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2/26/2015 - If This Bill Passes Federal Law Will Mandate Consent Education in Public Schools

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 newsobserver.com. "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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEx-qyZAmqs

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.


2/6/2015 - The World Future Council Calls on Governments to End FGM

The World Future Councilors and Ambassadors are calling on governments to end the practice of Female Genitalia Mutilation, or FGM. Today, on International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, dozens of activists, writers, and leaders are releasing a statement calling for a global increase in action to end FGM worldwide.

Although the practice of FGM is on the decline, millions of women and girls are affected by it annually. The procedure, which involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia, is designed to decrease women's sexual desire and is seen in many cultures as essential for a women's suitability for marriage. The practice is also known to both increase the risk of HIV transmission and infant and maternal mortality rates.

FGM is widely recognized as a violation of human rights, including by the United Nations. According to UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta, "FGM/C [sic] is a violation of a girl's rights to health, well-being and self-determination. What is clear from this report is that legislation alone is not enough. The challenge now is to let girls and women, boys and men speak out loudly and clearly and announce they want this harmful practice abandoned."

The statement by the World Future Councilors and Ambassadors lists successful policy implementation, listing the criminalization of FGM as one tool for governments to use in putting an end to FGM. Education of health workers, representatives of law, teachers, and communities is also something that was suggested by the World Future Council as a means of preventing FGM.

"With political will and long-term, comprehensive state action, we will be able to guarantee future generations a life free from this extreme form of violence against women and girls," the statement says.


2/6/2015 - Black Girls Matter: New Report Exposes Gendered and Racial Disparities in Education Too Often Erased

A new report outlines the obstacles facing Black girls in America's school systems - and demands that advocates, policymakers, and educators do better to foster safe spaces for Black girls to learn and grow.

"Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected" was released yesterday by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and Columbia Law School's Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies. Researchers for the study used data and personal interviews with young women of color in Boston and New York to expose how racism, sexism, and class issues erase Black girls' experiences in the school system, limit their educational opportunities, and marginalize their needs, while pushing them into low-wage work, unemployment, and incarceration.

"Gender and race norms place black girls at risk," said the report's lead author, Kimberlé Crenshaw, in its launching webinar yesterday.

Often, conversations about race in education focus on the achievement gap between Black and white boys, but many efforts refuse to acknowledge that Black girls experience these same gaps between themselves and their white counterparts - and often in greater numbers. Sometimes, the magnitude of racial disparities for girls is greater than that of boys, despite the minute attention paid to black girls' lives.

The report highlights the negative impacts of zero-tolerance school systems and punitive disciplinary philosophies on girls, such as how law enforcement and security personnel make girls feel less safe. "It feels like you're in jail," one interviewee told researchers. "It's like they treat you like animals, because they think that's where you're going to end up." Girls interviewed for the study also cited sexual harassment as part of their educational experience, and reported that administrators did little to protect them from harassment and violence. Some were punished for engaging in self-defense or asked to leave classrooms where they were being harassed in order to make the disruptions stop.

Black girls are also targeted unfairly by administrators for suspension and expulsion. In the 2011-2012 school year, for example, 12 percent of all African American girls in pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 were suspended, a suspension rate six times the rate for white girls and higher than rates for white, Asian, and Latino boys. In some school districts, all the girls suspended were Black. In one, Black girls were 53 times more likely to be expelled than their white counterparts.

Schools that aren't able to properly support students with children or who have experienced trauma also create hostile environments for Black girls, who play a larger role in caretaking than their male counterparts and are more likely to have experienced intimate partner violence. The failure of schools to examine these factors is based in sexism, but efforts to protect Black boys at the expense and exclusion of Black girls also happen through advocacy work and even government initiatives.

“As public concern mounts for the needs of men and boys of color through initiatives like the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper," Crenshaw said in a statement, "we must challenge the assumption that the lives of girls and women—who are often left out of the national conversation—are not also at risk."

