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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered emergency measures this weekend to protect those in the nail salon industry.
Cuomo's actions fall in the wake of a New York Times expose on the lives of manicurists in New York City detailing 10- to 12-hour shifts, poor conditions, health risks, low wages, and other exploitation.
"We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights," Governor Cuomo said while announcing the launch of a multi-agency Enforcement Task Force aimed at addressing the exploitation of those in the nail salon industry.
Cuomo's new actions include posting worker's rights within salons in six different languages, shutting down unlicensed businesses, face mask and glove requirements, and other safety measures to protect manicurists from the harsh chemicals regularly used at salons. A campaign to educate salon staff, including managers and owners, will also be introduced. The campaign will encourage all employees, regardless of immigration status, to report mistreatment.
The NY Times article exposed the widespread mistreatment of manicurists and salon workers, many of whom have illnesses from the chemicals they regularly handle. Through 150 interviews in four languages, the NY Times found that manicurists are often paid well below minimum wage (sometimes they are not paid at all), are physically and verbally abused, and are discriminated against within the salons due to racial ethnic stereotypes. These abuses are often exacerbated by the immigration status of many of the employees, as the majority are undocumented workers.
Last fall, Ms. Magazine wrote of the health risks that the chemicals in many personal care products pose for women. In her article "Skin Deep," Heather White, the executive director of Environmental Working Group (EWG), details the unregulated or under-regulated chemicals that show up in women's personal-care products. EWG created an online data base and tested over 70,000 personal-care products, finding shocking numbers of carcinogenic chemicals, many of which are associated with reproductive or developmental toxicity or hormone disruption.
Ms. also wrote about the startling findings of a report from Women's Voices for the Earth, which details some of the many health risks salon workers face. Some of the findings included 60 percent of salon workers suffering from dermatitis and other skin conditions, decreased lung function, increased risk of miscarriage or fetal abnormalities, and increased risk of breast and other cancers.
The framework of the emergency status declared by Governor Cuomo means that policy changes regarding the nail salon industry in New York can be implemented more quickly, as more time-consuming steps such as periods of public comment are skipped over.
Three schoolgirls from Afghanistan won gold in biology at an international science competition hosted in Kenya last week.
300 students competed from 27 countries in a science competition in Kenya, where three girls from a school in Afghanistan took home the gold in biology. Upon return to Afghanistan, Shohra, one of the gold medalists, exclaimed excitedly that her and her classmates won the competition and obtained gold medals.
Nargis, another medalist, emphasized the need for continued support for girls' education in Afghanistan after her victory. "Afghanistan needs more focus on education because it has been a war-hit country," she said. "I want all families to allow their daughters to continue their studies in order to bring honor to Afghanistan."
President Ghani and First Lady Rula Ghani have promised increased support for girls' education.
Last fall, President Ghani and USAID launched its largest women's empowerment program in the world, called "Promote." Ghani and CEO Abdullah Adbullah, when announcing the initiative, both spoke about giving more roles to women in government and the need for women's inclusion in economic development. Promote was also welcomed by First Lady Ghani, who spoke at the launch of the program. Ghani emphasized her desire that Promote reach not only urban women, but also "their educated sisters in the provinces."
Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old Indian-American who was convicted in Indiana for a miscarriage, has now been in prison for more than 30 days.
Indiana claims Patel took illegal abortion-inducing drugs, that her fetus was born alive, and that the fetus subsequently died.
The convictions for feticide and child neglect were based on little to no evidence, and on junk science that was literally created in the 17th century and is highly contested by scientists. Activists were outraged, noting no one should be punished for having a miscarriage. The case moved activists to create a petition calling for Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana State Legislature to change the Indiana laws that punish women who miscarry.
Patel filed an appeal last month arguing there is no proof she took illegal abortion-inducing drugs.
In the newest issue of Ms. magazine, authors Deepa Iyer and Gaylynn Burroughs warn that Patel's conviction represents the way women have been - and will be - treated by current anti-woman laws:
Patel's case should set alarm bells ringing in the minds of all those concerned with the welfare of pregnant women. This case may indeed open the door to more legislative, criminal and legal attacks on pregnant women. We must work together to close this door, once and for all. The health and well-being of all women are at stake.
(Read more from the Ms. Spring 2015 issue here.)
At least 38 states have these troubling feticide laws on the books, and 23 of them are laws that apply to early stages of pregnancy.
Since the appeal, St. Joseph County courts will get case transcripts to Patel's lawyers, who will submit a brief to the state Court of Appeals. While it could take more than a year for the court to reach a decision about whether the convictions should be overturned, Patel is in prison - serving her 20-year sentence.
"What the Patel case demonstrates is that both women who have abortions and those who experience pregnancy loss may now be subject to investigation, arrest, public trial and incarceration," wrote Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "Pregnancy loss is not uncommon: some 15-20 percent of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage; one percent of pregnancies approximately 26,000 each year result in stillbirth. Following the Patel case, however, any miscarriage or stillbirth could be investigated as feticide (an 'illegal' self-abortion)."
Click here to sign the petition to tell Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana State Legislature that these anti-woman Indiana laws need to be changed so women aren't punished for having a miscarriage.
Just in time for Mother's Day, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) re-introduced yesterday a joint resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S Constitution. S.J. Res. 15 was introduced with 26 original cosponsors including Senator Mark Kirk (R-Il). The resolution would remove the deadline set by congress for ratification of the ERA. U.S. Representative Jackie Speier is expected to introduce an ERA resolution in the House.
The ERA originally passed congress in 1972. Like every proposed constitution amendment, after it passed by a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate, the ERA was sent to the states for ratification. Congress, however, had imposed - in the preamble of the ERA - a seven-year deadline on the ratification process. That deadline was eventually extended to June 30, 1982. ï¿½Thirty eight states must ratify an amendment before it can become part of the U.S. Constitution. Thirty five states ratified the ERA by the 1982 deadline.
