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Several women firefighters who are currently or who have previously worked with the US Forest Service filed a complaint last month alleging they faced sexual abuse, harassment and job discrimination from their male coworkers.
The complaint, filed with the Department of Agriculture on behalf of hundreds of women in the Forest Service's Region 5 in California, claims officials did not do enough to stop harassment and abuse. Seven women are heading the complaint.
Alicia Dabney, one of the former firefighters filing the complaint, told The New York Times she faced attempted rape and humiliation during her time in the Forest Service. It was a frat boy atmosphere," she told them. "You are often isolated because where you work is so remote."
Dabney said her supervisor, who is currently employed by the Forest Service, put her in a chokehold and tried to rape her. She also once found fliers on the floor of the fire station with "Alicia Dabney is a whore" written on them. Dabney said that when she reported the harassment, she was fired because her superiors said she failed to disclose her previous criminal record. Dabney argues her superiors were fully aware of her record but that "this was dredged up after [she] complained.
Another complainant, Darlene Hall, said some of the men she supervised used abusive language against her. "I had one instance where a man who worked under me came into my office and just started cursing at me," Hall said. "He was threatening, and I was afraid because you're out there alone." She said she reported the incident but that nothing was done except the fact that she was denied a promotion.
Similar complaints were filed in the 1970s and 1990s by women workers in Region 5 who claimed they were harassed and not given the same career opportunities as their male counterparts.
Women in Region 5 make up only 12 percent of the fire service and 24 percent of fire leadership positions, but four out of nine regional fire directors are women, including Region 5's director. Previously, Region 5 was under a consent decree as a result of a class action lawsuit brought by lead plaintiff Gene Bernardi that alleged discrimination against women in hiring and promotion. Under the decree, which lasted from 1981 to 1992, women had to make up more than 43 percent of jobs in each series and pay grade. Nationally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 4.5 percent of firefighters are women.
The Agriculture Department has 180 days from the filing of the complaint to investigate and settle the claim, otherwise the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will take the case up for investigation - and if the EEOC doesn't settle, the complaint may go to federal court.
In a similar case, the EEOC filed a lawsuit earlier this year on behalf of several women farmworkers who alleged a Colorado potato warehouse allowed managers to sexually harass female employees. The EEOC claimed the warehouse violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual harassment.
The Senate on Thursday voted to renew the Debbie Smith Act, aimed at cutting the backlog of untested rape kits. The bill, already passed in the House, now heads to President Obama to become law.
The original bill was authored by Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and was signed into law by former President George W. Bush in 2004. It was named after rape survivor Debbie Smith who gave DNA samples for a rape kit but didn't find out who her attacker was or what had happened to him until six years later when the kit was finally processed. She lived those six years in fear of him coming back for her only to find out he had been serving time in prison for a different crime.
The Act was reauthorized in 2008, and provided $151 million each year until this year to get backlogged rape kits processed. The current push for reauthorization would keep the Act funded through the 2019 fiscal year. This year's reauthorization would allocate an overall amount of $968 million.
In the Act's original language, Rep. Maloney wrote that 75 percent of the law's funds must be used to process backlogged rape kits. The Act also created grants to conduct audits in order to track the backlogged kits in labs across the US.
"There are tens of thousands of rape kits that have not been tested and that means tens of thousands of survivors are left without answers," Rep. Maloney said in a statement following the Senate vote. "I am hopeful that Congress will take additional steps to ensure that no woman is attacked by a person who could have been taken off our streets if only there were the resources to eliminate the rape kit backlog.
In 2010, the National Institute of Justice conducted a study to find out approximately how many DNA kits were backlogged nationally. They found that there were more than 111,000 samples untested at crime labs in 2009 - compared to the 38,000 backlogged cases that were reported in a 2005 Bureau of Justice Statistics study. According to the Rape Kit Action Project, however, there may be as many as 300,000 additional kits in law enforcement storage.
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) calls the Debbie Smith Act among "the most important anti-rape legislation in history." RAINN President and Founder Scott Berkowitz said the Senate vote would "help crime labs test evidence from thousands of open rape cases, and will aid efforts to bring many rapists to justice."
Only three states have laws specifically addressing rape kit backlogs: Colorado, Illinois, and Texas.
Michael P. Boggs, controversial nominee for a lifetime appointment on the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, does not have enough votes to make it to the state's federal bench, according to the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"He doesn't have the votes," Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the New York Times Monday, Leahy said the stance of his colleagues on the committee made it clear that Boggs should withdraw. "I think that many people decided against him after the hearing."
Prominent Democrats voiced overwhelming opposition to the appointment of Boggs, who supported Confederate flag insignia as a Georgia state legislator, wanted to ban same-sex marriage, and supported the publication of abortion doctors' names on the Internet, insisting he was not aware of a history of deadly violence against abortion workers and clinics. Following the May Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Boggs nomination, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plainly said he would refuse to vote for him.
"He's a person who, in my opinion, is out of the mainstream and I don't think deserves to be a federal judge," Reid said.
Boggs was strongly opposed by several women's rights and progressive groups, and NARAL led a national campaign calling on the public to compel their Senate leadership to vote against Boggs.
"As we've said from the moment his nomination became public, Boggs lacks both credibility and a demonstrated commitment to equal justice under the law - qualities necessary for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench," said Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "Boggs' record of support for discriminatory and callous measures affecting the lives of women, communities of color, and LGBT Americans during his time in the state legislature makes clear that he is unfit to serve as a federal judge."
Boggs was one of several candidates presented by Georgia Senate Republicans as nominees for roughly half a dozen open judicial seats in the state. The White House said it agreed to the all-or-nothing package of judicial picks in order to secure other Democrat-supported nominees. The White House has yet to withdraw its support for the nominee.
Two-thirds of American woman now have access to free birth control, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The Guttmacher Institute released a study Thursday showing steep increases in the number of women who were able to take full advantage of the ACA birth control benefit. Since the benefit was implemented, the number of users who paid nothing out-of-pocket for oral contraceptives more than quadrupled. The number of people using other forms of contraception without facing any out-of-pocket expense also increased significantly. Among the privately insured who use vaginal rings, injectables, or IUDs, the increases jumped by double-digits across the board.