According to the Feminist Majority Foundation’s 2014 report on sex-segregated K-12 public schools, almost all of the 106 all-boy and all-girl public schools serve a majority of African American and/or Latina populations as do 43 percent of coed schools with sex-segregated classrooms.  These schools often enforce dangerous gender norms and provide more resources for boys, thus putting girls at a distinct disadvantage. Dr. Sue Klein, FMF’s study director, reminds equity advocates that “the new Title IX single-sex guidance from the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and other protections such as State Equal Rights Amendments prohibit sex discrimination in education and that it is exceedingly difficult to justify excluding boys or girls from valuable programs, just because of their sex.”

Education can be one of the most powerful factors defining a young person's future. Conversations about the "school-to-prison" pipeline - a system in which Black students are criminalized and otherwise pushed out of school and at risk for incarceration - have, for too long, rendered girls' experiences invisible. The groundbreaking Black Girls Matter report makes an indisputable fact that Black girls, as well as boys, have specific needs that should be addressed by our education system and policies that shape young people's lives.

Media Resources: African American Policy Forum, 2/4/15; Feminist Majority Foundation, 2/6/14, 10/1/14, 12/23/14


2/5/2015 - FCC Chairman Proposes Strongest Ever Open Internet Protections

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler has penned an open letter proposing the strongest open Internet protections to-date.



"I am proposing that the FCC use its Title II authority to implement and enforce open internet protections," Wheeler in Wired Magazine yesterday. He noted these are the "strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC," calling the proposed regulations "enforceable, bright-line rules (that) will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services."


Wheeler went on to state that these rules will now be applied to mobile broadband, as well. "My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone's permission," Wheeler wrote in the Wired piece.


According to NPR, this is the second iteration of net neutrality rules authored by the FCC. A federal court struck down the first set in January 2014. Net neutrality is defined in the NPR story as "the concept that your Internet provider should be a neutral gateway to everything on the Internet, not a gatekeeper deciding to load some sites slower than others or impose fees for faster service," and is intended to keep the Internet free and open.


2/4/2015 - Michigan Lawmakers Want to Create Even More Extraneous Requirements for Abortion Providers

Lawmakers in Michigan have introduced this month yet another reporting requirement for physicians performing an abortion, with the specific aim of increasing the number of reported complications from abortion.

State Bill No. 27 is an amendment to a current abortion reporting law requiring physicians to report instances of infection, perforation, and other physical complications from abortions provided in the state. SB 27 would add "allergic response" and "anesthesia-related complications" to the list of complications that physicians performing an abortion must report to the state.

Anti-choice group Right to Life of Michigan claims the bill is necessary, citing the 2014 reported rate of complication as "unrealistically low" at 0.008 percent. Significant research has shown that very few women face medical complications resulting from an abortion.

Amber Truehart, a family planning fellow at the University of Chicago, says that adding allergic reactions and anesthesia complications will not increase the rate of complication by much as all. She says that politicians are unaware that it will increase the rate of complication, as allergic reactions and anesthesia complications are "very rare and very minor," and this proposed bill "just speaks to the fact that [politicians] don't understand the procedure."

Other concerns about the bill include patient confidentiality. The existing bill states that the patient's name or other "common identifiers" are not to be included in the report; however other personal information about the patient, such as age, race, marital status, town of residence, number of children, and more must be included.


2/4/2015 - Women in Afghanistan Protest Lack of Representation in Cabinet

Afghan women took to the streets in Kabul yesterday to protest the lack of female representation in the newly announce cabinet for President Ashraf Ghani.

During their election campaign last year, President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah promised to increase the representation of women in the cabinet, saying at least four of the positions would be women. Ghani and Abdullah announced their nominees for cabinet earlier this month, to the general relief of the Afghan people. Women, however, were upset because two of the three women nominated were rejected by the Parliament.

Parliament rejected a number of the nominees for various reasons, including not being able to provide certain documents, but protesters cited specific anger over the rejection of well-known feminist journalist Najiba Ayubi. Activist Samira Hamidi of the Afghan Women's Network said that 38 percent of voters in the presidential election were women, "so we should be given 38% of the cabinet, which is nine ministers."

Women activists and civil society groups therefore walked the streets of Kabul yesterday, demanding that women's voices be represented within the country's cabinet. Among their list of demands, the protesters are asking that if a female nominee is rejected, then the person nominated in her place is also a woman. The Afghan Women's Network has released a list of 21 qualified women for the Parliament to review.