If the deadline is lifted, only three more states would need to ratify the amendment. This is called the "three-state" strategy. As part of the strategy, ERA activists in unratified states are working to clear a path for the ERA. The Illinois State Senate passed the ERA in 2014 with a strong 39-11 vote, and in February 2015, the Virginia State Senate - which never took a floor vote on the ERA during the campaign in the 1970s and 1980s - voted to pass the ERA for the fourth time since 2011.
"As America prepares to celebrate Mother's Day, we should be working to ensure that all women realize the promise of equal protection under the law. We cannot allow an arbitrary deadline to stand in the way of equal rights for our mothers and daughters, wives and sisters, aunts and grandmothers," said Senator Cardin.
The ERA states: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
As Gaylynn Burroughs, the Director of Policy and Research of the Feminist Majority Foundation, explained in the Winter 2015 issue of Ms. magazine, The need for the ERA has only increased since 1972. "Women have made numerous gains over the past four decades from Title IX to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to pay equity to the Violence Against Women Act and much more." She continued, "But all the federal legislative gains are just that - legislative. They can be wiped out by a hostile Congress or Supreme Court, or chipped away slowly and insidiously." Burroughs cites last year's Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision as one example of recent rollbacks.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has also introduced an ERA resolution that would begin the ratification process over from the beginning.
Click here to sign the petition urge members of Congress to support the Equal Rights Amendment by becoming co-sponsors of both the Start-Over ERA and the resolution to lift the time limit on the current ERA.
5/7/2015 - PRESS RELEASE: Feminist Groups File Title IX Complaint Against University of Mary Washington
Feminist Groups File Title IX Complaint Against University of Mary Washington For Failure to Take Action Against A Sexually Hostile Climate
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: â€‹A Virginia campus group, Feminists United, a UMW student club and an affiliate of the Feminist Majority Foundation and individual students are filing a Title IX Complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the University of Mary Washington. The complaint charges university administrators with "systemic failure to protect students from a sexually hostile school environment, from sex-based cyber assaults, and from threats of physical and sexual violence and from the University's failure to take immediate effective action to eliminate the sexually hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects." The Feminist Majority Foundation, a nationwide women's research and action organization with campus groups in 45 states and the District of Columbia, has joined the complaint to support UMW Feminists United, individual students and to combat campus sexual assault. The following is a statement of Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation
"How many women have to be violated, threatened, harassed, intimidated, or even die before University administrators decide that they have a crisis on their hands. Simply put sexual assault must be treated more seriously by universities. One in five women on college campuses being assaulted is an epidemic," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
"Here at the University of Mary Washington, Feminists United and its leaders repeatedly told administrators that they were afraid, threatened, that the climate was scary, and there was a "rape culture" that was allowed to prevail. This complaint speaks for itself and shows the dedication, commitment and courage of students who worked diligently to stop sexual assault and to end the sexually hostile environment. I am appalled that the University of Mary Washington administrators repeatedly did nothing to stop threats against and to alleviate the experienced-based fears of Feminists United and its members," Smeal continued.
"Feminist United students repeatedly brought their concerns about threats to their safety to the attention of the administration, and were routinely met with inaction. Young women should be able to attend college with the expectation that they will be safe, respected, and at the very least that threats to their personal safety will be dealt with promptly and taken seriously," said Gaylynn Burroughs, Director of Policy and Research at the Feminist Majority Foundation.
"Instead of taking action, the University hid behind their lawyers and allowed these young women to be terrorized in their own community," Burroughs added.
Notice: The Title IX complaint is available upon request.
# # #
Media contact: Danielle Smith
â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹Onsite Contact: Edwith Theogene
â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹ (c) 954-394-1825
The verdict for the 49 men charged with the murder of 27-year- old Farkhunda came yesterday, following a highly publicized and televised week-long trial and public outrage for violence against women in Afghanistan.
Farkhunda, who was an Islamic law student, accused a local Mullah of acting inappropriately. The Mullah then began to shout that Farkhunda was an infidel who had burned the Koran, she was also accused of being mentally ill - both accusations were later said to be false. A crowd of hundreds of men were incited to attack her, and they beat her to death, set fire to her body, and threw her body in a river.
Of the 49 men tried in this case, four were sentenced to death, and eight were sentenced to 16 years in prison. Nineteen police officers are facing charges and will be sentenced separately. The rest were not charged. The Mullah responsible for provoking the mob to attack Farkhunda was among those sentenced to death - the first Mullah in Afghanistan to be executed.
Activists who have been calling for justice for Farkhunda are celebrating the sentencing. "It's making me hopeful and it's making think that all the work that we did, all the protest that we did is finally reaching something," said one woman who has been active in seeking justice, and who wished to remain anonymous.
Others felt the sentencing was too lenient. Omar Haidari, another activist, said the judge's ruling was "totally unacceptable," claiming the 18 men who were acquitted should not have gone free. "They were all part of the game and should be punished severely," he said. "At least they should be sentenced to life in prison for what they have done."
Farkhunda's murder sent shockwaves through Afghanistan and the world, as videos of the mob attack went viral. She has been called a martyr among women's rights and Islamic people alike who believe the woman was unjustly killed for speaking up for her beliefs. A group of all women carried Farkhunda's coffin at her funeral, which breaks the tradition that has men carrying the coffin while women stay home to mourn.
5/6/2015 - MEDIA ADVISORY: Title IX Sex Discrimination Complaint to be Filed Against University of Mary Washington by Feminist Groups
Title IX Sex Discrimination Complaint to be Filed Against University of Mary Washington by Feminist Groups
On Thursday, May 7, 2015 at 10:30 a.m., UMW student group Feminists United, national women's rights organization, Feminist Majority Foundation, and individual UMW students will announce the filing of a major Title IX sex discrimination complaint against the University of Mary Washington. The complaint is being prepared by Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, founding partners of Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP.