"This analysis shows that the contraceptive coverage guarantee under the ACA is working as intended," said Adam Sonfield. Sonfield is a senior public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute and served as the lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Contraception. "That these benefits continue to accrue so quickly is remarkable, and shows that the contraceptive coverage guarantee is meeting a real demand."
Although the ACA contraceptive coverage benefit is reaching millions of women, and will likely reach more as "grandfathered" health insurance plans lapse, the Guttmacher study found that gaps in coverage remained. These gaps were attributed to federal guidelines that exempt some employer-sponsored health plans on religious grounds as well as guidelines that allow insurers to charge co-pays in certain situations, such as for brand name drugs that have generic equivalents.
Guttmacher also found that some women were being charged co-pays when they shouldn't. Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) recently sent letters to the CEOs of Walgreens and CVS Health for reportedly illegally charging consumers a co-pay for generic contraceptives. Noting that "many women may not know their rights under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and may go without this essential family planning service guaranteed to them under law," the Congresswoman called on both CEOs to determine the scope of the problem, immediately correct it, and provide remedies to affected consumers.
The National Women's Law Center has set up a hotline and online information center, called CoverHer, for women who are still paying out-of-pocket for contraceptive coverage or who are having difficulty accessing benefits.
The Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced yesterday that the Afghan people have elected Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai the next president of Afghanistan. The announcement came after a months-long audit of the June 14 runoff election vote and the signing of a power-sharing agreement between the two former presidential candidates to create a national unity government that has Dr. Abdullah Abdullah as Afghanistan's new chief executive.
Current President Hamid Karzai on Sunday congratulated both Ghani and Abdullah on signing the agreement. "I am very happy today that both of my brothers, Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, in an Afghan agreement for the benefit of this country, for the progress and development of this country, agreed on the structure affirming the new government of Afghanistan," remarked Karzai after the signing. A spokesperson for Karzai indicated that Ghani would be sworn in as President within a week.
The White House welcomed the signing of the national unity government agreement, noting that "this agreement marks an important opportunity for unity and increased stability in Afghanistan. The United Nations Secretary-General also applauded the agreement and the announcement of the new president-elect as "ending months of political uncertainty in the country."
Millions of Afghan men and women voted at the polls in both the April and June elections to determine the next president of Afghanistan, despite violence and threats from the Taliban. According to the IEC, women's participation in the first round of voting was 36 percent, and it rose to 38 percent in the June run-off.
During their campaigns, both President-elect Ghani and Dr. Abdullah talked about the importance of women's rights. After being announced as president-elect, Ghani said in a nationally televised speech that he is committed to ensuring that women are well represented in government, including on the Supreme Court, as well as in the education and economic sectors. Calling girls "future Afghan leaders," Ghani noted that women in Afghanistan have equal rights in society and government.
Ghani also spoke about the historic importance of the election. "This victory isn't just about winning an election. It's a victory for democracy, for our constitution and for our future," Ghani said. "Together, we have turned the page and written a new chapter in our long and proud history - the first peaceful democratic transition between one elected president and another."
With the unity government formed and the election results announced, it is expected that Afghanistan will now sign the bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the United States. The BSA outlines continued US assistance to strengthen the security in Afghanistan, provide humanitarian aid, and support economic and civic development. The agreement provides no combat role for US troops. The BSA was already approved by the Loya Jirga, a council composed of 2500 members including Afghan political, community, business, youth and non-profit organization leaders, but President Karzai would not sign the agreement before the elections. Ghani has said publicly that he would sign the agreement.
An estimated 400,000 people took to the streets of Manhattan over the weekend to demand world leaders take action on climate change.
The People's Climate March, which some are calling the single largest call for climate action ever, took place ahead of Tuesday's emergency UN Climate Summit.
Joining the march were several labor unions, former Vice President Al Gore, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton. The march was four times larger than pre-march estimates - it took the back of the line more than two hours to get moving, and by 5 p.m., organizers had to send marchers a text message asking them to leave as the route has reached full capacity.
Today, civil society acted at a scale that outdid even our own wildest expectations," May Boeve, executive director of 350.0rg, a global climate movement, said in a statement. "Tomorrow, we expect our political leaders to do the same."
Climate change has wide impacts on social and economic conditions globally. From food and water insecurity to an expected increase in poverty, loss of housing and property - as illustrated in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy right in New York City and neighboring New Jersey - and increased risk for displacement, conflict, and spread of disease, climate change is a multifaceted social justice and feminist issue.
As explained by Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), "Climate change exacerbates existing inequalities and vulnerabilities. Persons who face intersecting inequalities due to discrimination based on gender, gender identity, disability, race, ethnicity, economic status, age, among others, are among those populations least likely to be able to withstand the inevitable effects of climate change. Addressing inequality and climate change go hand in hand."
Some of these connections were made clear in Washington, DC by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) who introduced a House resolution last year on the disproportionate impact of climate change on women, especially on "marginalized women such as refugee and displaced persons, sexual minorities, religious or ethnic minorities, adolescent girls, and women and girls with disabilities and those who are HIV positive." The resolution, still sitting in committee, calls on the US to use gender-sensitive frameworks to address the problem and to include women in the design and implementation of policies on climate change and economic development.
"The frontlines of the climate crisis are low-income people, communities of color and indigenous communities here in the US and around the globe," Cindy Wiesner, Co-Director of The Climate Justice Alliance said in a press release. "We are the hardest hit by both climate disruption - the storms, floods and droughts - as well as by the extractive, polluting and wasteful industries causing global warming."
That sentiment was echoed at the march. Favianna Rodriguez, a feminist who works with CultureStrike, said climate change is an issue in which social inequality becomes obvious. She told TIME, "The destruction we're facing has been wrought under male leadership, and women and children are disproportionately affected. ... Addressing climate change is going to require a very strong shift in leadership, and require us to include the vision of women and youth."
9/19/2014 - New White House Campaign Seeks to Engage Men and Empower Campus Activists in Fight to End Sexual Assault
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden today announced the launch of It's On Us, a multi-platform media campaign and national action plan targeted at ending campus sexual assault. "We're here to say today that it's not on you," Obama said, referencing the survivors who spoke out at the launch and have taken action across the nation to end sexual violence. "This is a problem that matters to all of us."
