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Hollaback!, a movement to end street harassment, recently released data it collected on street harassment on college campuses. Hollaback! surveyed 282 undergraduate, graduate and part-time college students and 44 college administrators on campuses from various regions of the US to find out how harassment exists in spaces of higher education.
Hollaback! found that 67 percent of students had experienced harassment on campus - which can include "unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior that significantly interferes with a student's access to educational opportunities" - and that harassment was harming students' ability to learn. Twenty percent said harassment caused an inability to concentrate in class, and 23 percent said harassment prevented them from attending class or social activities.
College systems to report and address harassment were also deemed insufficient by 55 percent of college administrators surveyed. Only 17 percent of students said that they reported harassment to a person of authority.
The Supreme Court has confirmed that schools are required under Title IX to prevent and address harassment against students. While some universities, like the University of Maryland, are working towards making campuses safer spaces for women, others are facing criticism and lawsuits for mishandling cases.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and a team of bipartisan lawmakers kicked off a two-week push yesterday to pass the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Act will move the decision of whether to prosecute a crime out of the chain of command and give it to independent military prosecutors.
MJIA attempts to erase the systemic obstacles that victims of sexual assault in the military face due to the "clear bias and inherent conflicts of interest posed by the military chain of command's current sole decision-making power over whether cases move forward to a trial." According to the 2012 SAPRO report released by the Defense Department, there were 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact and assault that year, but only 3,553 were reported. Twenty-five percent of women and 27 percent of men who experienced unwanted sexual contact reported that the offender was someone in their military chain of command.
Fifty percent of women said they did not report unwanted sexual contact because they thought nothing would be done. "Too often, cases of sexual assault go unreported out of fear of retribution or that nothing will be done - this bill would increase confidence in the military judicial system," said Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
NDAA is expected to receive a vote before Thanksgiving recess. While the Pentagon heavily opposes the amendment, 46 senators have already expressed public support for the bill.
Another bill recently introduced aims to amend Article 32 proceedings - a pre-trial investigation before a case can even be referred to a general court-martial. Article 32 proceedings can be re-victimizing for victims of sexual assault, who may be forced to answer accusatory questions throughout, like the rape victim at the Naval Academy who had to undergo 30 hours of questioning. The amendment aims to limit the scope of the proceedings, bar unwarranted questioning, prevent crime victims from being forced to testify, and require the proceedings to be recorded and made available to all involved parties. These changes will bring the proceedings more in line with the conduct of preliminary hearings under rule 5.1 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
"There is simply no reason that victims of military sexual assault should have to endure vicious and invasive questioning during a marathon, pre-trial interrogation that has no parallel in the civilian world," said Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
The United Nations and World Bank have pledged $200 million to improve women's reproductive health and girls' education in the Sahel region of Africa. The $200 million Sahel Women's Empowerment and Demographics Project will be added to the World Bank's existing $150 million contribution over the next two years.
The pledge comes a month after the UN held a forum to discuss what needs to be done to achieve the fifth Millenium Development Goal (MDG5) of improving maternal health. They acknowledged that although progress has been made, MDG5 efforts must be scaled up to prevent 120,000 girls and women from needlessly dying by 2015.
Family planning is key to improving maternal health and achieving MDG5. Representatives at the United Nations emphasized the importance of all-inclusive access to contraception--a goal that has often been hampered by condom shortages and the precedence of abstinence-only sexual health programs. "It is about making sure that we can reduce maternal deaths through the reduction of bleeding, infections and blood pressure," said United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Babatunde Dr. Osotimehin.
While the pledge will have a positive effect, the total cost of medicine and health supplies needed for the next two years to prevent more maternal deaths is around $650 million. More funding, more access to birth control, the training and deploying of more midwives, and many other changes will help save hundreds of women's lives. "Raising the age of marriage, keeping girls in school, enabling women through family planning to decide the spacing and number of their children, and investing in the health and education of young people, particularly young girls, can unlock a powerful demographic dividend and set countries in the Sahel on the path to sustained, inclusive social and economic growth," said Osotimehin.
Voters across the United States decided on 31 ballot measure in six states during Monday's elections.