The complaint charges ongoing, systemic failures to comply with Title IX, including failure to address incidents of sexually-based stalking, cyber stalking, cyber assault, and threats of physical and sexual violence against members of Feminists United and other individual students via the anonymous social media application Yik Yak. The complaint raises concerns about the UMW administration's refusal to protect female students from these threats of violence and sexual assault.
The sex discrimination complaint comes on the heels of the murder of Grace Rebecca Mann, an active member of Feminists United and prominent UMW student who was a leading voice for feminist and gay causes.
--Julia Michels, president of Feminists United at UMW and other students
--Eleanor Smeal, national women's rights leader and president of Feminist Majority Foundation
--Debra S. Katz and Lisa J. Banks, founding partners of Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP
All participants will be available for interviews.
University of Mary Washington
Steps of George Washington Hall
1301 College Ave, Fredericksburg, VA 22401
Randy Labuzinski - Jaffe, 773-405-7583
Debra S. Katz or Lisa J. Banks - Katz, Marshall & Banks, 202-299-1140
Danielle Smith - Feminist Majority Foundation, 703-522-2214
# # #
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid has promised to delay efforts to push through the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal until the Senate first deals with two stalled bills that may soon expire.
Reid says that the two measures, an infrastructure bill on highway funding, and reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), are "very complicated issues," that require the Senate's attention "before we even deal with [the Trans-Pacific Partnership]."
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive free trade agreement currently being promoted by the Obama Administration, has been heavily criticized by humanitarian groups, environmental groups, and medical groups. These groups charge that the agreement not only threatens US jobs, but it threatens environmental regulations, food and safety standards, workers' rights, and access to affordable medications, among other issues. The TPP, which would include 12 nations, has largely been negotiated in secret and without robust input from the American public, although corporate interests have been included in negotiations.
In addition to these concerns, the TPP also includes Brunei as a member, a country which has recently adopted a vicious penal code threatening the rights and lives of women and gay men. The Feminist Majority has consistently called on the Obama Administration not to do business with a regime that has adopted a penal code antithetical to human rights.
"Any deal that forces women and human rights to take a backseat to profit and trade should be a non-starter," explained Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal. "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," Smeal continued.
Smeal refers specifically to the most troubling aspects of Brunei's penal code, which calls for fines, imprisonment, flogging, or death by stoning for women and men committing such "crimes" as adultery, abortion, same-sex sexual relations, or so-called "indecent behavior" such as cross-dressing.
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) recently introduced "Fast Track" legislation in the Senate that would allow the TPP to be pushed through Congress. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) has also introduced companion legislation in the House. Under the Ryan-Hatch Fast Track bill, Congress would give the President broad power to select US trading partners, determine the content of trade agreements, and conclude negotiations, all before Congress voted on the substance of an agreement. Congress would set out negotiating objectives, but these objectives would be entirely unenforceable. Instead, once an agreement has been signed, the president would only have to submit it to Congress for an up-or-down vote. Fast Track would forbid Congress from offering any amendments, would limit debate to only 20 hours, and force a vote within 90 days.
The Feminist Majority joined over 2,000 organizations, including Citizens Trade Campaign, to send a letter to members of Congress opposing the Ryan-Hatch Fast Track bill. The Feminist Majority also has released a petition asking people to urge their representatives to vote against the TPP agreement.
A new report released by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) this morning shows the Department of Defense (DOD) is grossly under-reporting the number of sexual assault crimes in the US military, particularly those occurring on military bases. Gillibrand says this new information deepens a lack of faith for an internal commander-led justice system for cases of military sexual assault, saying it "remains plagued with distrust."
Senator Gillibrand found in a review of 107 case files provided by the DOD that instances of sexual assault against spouses of service members and civilian women near military bases are being left out of public records. Furthermore, the senator's analysis of these files found that punishments for sexual assault offenders were largely too lenient or lacking altogether. A shockingly low 20 percent of cases went to trial, and only 10 percent of all cases resulted in sexual assault conviction with penalties of dishonorable discharge or confinement. These findings starkly contradict the Pentagon's assertion that the commander-led justice system currently exercised for cases of military sexual assault will lead to tough punishment of service members accused of sex crimes.
"It's frustrating because you look at the facts in these cases and you see witnesses willing to come forward, getting the medical exam and either eventually withdrawing their case or the investigators deciding that her testimony wasn't valid or believable," Gillibrand said.
Of the files reviewed in the report, 32 percent of reports of sexual assault were filed by civilian women assaulted by servicemen. A Department of Defense spokeswoman claimed that the department doesn't have the authority to include civilian reports in its surveys.
"We kept hearing how previous reforms were going to protect victims, and make retaliation a crime," said Gillibrand, referring to promises that were made during hearings for the Military Justice Improvement Act, championed by Gillibrand and blocked by Senate twice last year. "Yet there has been zero progress to reduce retaliation. The rate hasn't budged since 2012," Gillibrand continued.
"Enough is enough. Incremental progress at best just isn't good enough when the problem undermining the readiness of the military is this deep. The men and women of our military deserve a system of justice worthy of their sacrifice," Gillibrand said.
The US House of Representatives voted Thursday night to overturn a Washington, DC, law that makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who use their insurance to cover procedures like in-vitro fertilization or abortion and contraception like birth control pills and IUDs for themselves, their spouses, or their children.
The District's council passed the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act last year. The original legislation looked to protect employees from discrimination based on their reproductive health choices. Overturning the law would not only lead to discrimination against those who receive birth control, abortions, or in-vitro fertilization, it could also affect their spouses or parents. If this House ban would become law, an employer could discriminate against an employee if they, or their dependents under their health coverage, receives these reproductive health services.