The It's On Us campaign, which is targeted at young people and especially young men, seeks to shift societal norms around sexual violence, inspiring everyone to see prevention as their responsibility and holding all individuals accountable for creating environments where sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported. It's On Us also seeks to support student activism and build on existing efforts by campus sexual assault survivors across the country to hold colleges and universities accountable for failing to support survivors or take rape seriously.
The campaign also marks another effort by the Obama administration to tackle the nationwide epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses.
"Our society still does not sufficiently value women," Obama remarked. "Unless women are allowed to fulfill their full potential, America will not fulfill its full potential... [Laws] won't be enough unless we change the culture that allows assault to happen in the first place."
Under President Obama and Vice President Biden's leadership, the White House has taken unprecedented steps to address sexual violence in the past year alone. In January, President Obama announced that he was convening the first-ever White House Task Force to Prevent Campus Sexual Assault. Their first report, entitled "Not Alone," was released in April alongside a partner website, NotAlone.gov, where survivors could locate resources and learn how to take action against universities that failed to protect them. The "Not Alone" report, gathered after a 90-day review period, details steps the Task Force will take to prevent sexual assault and support survivors on college campuses, including commitments to gather data on the prevalence of sexual violence on every American college campuses, the exploration of legislative options to improve those data streams, and piloting and evaluating prevention programs on campuses.
A focus of It's On Us is bystander intervention, which was spotlighted in the "Not Alone" report as a successful tool for shifting cultural norms around sexual violence and engaging individuals in creating safe spaces. Bystander intervention efforts, most often targeted at men, empower folks to speak up when they see violence or abuse and intervene in high-risk situations where sexual assault might occur.
"Violence against women is not a women's issue alone, it's a men's issue," Biden said. "To all the guys out there: Step up. Be responsible. Intervene."
Individuals can show their support for It's On Us in a variety of ways using different online platforms. At the campaign website, ItsOnUs.org, anyone can commit to changing their community's culture around sexual assault by taking an online pledge. Social media users can also create custom "badges" to display instead of their profile pictures across various networks. For activists interested in doing more, the campaign also published a free, downloadable toolkit for implementing the campaign on their campuses or in their communities. The White House will also be placing It's On Us advertisements with print, broadcast, and campus media outlets across the country and holding community discussions, pledge drives, town halls, and other events across the country in the coming months, including a Week of Action in November.
According to the White House report Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action, 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in college. Despite the overwhelming prevalence of sexual violence on campuses, the report found that only 12 percent of campus sexual assault survivors report their assault to authorities or administrators. Over 50 schools are currently under investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases, and a rising tide of student activism has compelled legislators and community members to mobilize in recent years around awareness and prevention efforts.
"I remember how I felt, because unfortunately I knew all the statistics when I dropped my beautiful daughter off at college, Biden said. "Every one of these statistics is a life. "
It's On Us is a joint effort of the White House, Mekanism, Pvblic Foundation, and Generation Progress. Various universities, non-profit organizations, sports team, and nationally-recognized corporate entities will also join the campaign as partners, including the Feminist Majority Foundation and the American Association of University Women.
Legislators and activists are still concerned about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed regional free trade agreement that addresses a broad range of issues and is currently being negotiated between the United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations. It will be the world's largest free-trade zone in history if a final deal is reached.
A recent report released by Representative Sandy Levin (D-MI), ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, urges trade officials to consider certain details before moving forward with the trade negotiations. The report highlights the need for improvements in and full implementation of workers' rights in some of the TPP partner nations, the creation of enforceable environmental protections, and the need to ensure that all of the trading partners are committed to human rights.
Brunei, one of the countries involved in TPP negotiations, has in particular faced US-based protests over the past few months for its implementation of a draconian penal code that includes the stoning to death of gay men and lesbians, the public flogging of women who have abortions, and the jailing of women who become pregnant outside of marriage.
The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) in May launched a petition drive and social media campaign #StopTheSultan calling on the Sultan of Brunei to revoke the new penal code. A group of 12 women's rights organizations joined with FMF in June to deliver a letter to the White House expressing outrage over the penal code and asking the Administration to stop negotiating the TPP with Brunei.
"Under TPP rules, all business entities incorporated in Brunei would be guaranteed treatment equal to U.S. domestic firms when bidding on government contracts, meaning that our U.S. tax dollars would be underwriting that country's kill-a-gay and flog-a-woman laws," Martha Burk wrote in "Stop the Sultan" in the Fall 2014 issue of Ms. magazine. She encouraged readers to send a message to legislators in the midterm elections to show them they do not want "a trade agreement that undermines the rights of women, destroys jobs, weakens food safety and environmental safeguards and further undermines our already weak financial regulations."
9/18/2014 - The NFL Missed an Opportunity for Diversity in Forming Its Violence Against Women Advisory Board
National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell announced on Monday the appointment of a four-person advisory board tasked with leading the organization's reforms in the area of domestic violence and sexual assault. The advisory board will work with leading experts in domestic violence and sexual assault - but, as Black women leaders have noted, the group contains no Black women activists involved in anti-violence organizing.
Anna Isaacson, who formerly served as the NFL's Vice President of Community Affairs and Philanthropy, will now function as the new Vice President of Social Responsibility. "In this new role, [Isaacson] will oversee the development of the full range of education, training, and support programs relating to domestic violence, sexual assault, and matters of respect with the goal of accelerating our implementation of the commitments made in my letter of August 28," Goodell wrote. Also serving as senior advisers to the NFL will be Lisa Friel, former head of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit in the New York County District Attorney's Office; Jane Randel, the co-founder of NO MORE; and Rita Smith, the former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).
In his letter, Goodell laid out six action areas to be further developed by NFL personnel in collaboration with leading domestic violence and sexual assault experts. This week, Goodell said a second group of anti-domestic violence and sexual assault experts will inform how the League executes changes in those six priority areas: Kim Gandy, President of the National Network to End Domestic Violence; former New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey; Esta Soler, founder of Futures Without Violence; and Kim Wells of the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence will conduct an NFL policy review. Former NFL player Joe Ehrmann of Coach for America, Tony Porter, and A CALL TO MEN will help advise changes to the League's existing life-skills training.