In New Jersey, voters approved by more than 60 percent, an amendment to increase the state's minimum wage to $8.25 from the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The Minimum Wage Increase Amendment also tied future increases to inflation. Both changes will be effective January 1, 2014. New Jersey joins 19 other states and the District of Columbia that have a higher minimum wage than the federal one.
In the city of SeaTac in Washington State, it seems that voters will approve raising the minimum wage as well, pending a final tally on November 26. From the nearly 4,000 votes counted so far, 53 percent are in favor of the raise, which would increase the current minimum from $9.19 per hour to $15 per hour for hospitality and transportation workers near or in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. This initiative also requires paid sick leave and tip protection.
Voters in Royal Oak, Michigan passed an LGBT-inclusive human rights ordinance banning discrimination by 53 percent, becoming the 30th municipal in Michigan to pass a non-discrimination law like this one. The ordinance protects from discrimination based on sexual orientation, condition of pregnancy, marital status, and HIV status, among others.
Amendment 66 in Colorado, the Tax increase for Education Initiative, was defeated by about two-thirds of voters. The proposed constitutional amendment would have increased income taxes in order to supply an expected $950 million for public education, and $18 million of the funds would have gone toward capital projects for charter schools.
11/6/2013 - US Child Care Costs Outpace Family Income
A new report released by Child Care Aware of America reveals that in the last year, the cost of child care increased at up to eight times the rate of increases in US family income.
According to the report, Parents and the High Cost of Child Care, families are being forced to spend a significant portion of their earnings for child care services. In every region of the US, average child care costs in 2012 were higher than the average amount families spent on food, and child care fees for two children (an infant and a 4-year-old) in a child care center exceeded annual median rent payments in every state. In addition, in 31 states and DC, the average annual cost for an infant in a child care center was higher than a full year's tuition and fees at a four-year public college.
Nearly two-thirds of American women with preschool aged children work, but families are usually left on their own to pay for child care--while most other industrialized countries provide universal preschool. In 2012, average costs of child care, ranged from $4,863 in Mississippi to $16,430 in Massachusetts for an infant in a child care center. In terms of affordability - the cost of child care as a percentage of state median income - Oregon ranked as the state with the least affordable child care, based on estimates for a two-parent family.
"Child care is an increasingly difficult financial burden for working families to bear," said Lynette M. Fraga, Ph.D., Executive Director of Child Care Aware of America. "Too many families are finding it impossible to access and afford quality child care that doesn't jeopardize children's safety and healthy development."
To make quality child care more accessible and affordable, the report recommends, among other things, that the US reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to ensure that children in low-income working families have access to care. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in June introduced legislation to reauthorize the block grant until FY 2019.
Several of the report recommendations also dovetail with House Democrats' recently launched women's economic agenda, called "When Women Succeed, America Succeeds." The campaign, which started in June, aims to put pressure on Congress to improve women's standing and opportunities in the economy through several ways. Their recommendations for ensuring working parents have access to affordable and high-quality child care include promoting President Obama's Preschool and Early Head Start/Child Care Initiative and expanding the Child Tax Credit of 2009 to help low-income families with children [see PDF].
11/6/2013 - Feminists, Abortion Rights Win in Virginia
Feminists supported Virginia Democratic Candidates Terry McAuliffe for Governor and Dr. Ralph Northam for Lieutenant Governor in decisive wins, and Mark Herring leads Mark Obenshain for Attorney General by 475 votes, with all precincts reporting. The Attorney General race is close enough to trigger a recount. The Virginia Democratic statewide ticket, which supported abortion rights, gun control, and marriage equality, was endorsed by Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the National Organization for Women, and the Feminist Majority. The Republican ticket, backed by the Tea Party wing, had extreme positions opposing abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, marriage equality, and gun control measures, while favoring restricting birth control.
"The gender gap, led by young, unmarried, and minority women and the abortion and birth control issue, was decisive in the Virginia governor's race," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority.
The Virginia exit polls on the Governor's race revealed that McAuliffe defeated Cuccinelli with a gender gap of eight points. McAuliffe received 54 percent of women's votes to 38 percent for Cucinelli, and the vote was split among men nearly even with 46 percent for McAuliffe and 47 percent for Cuccinelli. According to the New York Times exit polls, McAuliffe "won 59 percent of the votes of people who said abortion was the most important issue to them, who made up 20 percent of the electorate."