"This is Hobby Lobby on steroids," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, referencing the Supreme Court decision that essentially gave permission to some employers to not provide contraception as a part of the company's health insurance plans. "Republicans need to recognize that your own health-care choices are not your boss's business."
Feminist leaders agree, calling the vote an attack on women. "This is a new low. It's beyond outrageous," said Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal. "The so-called 'small government' folks now want employers to invade the privacy of their employees and their families' medical records."
"This bill would make it open season for bosses to dig into their employees' reproductive health practices and fire women for taking birth control or having an abortion," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, in a statement. "This is just the latest in a slew of bills to give employers and businesses the right to discriminate against LGBT people, women, and others. This is dangerous, misguided, and deeply unpopular, and it's outrageous that Congress is spending its time trying to pass this kind of legislation." She called the vote "deeply troubling."
Although Congress has the power to overturn a law passed by the DC council, the House hasn't voted to do so in 23 years. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) introduced the House version of the measure and Sen. Ted Cruz introduced the measure in the Senate. The House vote was nearly a straight party-lines vote, except with 13 Republicans voting against the measure and three Democrats voting for it.
The Senate and President both need to approve this measure in order for the DC law to be overturned, but President Barack Obama said the measure would have "the unacceptable effect of undermining the will of District of Columbia citizens" and has already issued a veto threat.
Hillary Clinton delivered the keynote address at the 18th Annual Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum today, addressing directly criminal justice reforms she would like to see to prevent another "incarceration generation."
"It's time the end the era of mass incarceration," Clinton declared to much applause, citing statistics about the disproportionately higher rate of incarceration that black men in America face. Clinton called for massive reform for criminal justice, including creating or expanding probation and drug diversion programs designed to keep low-level offenders out of prison, drug treatment alternatives, and pursuing alternative options for mental health support.
"Our prisons and our jails are now our mental health institutions," Clinton said, calling for an end of budget cuts for mental health facilities and hospitals providing mental health services, as well as comprehensive treatment for mental health patients.
Clinton also directly addressed the uprisings happening in Baltimore following the mysterious death of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody last week. "My heart breaks for these young men and their families," she said, naming other unarmed black men who have been killed by police over the past year. She noted that the patterns of police brutality against black men in America "have become unmistakable, and undeniable."
Clinton also quoted an article in USA Today, which wrote that between two Baltimore neighborhoods separated by only 6 miles, there is a 20-year difference in the average life expectancy. "We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America," Clinton said. "These challenges are all woven together, and they all must be tackled together."
An annual event, the Dinkins Leadership Forum held at Columbia University addresses "many of the challenging issues including education, the environment, labor, tourism, immigration and fiscal crises that successful and urban ecosystems must contend with." Other speakers included David Dinkins, who served as mayor of New York City in the 1990s, and was the first and only African American mayor of the city so far.
You can read a full transcript of her speech here.
Purvi Patel, who was convicted of feticide and felony neglect last month in Indiana for what she continually asserts was a miscarriage, filed an appeal arguing there is no proof she took drugs to intentionally end her pregnancy.
A Stanford law professor, Lawrence Marshall, told WSBT 22 that he's taking Patel's case pro bono. Marshall says the case "cries out for reversal."
"We are definitely going to do everything in our power to make sure the justices see the perspective of various reasons that the case is so troublesome," Marshall said.
Patel was convicted of both terminating her pregnancy on purpose and abandoning a live, delivered fetus. However, there is no evidence to support the idea that she abandoned a living fetus - there was no evidence she took an abortion-inducing pill, and no proof the fetus was alive once it existed her body. Patel has remained consistent that what happened was that she suffered a miscarriage. The case has inspired thousands of signatures on a petition calling for Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana State Legislature to change the Indiana laws that punish women who miscarry.
Indiana has a law in place banning "knowingly or intentionally terminat[ing] a human pregnancy" in any case except to produce a live birth, clear out a dead fetus, or to perform a legal abortion. Since Patel was accused of using illegal abortion drugs, and of abandoning a live fetus, she was convicted of violating it.
The only evidence prosecutors used against Patel were text messages she sent to a friend talking about online abortion drugs. A toxicologist could not find any evidence of these types of drugs in Patel's body or in the fetus. The only evidence used by prosecutors on the second charge was that the fetus, at 30 weeks old, could potentially have survived outside the womb, and its lungs passed a "floating test" that could possibly have suggested the baby drew breath at one point (the science of this test, which was developed in the 17th century, is highly contested).
"It's an absolutely discredited test," said Gregory Davis, who is a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Kentucky. "It boggles my mind that in the 21st century ... this test is still being relied upon to determine whether a baby is born alive or dead."
Patel received care at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center's maternity ward after she was bleeding and showing an umbilical cord. Dr. Kelly McGuire, who later testified against Patel, called the police. Patel told doctors she has a miscarriage and left the fetus in a dumpster outside a shopping center. McGuire followed police cars to the scene and pronounced the fetus dead on arrival. Patel says she felt cramping that resulted in bleeding and a miscarriage. She says she tried to resuscitate the fetus but was unsuccessful, then was in too much shock to call the police and "didn't know what else to do" because she didn't want her parents to find out, so she put the fetus in the dumpster and went to the hospital.
"Any time a pregnant woman does something that can harm a fetus, now she has to worry, "Am I going to be charged with attempted feticide?" David Orentlicher, a medical ethics specialist and former Indiana state representative told PRI. "If you discourage pregnant women from getting prenatal care, you're not helping fetuses, you're harming fetuses."
St. Joseph County courts now have 90 days to get case transcripts to Patel's lawyers, who will later submit a brief to the state Court of Appeals. While it could take more than a year for the court to reach a decision about whether the convictions should be overturned, Patel is sitting in jail, waiting to be transported to prison, and is serving her 20-year sentence.