These appointments create a deep pool of expertise for the NFL to draw from as the League attempts to recover from its mishandling of the Ray Rice investigation - but included no African-American women.
On Tuesday, in an open letter to Commissioner Goodell, the Black Women's Roundtable, an "intergenerational network of women leaders representing Black women and girls across the country" called attention to the need to further diversify the individuals at the helm of reform.
"The Black Women's Roundtable appreciates the fact that the NFL has established an advisory group of women to assist in 'development and implementation of the league's policies, resources and outreach on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault," the letter read. "However, your lack of inclusion of women of color, especially Black women who are disproportionately impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault; and the fact that over 66 percent of the NFL players are made up of African Americans is unacceptable."
In March 2014, the Black Women's Roundtable found that Black women are the most likely women in America to experience domestic violence. Further, we are nearly three times as likely to die as a result of domestic violence than white women. And while we are only 8 percent of the population, we make up 22 percent of the homicides that result from domestic violence and 29 percent of all women who are victimized. In fact, domestic violence is the leading cause of death for Black women between the ages of 15 to 35, yet we are less likely than others to seek help when we are abused."
Melanie Campbell, the President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and the Convener of the Black Women's Roundtable said the group was deeply invested in the fight to reauthorize the expanded Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Black Women's Roundtable is made up of extraordinary leaders across industries, including leaders in the area of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Sheilia Umi Hankins, Co-Director of the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community at the University of Minnesota; Rev. Marcia Dyson, CEO and Founder of the Women's Global Initiative; Susan L. Taylor, Essence Magazine Editor-In-Chief Emeritus, and Founder and CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement; Karma Cottman, Executive Director of the Washington, DC-based DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Condencia Brade, Executive Director of the National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault are but a few of the Black Women's Roundtable "braintrust" on the issue gender-based and intimate partner violence, Campbell told the Feminist Newswire.
"When you think about VAWA, there was a big shift... it was updated to reflect this time," Campbell said. "So if the NFL used [VAWA] as a framework, they would know they're not quite there yet." (The latest iteration of VAWA more fully represented the diversity of people impacted by the law. The 2013 reauthorization included expanded protections for Native American women, LGBT individuals, immigrants, and students.)
The Black Women's Roundtable Convener said one of the group's immediate recommendations to the NFL is to diversify the four-person advisory group - not simply in terms of race, but also gender and group affiliation, hinting at the League's move to tap one of their own to lead these reforms. "There's nothing like having that external advisory input," Campbell told the Feminist Newswire.
Commissoner Goodell has not formally responded to the Black Women's Roundtable, but Campbell said they fully expect to meet with NFL executive leadership.
Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the United Nations, says the international community needs a "wake-up call" in the case of the current Ebola outbreak crisis.
"This should be a wake-up call for the international community," Power said. "It's the worst Ebola epidemic we've seen in history. And the good news, though, is that we know how to stop it. But the resources the international community has put toward this to this point are woefully insufficient."
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the current Ebola outbreak an international public health emergency. Experts estimate the outbreak could infect as many as 20,000 people, and it has currently killed approximately 2,500 people - a disproportionate percentage of whom are women. UNICEF estimates women make up 55 to 60 percent of Ebola deaths in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Recently, health teams in Liberia reported 75 percent of those who have been infected or who have died from Ebola have been women. This is partially because women in the region are given the responsibility of caretaker, are often the ones who care for the children and men who are infected, and are often responsible for preparing funerals. Women also make up a large portion of hospital cleaners, also increasing their risk of exposure.
"Women constitute a large section of the health workers and are on the frontlines of this crisis, Sierra Leone's First Lady Sia Nyama Koroma told The Washington Post.
UN Women urged the international community to design communication and outreach services to target women in a recent statement. "Any Ebola response should address the needs of women and harness their leadership roles as caregivers and community leaders," it read. "The international community, governments and other stakeholders must focus on women as key agents of change and social mobilizers with a central role to play in sharing knowledge, raising awareness and enhancing care."
President Obama announced this week that the US will be sending military personnel, health care workers, medical supplies, and community care kits, to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The US will also build additional treatment centers. A senior official said the US could give more then $1 billion in efforts if it needs - but the US cannot respond alone.
"This is a global threat, and it demands a truly global response," Obama said. "International organizations just have to move faster than they have up until this point. More nations need to contribute experienced personnel, supplies and funding that's needed, and they need to deliver on what they pledge quickly."
President Obama indicated that together with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, he would continue to call on the international community to join the effort. The US is chairing an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council this week.
Pregnancy could be jeopardizing your chances of getting a new home, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
In 2014 alone, HUD has launched 15 maternity leave discrimination investigations. Since 2010, there have been 173 allegations of lender abuse against expecting borrowers. The most recent offense was resolved this summer. In June, HUD announced that one of Utah's largest credit unions - a $3.6 billion operation - would pay $25,000 to settle "allegations that the company discriminated against prospective borrowers on maternity leave."
In 2011, the US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Company (MGIC) on behalf of 70 plaintiffs. MGIC required women on maternity leave to "return to work" before the company would insure their mortgages, even if they presented a guaranteed right to return to work after the leave. The company ultimately paid over half a million dollars to set up a compensation fund for affected victims, then another $38,750 damages in 2012.
HUD and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) have fined a longer list of agencies found guilty of violating the federal Fair Housing Act. Bank of America, Cornerstone Mortgage, and PNC Mortgage have all had to pay tens of thousands of dollars in compensation for denying loans because a borrower was pregnant or preparing to go on maternity leave. The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, disability or familial status.
According to US Census data from 2012, at least 62 percent - nearly two-thirds - of all parents who'd given birth in the previous year, were in the labor force. Even so, HUD General Deputy Assistant Bryan Greene said lenders simply assume a parent won't return to work after pregnancy.
"The birth of a child or children should be a happy time for a family," Greene said. "But in many instances, we find lenders just stop dead at the word 'pregnancy' or 'maternity leave...and in many instances women are planning to go back to work, but lenders don't make those inquiries."
