer women.

These bills are part of a larger "juggernaut" of anti-abortion legislation Republican lawmakers in more than 20 states will introduce or already pushing in state legislatures. With the GOP in control of both chambers of Congress, national anti-abortion efforts are also ramping up.

2/18/2015 - Yale Fraternity That Violated Sexual Misconduct Policy Now Banned From Campus

A Yale fraternity has been banned from conducting on-campus activities until August 2016 as a result of violating the university's sexual misconduct code.

The fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) will not be allowed to hold on-campus activities, use the school bulletin boards or email system to communicate, or use the fraternity's name "in connection with the university." SAE underwent an investigation last year following a complaint about a presentation at the fraternity's induction ceremony in February 2014. SAE was also found guilty of inhibiting in University's investigation of the complaint.

In addition to the sanctions from Yale, SAE has received sanctions from the national headquarters, including mandatory sexual harassment training for members. In 2011, a different Yale fraternity received a five-year ban similar to the ban for SAE after members shouted chants that supported rape culture, including "No means yes," on a residential quadrangle.

Student Alexa Derman, public relationships coordinator for the Yale Women's Center, said that holding organizations on campus accountable for their behavior "sends a strong message to other groups about their responsibility to contribute to a positive sexual climate on campus."

2/13/2015 - Irish Women Speak Out Against Brutal Childbirth Operations

Between 1942 and 1990 in Ireland, more than 1,500 pregnant women in childbirth endured, often without their consent, an operation called symphysiotomy that involves breaking the pelvis to make more space for the baby to be born and sometimes involving having their pubic bone sawed through. Others claim their wombs were removed without their consent. Now, survivors of these operations are speaking out - and they're alleging that these doctors wanted nothing more than to control the woman's reproductive health.

A woman can only receive a cesarean section (a C-section) a limited number of times, whereas a symphysiotomy would mean a woman could have as many kids as possible. In Ireland, many doctors chose to perform the painful procedure on women in objection to the notion of limiting a woman's capacity to bear children. A known 200 Irish women who have received this brutal operation are still alive today.

"These doctors saw cesarean sections as a 'moral hazard' that capped family size and led to the 'evil' of family planning," said a representative from the group Survivors Of Symphysiotomy. "They preferred to break women's pelvises instead."

Survivors Of Symphysiotomy submitted a report to the UN Committee Against Torture, wherein a survivor named Cora testified against the procedure. "I was screaming," her testimony reads. "[The anesthetic is] not working, I said, I can feel everything. I saw him go and take out a proper hacksaw, like a wood saw a half-circle with a straight blade and a handle The blood shot up to the ceiling, up onto his glasses, all over the nurses ... They told me to push her out, she must have been out before they burnt me. He put the two bones together, there was a burning pain. I thought I was going to die."

Another complaint was that a surgeon in Drogheda - in the same hospital where many of these symphysiotomies were performed - removed the wombs of 129 women and the ovaries of others. Most of the women did not need the procedure, and most did not give consent. The complaints were first raised in the 1970s, but took until 2003 for the surgeon to be taken off the Medical Register, and until just last year for the women to receive money from a part of a redress scheme.

After an inquiry was set up and a verdict was released, a report showed that obedience and fear contributed to the reason these procedures were able to continue for so long.

"When I held consultations with survivors for the symphysiotomy report, many said the same thing," Professor Oonagh Walsh of Glasgow Caledonian University told the Telegraph. "One woman said that the Medical Missionary nuns told her Gerard Connolly's [who carried out many of the symphysiotomies] hands 'had been blessed by the Pope' so everything he did apparently had Divine authority. That culture of deference was very powerful and difficult to overcome."

Marie Reaburn, who had her ovaries removed by Michael Neary 22 years ago, had been told by Neary that she had endometriosis and needed the operation. The procedure caused her to go through a "horrendous" early menopause - but the operation was completely unnecessary. "As far as I'm concerned, Michael Neary should be in jail for what he did," Reaburn told the Telegraph. "We had to fight for years for compensation and he's on his £100,000-a-year pension and has a villa out in Spain. It was a very desperate time. ... Back then you looked up to the doctor and you didn't question him."