Click here to sign the petition.
Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a crucial case that will address whether laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples are constitutional.
The case, Obergfell v. Hodges, will look at whether the 14th Amendment requires the state to allow and license a marriage for same-sex couples, and will address whether the Amendment requires the state to recognize the marriage of same-sex couples when their marriage was licensed out-of-state.
Legendary LGBT attorney Mary Bonauto and former assistant US solicitor general Douglas Hallward-Driemeier will be representing Jim Obergefell, who is the plaintiff in the case - a man who married his partner after the United States v. Windsor< decision. The 2013 Supreme Court decision in Windsor stuck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, a move that has paved the way for the current case.
"When Mary stands before the Supreme Court, she will not only be able to skillfully answer the justices' questions, she will herself embody our answer," Freedom to Marry Founder Evan Wolfson wrote in The Advocate. "We are strong and good. We are part of families and we build them. We love, we contribute, we dream. We have made the case, and we deserve the liberty and justice for all that America promises. It's time for equal protection under the laws for all. It's time for the freedom to marry."
Most predictions expect a 5-4 vote in favor of upholding the rights of same-sex couples to get married and to have their marriage recognized out-of-state. Despite what seems like progress, many states are pushing hard against marriage equality. In Louisiana, for example, the state legislature is considering the Marriage and Conscience Act, which is designed to exclude same-sex couples. The Act would allow discrimination against same-sex couples from professional services, it would deny same-sex couples marriage benefits, and state contractors could turn down employment to gay people.
Oral arguments tomorrow will not immediately result in a decision. A decision is expected from the Supreme Court in June or early July. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the constitutional right to marry, then marriage equality will become law in all 50 states.
4/23/2015 - BREAKING: The Senate Just Confirmed Loretta Lynch for Attorney General After a Five-Month Delay
After a five-month battle, the Senate finally confirmed Loretta Lynch US Attorney General today, making her the first Black woman in US history to take on the role. The Senate's confirmation saw a vote of 56-43.
Lynch was nominated by President Obama for the post in November, but Senate Republicans refused to bring her nomination up for a vote. Instead, they tied her confirmation vote to a battle over abortion language in an anti-human trafficking bill. The Senate reached a compromise earlier this week, which paved the way for the Senate vote today.
The trafficking bill in question was the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, sponsored by Republican Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). The bipartisan bill was expected to pass smoothly through Congress, but a small provision added to the bill that would effectively strengthen the Hyde Amendment, which bans spending federal dollars on abortion,gave Democratic members pause. Ultimately, the body decided to divide funds into two parts - taxpayer money and criminal fines. Taxpayer money, which would only be for healthcare services, is already subject to the Hyde Amendment. Criminal fines, according to the bill, will go to victim services.
Lynch will be replacing Eric Holder, who announced his resignation in September of last year. The amount of time she has been waiting to be confirmed totals the wait time of the last seven attorney general nominees combined.
4/22/2015 - We Need to Talk About Gender On Earth Day
Today is Earth Day, an annual event that celebrates our planet and encourages people to find a way to protect it. As climate change becomes increasingly an important issue, it's also crucial to discuss how climate change disproportionately affects women.
The impacts of climate change around the world disproportionately impact women, from water accessibility to increased violence in the wake of natural disasters. The consequences of human damage to our planet are felt worst by women and girls, and can lead to health problems, victimization, and long-lasting economic and environmental problems for entire nations.
Those who live in areas most affected by climate change are most likely to feel negative effects if they are poor. Women already make up more of those living in poverty worldwide. And when climate change has an economic impact on a country, women are more likely to face inequalities in education, resources and healthcare access. In Malawi, an increase in temperatures and an increase in rain has lead the country to more drought and more flooding over the past 40 years. Hunger, disease, and poverty have become more common as a result, and women are losing access to income disproportionately and the jobs they do have become harder as they are less likely to have a voice in decision-making.
"We women have largely been affected in terms of fetching water," said Esther Chanache, a woman who lives in Southern Malawi. "Previously the rivers would run all year round but now when the rains stop, the rivers dry up. We have to walk long distances."
Studies also show an increase in domestic and sexual violence during extreme natural events and during the recovery process. There is a connection between a displaced families and anger, frustration and violence - which hurt women and children most. And a study by the London School of Economics, which looked at 141 countries in 20 years, found natural disasters kill women more often than they kill men - this has to due with women's financial, physical, and social position. And when schoolchildren have to be pulled out of school to care for the injured or sick, it is more likely to be a girl.
After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, for example, a battered women's shelter in Santa Cruz, California, reported a 50 percent increase in restraining order requests.
The World Health Organization writes, "Women who were subjected to violence before a disaster are more likely to experience increased violence after the disaster, or they may become separated from family, friends and other potential support and protective systems. After a natural disaster, women are more likely to become victims of domestic and sexual violence and may avoid using shelters as a result of fear."
On top of that, women are more likely to be affected by a loss of healthcare during natural disasters; maternal health and reproductive care suffer during disasters and this puts women at risk for STIs, unintended pregnancies and problems during childbirth. In the 1998 Bangladesh floods, girls were getting more urinary tract infections because they couldn't properly and privately wash their menstrual rags and hang them to dry.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, the world is currently five times as disaster-prone as it was in the 1970s, due to increased risks that have come on as a result of climate change.
"Women have always been at the center of both economy and ecology," Yifat Susskind wrote for The Progressive on Earth Day in 2012. "Both words come from the Greek term for household - the arena of women's traditional roles as primary caretakers of families and communities. Even today, in nearly every society, women are mainly responsible for providing families with healthy food, clean water and - particularly in the Global South - sufficient fuel. These resources depend on the health of the environment, and that's why women play such a vital role."