MomsRising has worked with HUD to insure families know their rights when they begin seeking rental or home loan assistance. In 2011, the organization presented a book of families' experiences with lenders during the home-buying process.
"There's a myth that moms are not as committed to work as dads," said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising. "But, this is not the 'Mad Men' era with Betty Draper at home."
9/17/2014 - Despite an Overall Decline in the Poverty Rate, the Number of Women in Poverty Hasn't Changed in a Year
Last year, almost 18 million women lived in poverty in the US - and that number hasn't improved for women, despite the overall poverty rate declining.
Analysis from the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) of recently released US Census Bureau data shows that the poverty rate for women is not only virtually unchanged, but - at 14.5 percent - it's the highest in two decades. Overall, one in seven women live in poverty. Close to 40 percent of women who head families are in poverty, and two-thirds of the elderly who are in poverty are women. Of all groups of women, only Latinas saw a decline in poverty between 2012 and 2013. Their analysis comes after a study that found one in four Americans lived in high-poverty areas in 2012.
"The data reflect a grim reality for millions of women and their families, despite a welcome decline in the overall poverty rate," NWLC Vice President for Family Economic Security Joan Entmacher said. "Incomes are growing for those at the top, but those at the bottom mostly women and children are being left behind."
Additionally, NWLC data also shows that the wage gap only closed by one cent from 2012 to 2013, with women now earning 78 cents to every man's dollar on average.
"Today's data speak volumes for the millions of Americans who simply can't wait any longer for policies to give them a hand up out of poverty," Entmacher said.
The Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) yesterday, marking the second time this year and the fourth time since 2012 legislators voted along party lines against the equal pay legislation. Sixty votes were needed for the legislation to move forward for a vote in the House, but the Senate vote ended at 52-40.
"A woman who performs the same work as a man should be paid the same as a man. Senate Republicans simply cannot accept that notion," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told The Hill. "American women deserve better."
The PFA would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by prohibiting retaliation against employees who reveal and discuss wages with co-workers, requiring employers to provide the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pay data by sex, race and national origin of employees, facilitating the ability to file class actions in equal pay cases, and permitting prevailing plaintiffs - women or men- to receive not only compensatory or back pay but also punitive damages. Currently, plaintiffs in race or ethnicity wage discrimination cases can win punitive damages, but this is not so for plaintiffs taking gender equal pay cases to court.
"Too often, Republicans have rebuffed Democrats attempts to give American families a fair shot," said Reid in a statement. "The Republicans must know their obstruction is hurting our country. The American people know the Republican status quo is not working.
Take Action!Urge your Senator to support the Paycheck Fairness Act TODAY. (You can also call your Senator at 202-224-3121.)
The economic recovery isn't making a difference for African American women this year, according to data analysis from the National Women's Law Center (NWLC).
Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the NWLC found that the overall unemployment rate dropped 1.1 percentage points in the period between August 2013 and August 2014. Every demographic group experienced a drop in unemployment except African American women, whose rate of unemployment remained unchanged at 10.6 percent, putting them on par with African American males.
Overall, males saw greater employment gains in the past year than women did, with a 1.3 percent drop in unemployment compared to a half-percentage point drop for all female workers. African American and Hispanic males saw the greatest declines in unemployment, despite experiencing the greatest unemployment. Single mothers saw a 1.7 percent drop in unemployment in the last 12 months, but rates were on the rise again in August 2014.
The same is true for African American women's unemployment as of August 2014. Last month, African American women saw the greatest rise in unemployment, with adult Hispanic women following closely behind.
NWLC found that educational attainment didn't make a difference for black women when comparing outcomes across college educated adults across demographics. Speaking to the Huffington Post, Joan Entmacher, Vice President for Family Economic Security at the NWLC, said African American women are overwhelmingly represented in the public sector where budget cuts have hit hardest. "Public sector jobs are slower to recover because public policy has been to cut or freeze funding for all levels of government over the past few years," Entmacher said. "After the recovery began, there was an emphasis on reducing the deficit and shrinking the government at a time when that was really damaging to the economy."
On average, Black women head the majority of Black households with children, and constitute most of the Black workforce. The NWLC said Black women disproportionately suffered from the first years of the economic downturn, despite making up little more than a tenth of the US workforce.
Hundreds of Equal Rights Amendment supporters converged on the West Lawn of the Capitol Saturday to renew the fight for full equality for women in the US Constitution.
Veterans and military sexual assault survivors kicked off the ceremony with an emotional reading of fallen female soldiers from the Vietnam War until now.
"It never rains on the spirit of equal justice!" Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, the keynote speaker, told the crowd. Smeal took the stage to loud cheers and chants: "Ellie! Ellie! Ellie! Ellie!" Scores of "ERA umbrellas" dotted the lawn, at times shielding the crowd from heavy midday rain. The symbol fittingly underscored the idea that existing anti sex discrimination laws still need the umbrella protection of the ERA to insure their survival.
"We are determined to have equality," said Smeal. "The present laws simply aren't adequate." Smeal pointed to the courts' tug of war with women over a host of issues like abortion, comprehensive reproductive health care access, equal pay, and violence against women.
Minnesota State Senator and Senate President Sandra Pappas also called for the end of nickel and dime fighting for women's rights. "We wouldn't have to, if we had the umbrella," she paused, waving her own raspberry painted umbrella, "of the ERA."
North Carolina native and 13-year-old activist, Madison Kimrey, directed attention to the targeted disenfranchisement of women, people of color, and low-income voters in the south--just one of the realities that the Moral Mondays Movement works to bring to light. Kimrey said some of her state's legislators have attempted to undermine her message and her youth. She said one even, "called me a prop." But the activist boldly and rhetorically responded, "My vagina is not a prop."
Monica Raye Simpson said, "It's time for a new South!" The Executive Director of Atlanta-based SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective also laid out the particularly harmful impact of anti-woman laws and voter disenfranchisement on people of color in her region. She pointed to frightening statistics that evidence a maternal mortality rate among African American women in the US that far exceeds any developed nation.
Nearly every speaker, in some way, called for the crowd to heed the message on the rally's banner: "Remember in November."
Diana Danis, co-founder of Changing Governmental Gender Paradigms, summed up the day's event with a simple plea: "We want our 24 little words!"