Survivors of the operations are sometimes left unable to walk or incontinent and in pain. Last year, symphysiotomy survivors were offered €50,000, €100,00 or €150,000, depending on how severe their injuries are, as part of a redress scheme. But survivors of the brutal operations want more than compensation - they want to ensure these unnecessary procedures never happen again. The Irish Medical Council changed its procedure in order to better identify doctors who perform poorly, and complaints are easier to file.

Patient Focus, an Irish advocacy organization, says there is still a lot of progress to be made. Abortion is still illegal in Ireland except in cases of incest or rape and if the woman's life is in danger. The country's strict abortion laws send more than 3,000 Irish women to England or Wales to receive abortion care every year. And recent news shows women and their families often suffer as a result of these laws.

"There's still a long way to go," says Molloy. "Last year we were inundated with concerned women contacting our service about the care provided to them in our Maternity services. It was horrendous. I remember what happened to me and think, '18 years on and now this is happening?'"

2/13/2015 - Testing Detroit's Backlogged Rape Kits Has Already Identified 188 Serial Rapists

Advocates are making a push to eliminate the backlog of almost 11,000 rape kits that have gone untested in Detroit. Since they started, they've identified 188 serial rapists from 27 states.

Six years ago, it was discovered that the city of Detroit, Michigan had over 11,000 untested rape kits in an abandoned police storage unit. Since then, the Detroit police department has been working to eliminate the backlog, and have processed over 2,000 of the kits. Aside from the 188 identified serial rapists, the testing has also produced over 750 DNA matches to an FBI database. The Wayne County prosecutor's office has so far issued warrants for 23 alleged rapists, convicted 14 of them, and three are awaiting trial.

Activists hope that this is the beginning of justice for rape survivors. "We want to make sure we deal with the victims mercifully, honestly and genuinely," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said, announcing legislation that is going to be introduced to state lawmakers for setting guidelines and deadlines for rape kits to be tested and processed.

"It is outrageous that these rape kits were misplaced and nor processed, some for decades," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "If some 2,000 processed rape kits revealed 188 serial rapists, how many serial rapists would have been brought to justice if these remaining rape kits were tested? How many women have suffered because of this gross negligence?"

Detroit is not alone. Cities across the country have thousands of untested and unprocessed rape kits. In Memphis, Tennessee, there are almost 12,000 untested rape kits, and there are over 4,000 in Las Vegas. Last November, Cyrus Vance, the district attorney of Manhattan pledged $35 million to try to eliminate the backlog of up to 70,000 untested rape kits nationwide.

2/12/2015 - Worldwide Attacks Against Schoolgirls Are on the Rise

Attacks against girls who seek an education are increasing around the world, according to a United Nations report released Monday.

The report, conducted by the Women's Human Rights and Gender section of the Human Rights Council, shows attacks on schools have happened in at least 70 countries between 2009 and 2014 and that many of the attacks were "directed at girls, parents and teachers advocating for gender equality in education. Despite legal protections for gender equality, around 3,600 attacks against schools, students, and teachers were recorded in just the year 2012 alone.

The study mentions Boko Haram's kidnapping of almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, the shooting of Pakistani activist Malala Yousafsai, acid attacks on schoolgirls in Afghanistan, and the Taliban's attack on the Peshawar, Pakistan, school in December that killed at least 132 schoolchildren. The fact that these attacks disproportionately affect girls is not a coincidence.

"The Boko Haram, whose name means 'Western education is a sin' in Hausa, has been responsible for the abduction of hundreds of girls in northeast Nigeria as well as threats and attacks against teachers and school infrastructures," the report states. "Members of Taliban groups operating in Afghanistan and in Pakistan have also openly declared their opposition to the education of girls and have used violent attacks against girls, their families and teachers as a means of asserting their control over local communities. In Mali, girls have been targeted for sexual and other forms of violence in schools for failing to adhere to strict dress requirements imposed by armed groups."

The report goes on to explain, "Within these contexts, the educational rights of girls and women are often targeted due to the fact that they represent a challenge to existing gender and age-based systems of oppression."

There is also is a strong link between a lack of education for girls and high child marriage and early pregnancy rates for those girls. The study warns that girls not having access to education, or being pulled out early "may result in additional human rights violations such as child and forced marriage, domestic violence, early pregnancy, exposure to other harmful practices, trafficking and sexual and labour exploitation."