4/21/2015 - Feminists Mourn the Loss of Activist Grace Mann
Feminist activist Grace Rebecca Mann, a 20-year-old University of Mary Washington student, was killed in her home on Friday.
Grace was found unconscious by her two female roommates on Friday, one of whom called 911 and attempted to administer CPR. She was pronounced dead upon being taken to the hospital. Police have charged one of her other roommates, Steven Vander Briel, a fellow student, with first-degree murder and abduction. He is currently being held without bond.
Grace was a member and leader of Feminists United, a Feminist Majority Foundation campus affiliate. In the words of Paige McKinsey, Grace's friend and the President of Feminists United, Grace was an outstanding and inspiring leader: "As an individual, she worked with administration to create better sexual assault policies on campus. As publicity chair of Feminists United, Grace helped plan events such as Take Back the Night. As an American Studies major, Grace focused her studies on the mass incarceration rates of underprivileged communities with hopes of becoming a lawyer to one day serve those communities. As a friend, Grace brought love and joy into every interaction and every person she came across."
Grace was a junior studying history, American studies and practical ethics, was a leader and activist on the Mary Washington Campus. She served on the executive board for Feminists United, in the student government senate, and recently was appointed to the President's Task Force on Sexual Assault, a group Mary Washington President Richard Hurley created in part because of the efforts by Feminists United to combat sexual assault and rape culture on campus. She was passionate about women's rights, civil rights, and gender equality.
"The entire Feminist Majority Foundation community mourns the tragic loss of Grace Mann," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "In life, she inspired all of us in the fight for equality and against senseless violence. In her memory we will renew and strengthen the struggle to end violence against women."
President Hurley said in an email to students and staff that Grace "was a wonderful, well-spoken, genuine person who sparkled with energy and lit up the room when she walked in."
"The loss of Grace Mann is such a tragedy to the feminist community," said Feminist Majority Foundation National Campus Organizer Alyssa Seidorf. "My thoughts are with Feminists United and her friends and family. Feminist Majority Foundation promises to continue the work she loved and ensure her efforts to make the world a better place are never forgotten."
Edwith Theogene, also a National Campus organizer for FMF, added, "I am constantly inspired by students and the work they do to change the world around them. Grace Mann was one such student. She was a dedicated feminist who called out injustice and worked ardently alongside Feminists United. Her light carries on with all of us as we continue to do this work."
A celebration of her life will be held at the University of Mary Washington campus on Friday at noon.
4/17/2015 - Senate Passes Compromise Bill Increasing Federal Funding for Abstinence-Only Sex Education
The Senate overwhelmingly approved of HR 2 on Tuesday, a $200 billion package that included an enormous increase of federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) curricula.
The US Senate voted 92-8 to pass HR 2, which has been known as the "doc fix" for Medicaid reimbursement rates, as well as many other health care provisions. HR 2 includes an alarmingly high increase in funding for the AOUM program, bringing its annual funding to $75 million. President Obama has already agreed to sign the bill, saying in a statement that he "would be proud to sign it into law."
This compromise bill, however, also includes a two-year extension of Title V abstinence-only education, allocating significant federal funding to Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs). Many CPCs lie to women about abortion and birth control and target women who are facing unplanned pregnancies and provide them with medical misinformation. AOUM curriculums rely heavily on shame and stigma, and have been proven to be unsuccessful at preventing unplanned pregnancy and the spread of STIs.
The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) wrote of the expansion of AOUM, stating that SIECUS is "incredibly disappointed by this wasteful increase and expansion of AOUM programs that are ineffective, stigmatizing, and fail to provide young people with the sexual health information, education, and skills they need throughout their life to make healthy and responsible decisions."
One of the policy rider provisions in HR 2 now also demands that unobligated Title V AOUM funds be made available to states implementing programs that adhere abstinence-only education, as opposed to returning these funds to the general treasury, as was the case before this provision.
As the bill was a compromise, HR 2 included a two-year extension of the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), at the current funding level of $75 annually. PREP is a science-based curriculum that covers subjects such as "healthy relationships, adolescent development, financial literacy, educational and career success, and healthy life skills." Introduced as part of the Affordable Care Act, PREP was the first federally-funded program that teaches both abstinence and contraceptive use as a means of preventing unplanned pregnancies and the spread of STIs.
Marchers are ending an eight-day journey across 250 miles and five states to deliver anti-profiling and police-force-militarization legislation from New York City to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.
More than 100 protesters gathered just outside New York City on Monday, beginning a march from New York to Washington, D.C., to deliver to legislators what is being called the "Justice Package," including "three pieces of legislation calling for an end to racial profiling, stopping the militarization of our local police forces, and demanding the government invest in our youth and communities." Those marching wore T-shirts saying "I can't breathe" and held signs reading "#BlackLivesMatter."
One marcher, 19-year-old Sade Swift, told the Huffington Post that she was joining the march because she is "tired of creating hashtags," for unarmed black men killed by the police. Another, Rachel Goldstein, says "I march because Michael Brown can't."
The "March2Justice" lists 10 reasons for the march, including a call for an end to the school to prison pipeline, a call for the end of violence again people of color, including transgender people women of color who "disproportionate impact they endure by all forms of violence, including police violence." March2Justice also hopes to raise awareness and end police brutality, citing that "every 28 hours a Black person is killed at the hands of the police, security guards or neighborhood watch."
The March passed through Trenton, New Jersey, yesterday and gathered at the Gandhi Peace Garden before moving on to the New Jersey State House. Marchers are calling on those in the Washington, D.C. area to join them on Tuesday the 21st when they reach the Capitol for a rally, where a program is planned with "legendary civil rights leaders, hip hop artists and the marchers themselves."
In April of 2014, almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram. It's been one year since the kidnappings and Nigeria still suffers at the hands of the militant group - and 219 of the girls are still missing.