The We Are Woman Constitution Day Rally was sponsored by We Are Woman, the ERA Coalition, and Progressive Democrats of America.
9/15/2014 - Ohio State University Agrees to Strengthen Sexual Assault Policies, Ending Federal Investigation
The United States Department of Education announced last week that it has completed its investigation into The Ohio State University's compliance with anti-sex discrimination law Title IX, and that Ohio State has agreed to take steps to strengthen its policies on sexual assault and harassment.
"This agreement and The Ohio State University's recent response to the culture within the marching band, set clear and vitally important expectations for a community-wide culture of prevention, support, and safety," said Catherine E. Lhamon, the Assistant Education Secretary for Civil Rights in a statement. "I applaud Ohio State for taking strong leadership now to eradicate a culture of silence related to sexual harassment."
Ohio State University (OSU) fired band director Jonathan Waters after finding that Waters had mishandled a 2013 allegation of sexual harassment in the band. The OSU internal investigation also found a "sexualized" culture within the band. A student in the marching band was recently expelled for sexually assaulting another band member.
The Title IX investigation, however, did not stem from a federal complaint, but was part of a proactive compliance review process.
To improve its compliance with Title IX, OSU will review its handling of past sexual harassment and violence reports, expand training for the campus community, and ensure students and staff are aware of their rights under Title IX. More specifically, it will develop online training modules for students to learn about bystander intervention, improve its documentation of sexual violence investigations, establish a Title IX website, and create a campus sexual violence focus group.
Seventy-nine other college and universities are currently under federal investigation for their handling of reports of sexual violence. In response, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was formed; its first report was filed in April of this year. The report states that one in five women is sexually assaulted during their time in college and calls for steps to be taken to prevent sexual assault: conducting surveys to assess the problem, engaging men in the fight against sexual violence, responding effectively when a student says they were assaulted, and making enforcement efforts more transparent.
9/12/2014 - Violence Against Women Act Turns 20
Saturday will be the 20th Anniversary of the groundbreaking federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Passed in 1994, VAWA was the first piece of federal legislation to specifically address domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes and to provide federal funding to improve local response to violence against women, including training and resources for law enforcement and judges.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday issued a proclamation commemorating the VAWA anniversary. "At a time when many considered domestic abused to be a private family matter and victims were left to suffer in silence, this law enshrined a simple promise: every American should be able to pursue his or her own measure of happiness free from the fear of harm," the President's Proclamation reads.
"VAWA has established a national standard in the fight to reduce sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, who played a central role in the passage of VAWA in 1994 and in each subsequent fight for VAWA reauthorization, including the 2013 reauthorization which broadened protections for Native American women, LGBT individuals, immigrants, and students. "VAWA has literally saved women's lives."
In the period between 1993 and 2010, the number of fatalities resulting from intimate partner violence decreased by 26 percent. In addition, the law has saved an estimated $12.6 billion in net averted social costs in the first six years.
"But our work is far from over," said Smeal. "The need for community policing, discrimination against women and people of color in police hiring, promotion, and retention, and the continuing problem of too many police officers themselves engaging in domestic violence discourages many women from ever reporting violence. What's more, too many women are being charged equally with their batterers for assault." She continued, "Most importantly, we need to increase funding for VAWA and survivor services like emergency housing, counseling, and legal assistance. "The work continues. But VAWA has laid the necessary groundwork for us to win."
VAWA was first introduced by Vice President Joe Biden while he was still a Delaware senator in 1990. The bill was signed into law on September 13, 1994, under the Clinton Administration. In a weekend editorial, Vice President Biden wrote about the prevailing attitudes surrounding the prosecution of domestic violence offenders in the early 1990s, and his work to unearth the reality of gender-based violence and relationship abuse. "I issued 'Violence Against Women: A Week in the Life of America,' a report detailing the human tragedy of the 21,000 crimes against women that were reported every week in America at the time - a small slice of the 1.1 million assaults, aggravated assaults, murders, and rapes against women committed in the home and reported to police that year," Biden wrote.
Vice President Biden continued to emphasize the criminal nature of violence against women in an interview with Tamron Hall about the indefinite suspension of NFL Ravens' running back Ray Rice. Biden, commenting that the NFL did the right thing, went on to address his frustration with the current conversation on intimate partner violence and sexual assault. "The one regret I have is we call it 'domestic violence,' as if it's a domesticated cat. It is the most vicious form of violence there is, because of not only the physical scars that are left, the psychological scars that are left," he said. "The next challenge is making sure we get college presidents and colleges to understand that they have a responsibility for the safety of women on their campus."
One in five women are sexually assaulted in college. In April, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released its first report, detailing the steps it will take to identify the scope of the problem of sexual assault on college campuses, help prevent it, and support survivors. The White House also created a website to provide information and resources on campus sexual assault: www.NotAlone.gov.
An Indiana woman has been charged with feticide after she delivered prematurely and sought hospital treatment.
Purvi Patel, 33, sought help at an emergency room for vaginal bleeding where it was discovered that she had delivered prematurely at home. After investigation, police charged Patel with feticide, punishable with up to 20 years in prison, as well as neglect of a dependent. Her trial is set for Sept. 29.
Patel is not the first woman in Indiana to be charged with feticide: in 2012, Bei Bei Shuai was charged with feticide after Shuai, who was 33 weeks pregnant, attempted suicide.
"Once again prosecutors in Indiana are using this very sad situation to establish that intentional abortions as well as unintentional pregnancy losses should be punished as crimes," Lynn Paltrow, Founder and Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told The Guardian. "In the US, as a matter of constitutional law and human decency, no woman should be arrested for the outcome of her pregnancy," Paltrow said.
Fetal homicide laws, which treat fetuses as "people" with rights separate from those of pregnant women, were promoted as ways to prevent violence against pregnant women. But they are often used to prosecute pregnant women themselves and have been criticized for deterring pregnant women, especially those suffering from drug dependence or mental illness, from seeking medical care or other social services.