In Pakistan and Nigeria, where violence against girls is ongoing, girls suffer myriad other human rights violations. Nearly one in four girls in Pakistan and more than one in three girls in Nigeria is married before age 18. Only 61 percent of Pakistani girls and 58 percent of girls in Nigeria aged 15 to 24 are literate. One in ten girls in Pakistan and more than one in four girls in Nigeria are mothers by age 18.

The report lists a number of recommendations to curb violence against girls. The authors urge countries to "take immediate measures to ensure that all girls can effectively access high quality education, including human rights and sexuality education, at all times, even during and after situations of crisis or conflict. ... Concrete, practical measures must be designed to improve school accessibility, quality and safety and to ensure that girls have real access to education on a basis of equality with boys."

2/11/2015 - Three Muslim Students Have Been Shot and Killed in North Carolina in Possible Hate Crime

Three Muslim students were shot and killed by a white man Tuesday afternoon in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The victims, Yusor Mohammad and her husband, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were all students in their late teens or early 20s; they were shot in the head and pronounced dead on the scene. Craig Stephen Hicks, a 46-year-old white man, turned himself in to the police and is being charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

Although the Town of Chapel Hill said in a statement that a preliminary investigation shows the shooting was over a parking dispute, investigators of the incident are currently attempting to determine whether the shooting was hate-motivated. Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of the two daughters who were killed, said Yusor and her husband had been involved in disagreements with Hicks before Tuesday afternoon's shooting. He believes the crime was motivated by Hicks' animosity toward the couple's religion and culture.

"This has all the signs. It was execution style, a bullet in every head," Abu-Salha told "This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil-liberties group, asked authorities to address public concerns as soon as possible. "We urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case," said executive director Nihad Awad.

What seems to be Hicks' personal Facebook page shows he was an active atheist who posted anti-religion statements. One post reads, "Given the enormous harm that your religion has done in this world. I'd say I have not only a right, but a duty, to insult it. "One of his posted photographs is of a handgun in a holster where "Yes, that is 1 pound 5.1 ounces for my loaded 38 revolver, its holster, and five extra rounds in a speedloader," he wrote as the caption.

The shooting occurred east of the University of North Carolina campus, where Barakat was a dentistry student. Mohammad planned to join the same program next semester, and her sister was a design student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. According to the Facebook memorial page, Mohammad recently traveled to Turkey to volunteer in dental relief, and her husband was planning to go to Turkey this summer to provide dental care to students - Mohammad and Barakat were married just two months ago.

2/10/2015 - John Legend Drops Performance at Beverly Hills Hotel in Response to Brunei's Anti-Gay, Anti-Woman Penal Code

Singer and songwriter John Legend announced that he would not be performing at the coveted L.A. Confidential party hosted at the Beverly Hills Hotel in protest of the new penal code introduced by the Hotel's owner, the Sultan of Brunei.

The penal code, which went into effect in May, calls for harsh punishments for women who become pregnant outside of marriage, women who have abortions, for adultery, and for anything deemed "indecent behavior." It also threatens women who engage in same-sex relations with fines, imprisonment, or whipping, and men who engage in same-sex relations with flogging or death by stoning.

"These policies," said Legend's publicist Amanda Silverman in a statement, "are heinous and certainly don't represent John's values. John does not, in any way, wish to further enrich the Sultan while he continues to enforce these brutal laws."

Right now, the United States and President Obama are negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal that is looking to partner with 11 countries, including Brunei. The Feminist Majority and members of Congress are sounding the alarm, and the Feminist Majority released a petition asking people to urge their representatives to vote against the TPP agreement.

"At a minimum, the US should not enter into a partnership with a country that just last year adopted a penal code authorizing torture and violence against its citizens," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority, in a blog for the Huffington Post, "we must call on the President to seriously address the impact of the TPP on human rights," Smeal added.

Other activist groups and celebrities have spoken out against of the hotel and its ties with the Sultan of Brunei, such as Ellen DeGeneres, John Elton, and Sharon Osbourne. In May, the Feminist Majority Foundation pulled its annual fundraiser from the Beverly Hills Hotel, and hosted a rally across the street from the hotel attended by Mavis and Jay Leno, actress Francis Fisher, and many more.