Throughout the year, as the #BringBackOurGirls digital campaign slowly lost media coverage, even more people were kidnapped in Nigeria. Boko Haram has caused chaos in parts of Nigeria - and 2,000 women and girls have been kidnapped since the beginning of last year, according to Amnesty International. Though last year about 50 of the original 300 schoolgirls who were kidnapped managed to escape.
"Men and women, boys and girls, Christians and Muslims, have been killed, abducted and brutalized by Boko Haram during a reign of terror which has affected millions," said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International.
While the crisis isn't over, that's not to say efforts aren't made. The Nigerian government accepted offers from the US, UK, France, and China to help in the crisis. And Nigerian activists fight daily for justice. Incoming president Muhammadu Burhari said Nigeria will "do everything in its power to bring [the girls] home" but warned he can't "promise that [they] can find them."
Many say the reason the previous president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, did not win reelection was due to his handling of Boko Haram - those who opposed his policies say he did not do enough to help bring back the kidnapped schoolgirls.
Progress has been made by military to stop Boko Haram's terror, but the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria is far-reaching and has already hurt and killed too many. News last month came out that Nigerian troops had managed to drive Boko Haram militants from Bama in Borno State northeast Nigeria - an area occupied by the terrorist group since September of last year.
To mark the one-year anniversary of the kidnappings, protests were held worldwide, including in Abuja, Nigeria's capital.
One of the kidnapped schoolgirls who escaped, 19-year-old Saa, says she feels the government could be doing more to stop Boko Haram.
"They always say they are trying their best to bring the girls back, but I'm not sure if they are doing their best," Saa said.
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) joined Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and five Democratic women of the Senate today to urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. Today is Equal Pay Day, meaning that women on average have to work until the end of the day today to warn as much as their white, male counterparts earned by the close of last year.
The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) is legislation that would greatly lessen the gender pay gap experienced by women in the work force, as well as prevent retaliation against women seeking pay parity. The PFA, introduced in the Senate in 2013, would prohibit retaliation for sharing pay information, as well as require employers to prove that any pay disparity is not on the basis of sex. It has since been blocked by Republicans in the Senate more than once.
Senator Mikulski has been working on the issue of providing equal pay for equal work throughout the nearly three decades that she has been in office. In her speech, Mikulski emphasized the many ways the American economy would benefit from eliminating the gender pay gap. "You want to alleviate poverty? Equal pay for equal work!" she said, adding some of the findings of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, which found that pay parity would cut in half the poverty rate of working single moms. "We are tired of being sidelined, red lined, pink slipped, harassed, and intimidated," Mikulski declared.
DeLauro spoke on her frustration in the minimal improvements to lessen the gender pay gap since the Equal Pay Act passed more than 50 years ago. "The gap has barely budged in over a decade," DeLauro said. "It's not an abstract problem, and it hurts people on a daily basis." DeLauro cited specifically a study released last month, which showed that even in the female-dominated profession of nursing, men make significantly more than women.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi took to Twitter to show her support for Equal Pay Day and the Paycheck Fairness Act, writing "Equal Pay Day is a day to call on America's leaders to ensure that hard working women receive fair compensation for their work."
"100 percent of Democrats in the House are now co-sponsors on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Where are the Republicans?" asked Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "How long must women wait for equal pay?"
Hillary Clinton's unique social media entrance to the 2016 presidential race dominated news Sunday and was received well by many - especially feminists.
Emily's List, the National Organization for Women, and the Women's Media Center were just a few of those who joined in the flurry of support for Clinton's candidacy announcement yesterday through a video in which Clinton declared that "everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion."
"Gender matters in the United States today," President of the National Organization for Women Terry O'Neill wrote yesterday. O'Neill welcomed Clinton's candidacy, and said that her campaign "is a powerful message to girls that they can aspire to the highest office, and an equally powerful message to boys that women can be leaders on an equal footing with men."
Emily's List president Stephanie Schriock endorsed Clinton as a "lifelong champion for women and families and the most qualified candidate to be president." Emily's List cited Clinton's longtime commitment to women and families, mentioning her first job after law school with the Children's Defense Fund.
The Women's Media Center asked if the 2016 Hillary race would have the same sexist media coverage as her 2008 race. Indeed, Clinton's campaign in 2008 was filled with comments on her age, looks, weight, and many other aspects of her life that were not raised for male candidates. The WMC, however, believes that women in roles of leadership and in the public eye are "crucial for continued progress."
"From the days that she was the first chair of the American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession in 1987, to her days as First Lady when she declared at the United Nation's 4th World Conference on Women that women's rights are human rights, to her days as Secretary of State when she appointed the first Ambassador-At-Large for Global Women's Issues, Hillary Clinton has made women's issues a priority," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority. "It's no wonder women are excited about not only the possibility of the first woman president, but also that this candidate is a woman who has given high priority to women's issues from the very beginning of her career."
Nevada Republicans, having won control of the state legislature in 2014, are moving to increase barriers to voting.
A series of proposed laws in the state attack voting rights by mandating photographic voter identification cards and proof of citizenship to verify voting eligibility and narrowing early voting windows. These measures would disproportionately impact people of color, women, young people, and the elderly, and could hurt their chances of voting in the 2016 elections.
"What we're talking about here is putting a major obstacle in front of a fundamental right," Assemblyman Elliot Anderson (D) told the Associated Press.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 accelerated the voter registration progress by integrating voter registration forms into driver's license applications and state identification forms through the DMV. These Nevada bills directly undermine this federal statue by requiring verification of citizenship by a local county clerk's office. Clerk's offices may request supporting documents that indicate citizenship like birth certificates for individuals that register through the DMV. If these documents are not presented to their office within 15 days an individual will be removed from the state voter registry.