"If you do your job as a woman and give perfect birth to a perfect baby, you're safe," said Sally Kohn, writing about the Patel case for the Daily Beast. "But God forbid anything go wrong, that you have any complications either due to your own actions or actions that could be attributed to you, that you as a woman fail in your duty as a vessel for the fetus the rights of which the State of Indiana is clearly more invested in than your own. What then?"
Fetal homicide laws are akin to proposed "personhood amendments," that have been defeated in several states, and will be on the North Dakota ballot this November, as well as in Colorado, where voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to define "person" and "child" in the state criminal code and Wrongful Death Act to include "unborn human beings." If Colorado voters pass Amendment 67, "All pregnant women's bodies would become potential crime scenes," writes Gaylynn Burroughs, Director of Policy & Research for the Feminist Majority Foundation, in the Fall 2014 issue of Ms. Magazine.
Personhood measures, which grant rights to fetuses, embryos and fertilized eggs, threaten abortion rights, even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life or health of the woman, birth control, fertility treatments and some medical treatments for critically ill pregnant women. They also, like fetal homicide statutes, open up the possibility of criminal investigations into miscarriages. At least 38 states have enacted some type of fetal homicide law, and 23 of those laws apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy.
Missouri legislators voted late last night to triple the state's current 24-hour waiting period to 72 hours, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
Governor Jay Nixon previously vetoed the bill in July, calling it "extreme and disrespectful." Missouri's House voted 117-44 to override the veto, and then the Senate used a procedural move to stop a Democratic filibuster of the bill and vote 23-7 to complete the veto override Wednesday.
"The only purpose of a 72-hour waiting period is to attempt to punish, shame, and demean women who have arrived at a personal decision that politicians happen to disagree with," said the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights in a statement. "Every pregnant woman faces her own unique circumstances, challenges, and potential complications, and the right to decide whether to continue or end a pregnancy is guaranteed by the Constitution to her, not politicians who presume to know better.
Twenty-six states currently have waiting periods, typically 24 hours. When the bill goes into effect 30 days after the veto-override vote, Missouri will join South Dakota and Utah as having the longest waiting periods.
Waiting periods significantly increase the burdens women face when seeking abortions. Taking time off work, paying for child care, renting a hotel room near the clinic, or making multiple trips can be costly and time-consuming - especially in a state like Missouri with only one clinic that provides reproductive health services in the whole state.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) led an oversight hearing Tuesday in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee highlighting growing concerns about the militarization of state and local law enforcement agencies. The hearing coincided with the one-month anniversary of 18-year-old Michael Brown's shooting death by Ferguson, Missouri Police officer Darren Wilson.
The most glaring findings from Tuesday's hearing stemmed from the mismanagement of equipment inventory by the Department of Defense (DOD), which has led some local law enforcement agencies to be more outfitted than their state National Guard. More than 450 weapons were lost by state and local law enforcement agencies, and more than one-third of all equipment issued by the DOD was gently or never used.
The hearing featured testimony from expert witnesses - none of whom had met before the events in Ferguson - who administer funds tied to the Department of Defense (DOD) 1033 Program, which allows local police departments to acquire military equipment. The second panel of the hearing featured witnesses familiar with the effect of militarization on local policing.
According to testimony from Sen. Carper, the 1033 Program has shuttled an estimated $5 billion in DOD surplus supplies and equipment to law enforcement since 1997. Since 2011, more than $1.3 billion in equipment was dispersed to law enforcement agencies nationwide. In the same time period, some local law enforcement agencies - including a few college campus-affiliated police departments - received three times as many rifles from the DOD as there are officers on staff. Carper noted that the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security also administer grant programs that can be used to fund military-grade equipment like armored vests and vehicles.
"I heard reports from my constituents about aggressive police actions being used against protesters, well before any violence occurred," McCaskill, who traveled to Ferguson in the days following the shooting to meet with community leaders and residents in her jurisdiction, said. "Like many of you, I saw armored vehicles with a sniper pointing a rifle at unarmed protesters in the middle of the day. I was shocked to see the way the police were deploying this military equipment against residents of Missouri who were exercising their First Amendment rights."
"[I]t is a sad commentary on race in America that this is not a new phenomenon to most Americans of color," NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton wrote in his testimony, calling attention to the long-standing history of police militarization and its disproportionate impact on communities of color. "Given that for nearly a quarter of a decade, since 1989, military equipment has been used by law enforcement agencies to fight 'the war on drugs,' it should be no surprise, then, that racial and ethnic minorities, especially African Americans, unfortunately, have grown accustomed to seeing weapons of war in our communities, on our streets, and even entering our homes."
Shelton cited data from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 2014 report titled "War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. Noting the rise and subsequent deployment of SWAT teams in the "war on drugs", the ACLU found that more than 42 percent of people impacted by the use of a SWAT team to execute a search warrant were African American. Another 12 percent were Latino. The ACLU concluded, "The use of paramilitary weapons and tactics primarily impacted people of color."
Sen. McCaskill discussed mandating police use of body-cameras and implementing guidelines for how local police departments should use military-grade equipment. McCaskill also discussed ways federal officials could work to increase transparency in reporting how such equipment is used.
The Senate is expected to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act today, marking the second time this year that the Senate will take up the legislation.
The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA), introduced by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), was blocked by Senate Republicans who filibustered the bill in April - just one day after "Equal Pay Day." The PFA would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by prohibiting retaliation against employees who share information about their pay, requiring employers to demonstrate that any pay differences between men and women are legitimate, providing plaintiffs better legal tools to protect their rights, and requiring employers to provide the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with pay data by sex, race and national origin of employees.
While Senate Republicans were blocking a vote on equal pay legislation, President Obama in April signed two executive actions intended to help close the wage gap. One, an executive order, prohibited pay secrecy by preventing federal contractors from retaliating against employees who share pay information, and another directed the Department of Labor to establish new regulations requiring contractors to report summary data on compensation paid to employees by race and sex.
Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of families with children under 18, but they still earn only 77 cents on average for every dollar earned by men. Women of color are especially disadvantaged by the wage gap: Black women make just 64 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, and Latinas earn only 54 cents. Over the course of their career, the pay gap costs women about $434,000.
Take Action! Urge your Senator to support the Paycheck Fairness Act TODAY. (You can also call your Senator at 202-224-3121.)