2/9/2015 - Marriage Equality Has Officially Come to Alabama

On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to stop a federal court ruling that requires Alabama state officials to recognize same-sex marriage rights, and, despite some objections, the state began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The order issued by the Supreme Court says it turned down an application to stay the decisions by the lower court in order to wait for justices to figure out among themselves whether the Constitution allows same-sex marriage.

This action came only hours after Alabama's Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered the state's probate judges to not give any marriage licences to same-sex couples. Last month, District Court Judge Callie V. S. Granade moved last month to call Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. About 81 percent of Alabama voters in 2006 supported an amendment to the Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage.

Despite Moore's order, Alabama began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, some of which had been waiting in line for hours. One couple, Dee and Laura Bush, have been together for seven years and have five kids together.

"It is great that we were able to be part of history," Dee Bush told the Associated Press. She and Laura received their license, then walked over to a park where a minister was performing wedding ceremonies.

Alabama is now the 37th state to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court announced it would tackle the issue of same-sex marriage on a federal level. The Court will begin hearing arguments in late April, with a decision expected before the term's end, which is in June.

2/9/2015 - Supreme Court Declines to Hear Petition Overturning a Pregnancy Discrimination Decision

The Supreme Court declined to hear a petition to overturn a decision by the 8the Circuit Court of appeals this month in a pregnancy discrimination case. The court of appeals reasoned that firing a woman for breastfeeding is not sex discrimination because men can also lactate.

Nationwide seemed not to be on Angela Ames' side when she was asked to resign from her job at the insurance company after her request to pump breast milk at the office was denied. Ames reportedly was told by her supervisor that she should "go home and be with your babies" if she wanted to pump milk or breastfeed, a comment which the trail court found to be gender-neutral and therefore not a form of sex discrimination.

The Eighth Circuit decided last March that Ames did not meet the legal burden of proving that she was treated so badly that any reasonable person would have resigned, and therefore would not get a trial on pregnancy discrimination.

Galen Sherwin of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote of Ames' case, saying it highlights "the multi-layered workings of structural discrimination," saying that despite certain legal protections, workplace policies "still manage to turn a blind eye to the pervasive discrimination faced every day by working women."

The Supreme Court heard a pregnancy discrimination case recently on whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) requires an employer to provide workplace accommodations to pregnant employees if that employer also provides comparable accommodations to non-pregnant employees who become temporarily unable to perform their jobs without the accommodation. The case, Young v. UPS, made it to the Supreme Court after Peggy Young was denied a request for a light duty assignment while she was pregnant, despite the company making similar arrangements for other employees because of disability or injury. The SCOTUS decision on Young's case may have positive implications for Ames and her case. In the meantime, the denial to hear Ames' petition effectively means the end of the line for her case.

2/9/2015 - Violence Against Women Came to the Forefront at Last Nights Grammy Awards

The 57the Annual Grammy Awards set a new precedent last night with a speech from a domestic violence survivor and activist and the airing of a PSA from President Obama about violence against women.

Party way through the awards ceremony last night, President Obama appeared on a video screen. "We can change our culture for the better by ending violence against women and girls," he said. He quoted the statistic that 1 in 4 women have experienced some form of domestic violence, encouraging artists and viewers to sign the It's On Us pledge to take action against sexual assault.

Emboldening the Grammy's push against domestic violence was Brooke Axtell, who introduced singer Katy Perry with her powerful story of surviving abuse and assault. Axtell spoke of her violent relationship with an ex-boyfriend during which she "believed my compassion could restore him and our relationship." Axtell said she only sought help after her boyfriend threatened to kill her, after which her mother encouraged her to reach out to a local domestic violence shelter. "This conversation saved my life," Axtell said.

Her speech, which has gone viral across social media, urged survivors to "reach out for help."

Authentic love does not devalue another human being. Authentic love does not silence, shame or abuse. If you are in a relationship with someone who does not honor and respect you, I want you to know that you are worthy of love. Please reach out for help. Your voice will save you. Let it extend into the night, let it part the darkness. Let it set you free to know who you truly are -- valuable, beautiful, loved.

This is the second time in a week that domestic violence has been in the national spotlight. Last weekend Ultra Violet sponsored a Super Bowl advertisement saying "Let's take domestic violence out of football" and using the hashtag #GoodellMustGo. The commercial noted that 55 domestic violence cases in the NFL have gone unanswered while under the leadership of league commissioner Robert Goodell.