A similar law in Arizona was struck down by the US Supreme Court, with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia writing the Court opinion that declared the law conflicted with federal laws regulating elections.
Changes of this ilk to voting laws directly impact the poor and elderly, for whom locating documents and traveling to submit them is made more difficult due to time restrictions and cost. These policies could also disproportionately impact women, who may not have birth certificates that match their married names. If those women are unable to locate and present both their wedding certificate and birth certificate, they could be denied voting eligibility.
The proposed changes to early voting would end early voting on Sundays and force polls to operate only between 7 AM and PM on any given day - despite the fact that early voting currently takes place in Las Vegas, for example, until 9 PM, making voting more accessible for casino workers, a large portion of whom are people of color.
Lawmakers who push voting restrictions often cite voter fraud as their concern, but study after study has failed to find evidence of widespread voter impersonation. Voter suppression and discrimination, however, remain alive and well - and prevent some of the most marginalized people in the country from being heard at the ballot box.
The United States ranks 16th in the recently released 2015 Social Progress Index, which assesses and scores countries worldwide across three categories: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. The US was 21st, 35th, and 8th in these smaller categories, respectively.
The US also ranks 55th in maternal mortality, 32nd in early marriage, defined as the percentage of women who are married between the ages of 15 and 19; 14th in satisfied demand for contraception, with 85% of women able to access contraception if they wish; and 15th in acceptance for the queer community.
The SPI was created in response to the use of GDP as the main measure to judge a country's success. Michael Green, co-author of Philanthrocapitalism and SPI executive director, is adamant that GDP "shouldn't be a guide to all decision-making." (The economist who invented the concept of GDP has himself written that a nation's welfare can "scarcely be inferred" by using it as an indicator.
"GDP tells us quite a lot about a country's progress," Steve Almond, one of the authors of the SPI, said, "but it's definitely not the whole story."
The SPI was first brainstormed at the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Philanthropy and Social Investing. The Index's methodology was created by Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School with help from from The Economist's New York Bureau Chief Matthew Bishop, Hernando de Soto of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, Judith Rodin of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Scott Stern of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The index also includes an interactive map of the world to easily compare each country on these issues and a definition page for each term.
On Wednesday, President Obama announced that his administration condemns "conversion therapy" for LGBT youth.
The statement was in response to a WhiteHouse.gov petition that was created after the suicide of transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn, which gained more than 120,000 signatures. In December of last year, 17-year-old Alcorn committed suicide. In a suicide note that went viral, Alcorn explained that she was forced to undergo "conversion therapy," a program her Christian parents put her in that was created to "change" a person's gender identity or sexual orientation. Alcorn's note ended with a plea:
The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren't treated the way I was. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say, 'That's fucked up' and fix it. Fix society. Please.
"Tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let's say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he's held as long as he can remember," President Obama's personal message reads. "Soon, perhaps, he will decide it's time to let that secret out. What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us - on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build." The official White House statement says "conversion therapy" is "neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm." The statement points out that many medical and mental health organizations have condemned the practice of "conversion therapy" as it is shown to be damaging to the individual. A law to ban "conversion therapy," which many are calling Leelah's Law, would require congressional action - until then, states can take matters into their own hands. California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. have all already banned licensed professionals from practicing "conversion therapy" on minors. Lawmakers in 18 other states have introduced legislation that would ban the practice. Scott Bixby of Mic wrote in response to the statement that the President could do more. "The President, after opening the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston or holding a round-table conversation on clean energy in Utah, could take a few moments to tell local reporters, lawmakers and voters what he said in his personal attachment to the White House's statement on conversion therapy."
On Friday, Superior Judge M. Marc Kelly of Orange County, California, reduced the mandatory minimum 25-to-life sentence of Kevin Jonas Rojano-Nieto by 15 years. Nieto, who was convicted last December of one felony count of sexual intercourse with a child and one felony count of lewd act upon a child for sodomizing a 3-year-old toddler, will now only spend 10 years behind bars.
Over objections by the Prosecution, Judge Kelly lessened Rojano-Nieto's sentence to 10 years in state prison, citing that the mandatory minimum sentencing of 25 years to life was "cruel and unusual punishment," as Rojano-Nieto did not "intend" to harm the toddler while raping her.
Rojano-Nieto was playing video games in his garage last summer when the 3-year-old victim wandered away from her home and into his garage. Rojano then sexually assaulted her, at one point covering her mouth to hide the child's cries from her mother, who was looking for her. When her mother finally found her, she was unaware that anything had happened until the child complained of pain, at which point her mother found injuries consistent with sexual assault and called the police.
Deputy District Attorney Whitney Bokosky told the City News Service that Judge Kelly considered the full 25 years unconstitutional because Rojano-Nieto did not intend to harm the 3 year old when he sodomized her. "In looking at the facts of Mr. Rojano's case, the manner in which this offense was committed is not typical of a predatory, violent brutal sodomy of a child case," said Kelly. "Mr. Rojano did not seek out or stalk (the victim). He was playing video games and she wandered into the garage. He inexplicably became sexually aroused but did not appear to consciously intend to harm (the victim) when he sexually assaulted her."
Bokosky believes otherwise, saying that the judge should have taken into account Rojano-Nietro's attempt to cover the girl's mouth during the attack. The prosecutor said her office is discussing an appeal of the judge's reduced sentence.
This is not the first time Judge Kelly has shown sympathy for a convicted sex offender. Last fall, Judge Kelly overturned a conviction against former Highway Patrol lieutenant Stephen Deck, 54, for an attempted lewd act upon a child. Deck was arrested after being involved in a sting operation when he drove to the house of someone posing online as a 13-year-old girl, with the intent of having sex with her.
A petition to get Judge Kelly removed from the bench is in circulation, with at least 13,000 signatures so far.