9/10/2014 - Paycheck Fairness Act Advances in the Senate
After Republicans filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) earlier in this session, the Senate has now voted 73-25 to allow the bill to move forward to a debate.
The public overwhelmingly supports equal pay for equal work, but for far too long Senate Republicans have refused to allow a floor vote on a modest bill that will enable women workers to discuss their pay with co-workers, provide stronger tools to fight sex discrimination in wages, and grant the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) power to collect pay data from employers by sex and race.
The Paycheck Fairness Act is long overdue. Women - now some 50 percent of the workforce - deserve better.
Today's vote allowed the PFA to clear one hurdle. Now, the Senate must act to move the bill to an up or down vote. The House must also pass the PFA in this session, and President Obama - a strong supporter of equal pay - must sign it, for the Paycheck Fairness Act to become law.
The House Republican leadership still has not scheduled the PFA for a vote in this session.
An Afghan court convicted seven men for the gang rape and robbery of four women in Paghman district near the city of Kabul.
According to reports, a group of men - some dressed in police uniforms and carrying assault rifles - stopped a group of cars traveling in Paghman last month, pulled the women from their cars, and raped them in a nearby field. The women had been traveling with their families; one was pregnant. The men also beat the women and stole their jewelry and phones. After the attack, the women were taken to a hospital by their families. The attack was reported to police after one of victims died in the hospital.
The vicious public attack received national attention and sparked outrage among Afghan women leaders. Last week, President Hamid Karzai speaking at a women's group event after meeting with a delegation of women about the attack, said "I am strongly against the death penalty and I have always been against it, but I have asked for the death penalty, and I asked the Chief Justice to issue a death sentence for these criminals."
Judge Safiullah Mujadidi conducted the trial on Sunday, which was televised nation wide in Afghanistan. During the trial, the victims appeared publicly in the courtroom to identify their attackers. Another woman, allegedly raped by the men three years ago, also identified the men as her attackers.
Hundreds of Afghan women and men rallied in the streets of Kabul chanting and holding signs saying, "My sister is your sister," "Raping women is raping the nation," and "We demand justice from the government." The Afghan Women's Network held rallies in eight cities in Afghanistan calling for "immediate justice" and showing support for the victims.
After a short trial, the court convicted all seven men on various counts related to the attack, and sentenced them to death. Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over the speed of the trial - which reportedly lasted only two hours - and possible due process violations. The men will have a chance to appeal.
The Paghman attack has brought national attention to violence against women in Afghanistan and the need for a more robust response to crimes committed against women. One activist on Sunday, told reporters, "If this act goes unpunished, the women of Afghanistan will continue to be victims. This is really a very significant moment, I would say, even maybe in the history of Karzai's government."
President Karzai issued the Elimination of Violence against Women Law (EVAW Law) in 2009 by executive decree. The law criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women and specifies punishment for perpetrators. The law, however, has had mixed results. While more crimes against women have been reported, overall there is still massive under-reporting of violence against women, according to a report released by United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) last year. In addition, the report found inadequate investigation of these crimes and continued lack of prosecution.
President Barack Obama last week named Megan Smith, former Google Vice President and out lesbian, to the highest ranking tech job in the White House.
Smith will serve as the new Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Assistant to the President. Smith first joined Google more than a decade ago, serving as vice president of business development, then head of the Google[x] "moonshot" programs, but her accomplishments and experience in Silicon Valley extend beyond her Google tenure. Smith is a mechanical engineer, a Master's graduate from MIT, and entrepreneur. For years, she led the Google team responsible for new business developments, acquisitions, and responsive tech like Google Earth, Google Maps, and the Google Crisis Response Project.
"Megan has spent her career leading talented teams and taking cutting-edge technology and innovation initiatives from concept to design to deployment," President Obama said Thursday. "I am confident that in her new role as America's Chief Technology Officer, she will put her long record of leadership and exceptional skills to work on behalf of the American people."
The White House praised Smith for her commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout her career, noting her involvement in the creation of Google's "SolveForX" innovation community project and "WomenTechmakers." Both initiatives create a safe-space for under-tapped talent in tech innovation. Smith is also the former CEO of LGBT website PlanetOUT.
Smith's appointment is a step forward for women and LGBT folks in technology and government; she will make history as the first woman (and lesbian) to fill the fledgling role. President Obama created the CTO post on his first full day in office. Smith's predecessor, Todd Park, spent much of his tenure managing the Administration's HealthCare.gov initiative. The White House said Smith will guide the Administration's information-technology policy and initiatives.
President Obama also named Alexander Macgillivray as Deputy US CTO. Macgillivray will focus on Internet policy, intellectual property policy, and "the intersection of big data, technology, and privacy." Macgillivray was formerly an attorney at Google and most recently served as General Counsel and Head of Public Policy for Twitter.
As of September 15, same-sex couples in Ecuador will finally be able to register their civil unions. Same-sex marriage in Ecuador is still illegal, but the status of civil union will be noted on national ID cards, and will allow certain legal and financial benefits to the couple.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa met with LGBT leaders days before the announcement. At the meeting, Correa received a report from the leaders that documented cases of discrimination against LGBT people in Ecuador that were a result of the lack of legal recognition for same-sex couples.
"If there was any doubt about heterosexual or same-sex civil unions being put on national ID cards, there is none any more," Correa told Telesur after the announcement, "and if someone is still turned away by a government employee, that employee will be dismissed for denying constitutional rights."
Trans-feminist activist Diane Rodriguez, who attended the meeting with Correa, told Think Progress that the new resolution is a "huge step forward." She continued, "It's like giving us full citizenship," exampling that, "in emergencies, my partner can make decisions about my health care at a hospital. Or at the bank, we can open a joint account." Rodriguez, however, noted that civil unions do not bring the full rights of marriage, pointing out that same-sex couples in Ecuador still cannot adopt children together.
Homosexuality itself was illegal in Ecuador until 1997, but since then significant progress has been made toward LGBT equality. Ecuador is currently ranked just under the US and Mexico in terms of their protection of LGBT rights on the Social Inclusion Index of 2014. Same-sex couples, however, are constitutionally banned from marrying, and President Correa has stated that he does not support same-sex marriage in Ecuador.