Among women voters, unmarried women gave McAuliffe the greatest advantage. McAuliffe won unmarried women by a whopping 42 percent. Exit polls reported that 67 percent of unmarried women - a category composed of single, divorced, widowed or separated women - favored McAuliffe, and only 25 percent favored Cuccinelli. Page Gardner, President of Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund, said, "Once again, unmarried women are a major political force in American politics that can make or break a race." Unmarried women in the United States comprise nearly half of the adult women population. According to exit polls, married women, on the other hand, voted 50 percent to 41 percent for Cuccinelli.
11/6/2013 - Kenya Faces Condom Shortage
Kenya faces a condom shortage next month if Kenyan and international leaders do not work fast to obtain more. The shortage threatens to put Kenyans at a greater risk of contracting HIV and other STIs.
According to Nelson Otwoma, Executive Director of The National Empowerment Network for People Living with HIV and AIDS in Kenya (NEPHAK), Kenya obtains 83 million male condoms per year. Many of them come from international partner programs like the United States' President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)--which has faced controversy before for promoting abstinence-only programs and diverting funds away from family planning commodities. This amount is not enough for a country of over 44 million people, as evidenced by another previous shortage in 2011.
The stockout puts more people at risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections--especially people who cannot afford to pay for condoms. Around 1.6 million Kenyans already currently live with HIV, and there are nearly 100,000 new infections each year, according to the National Aids Control Council (NACC).
"Kenya's low investment in the national response to HIV is set to hurt its ambitious goal of achieving zero new HIV infections," NephaK reported in a weekly bulletin last week [see PDF].
NEPHAK is pushing for President Uhuru Kenyatta to direct the National Treasury to create a supplementary budget for obtaining more condoms and to take more responsibility for obtaining condoms for people nationwide, rather than relying on county governments to procure them.
However, Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Health James Macharia denies that a shortage is coming and claims that there are 52 million more condoms set to arrive in December.
Texas abortion providers filed an emergency application with the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday seeking to reinstate an injunction that blocked the application of a state provision requiring doctors who provide abortions to obtain hospital admitting privileges.
U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled on October 28 that the Texas TRAP law was unconstitutional and barred its application. The state immediately appealed to the Fifth Circuit and requested a stay of Judge Yeakel's decision in order to allow the law to go forward. A three-judge panel granted the state's request on Thursday, setting the law into effect. As a direct result, 12 abortion clinics were forced to close in the state, and already, over a hundred women have had appointments cancelled.
One woman who had her appointment at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Austin cancelled said in an interview, "My first reaction was to feel fairly devastated, to feel like my rights were being taken away from me . . . to feel very disappointed that elected officials had the ability to make decisions about my and my fiance's life."
"Right now, women in vast swaths of Texas are being turned away at clinic doors because of a bogus law that attempts to do underhandedly what states cannot do directly -- block women from accessing abortion services," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the organizations representing the Texas clinics. "We now look to the Supreme Court to protect women's access to these essential health care services while we fight this critical court battle."
Justice Scalia received the Texas clinics' emergency application. The Justice has asked the state to respond to the application by November 12.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a professional membership organization of 60,000 pediatric doctors dedicated to the health and well-being of infants through young adults, released a report last week calling for increased access to sex education and condoms for adolescents.
The report insists that free or low-cost condoms should be available in locations easily accessible for adolescents - such as schools, pediatricians' offices, and even malls. "For teens to use them, they have to have them available, and they're not going to come in necessarily asking for them," said Dr. Rebecca O'Brien, lead author of the policy statement. "They should be everywhere."
The report emphasizes that increased access to birth control should be accompanied by comprehensive sex education programs in schools, which are strongly correlated with delayed or reduced sexual activity, a smaller number of sexual partners, and increased use of condoms or other contraceptives. Despite the overwhelming evidence that comprehensive sex education has positive health effects for teens, many states have been promoting abstinence-only education programs.
"Some schools have been hesitant to provide young people with programs and access to condoms, and the pediatricians' strong, clear statement serves as an urgent call for policymakers, school administrators and parents to do everything they can to give teens what they need to stay healthy," said Planned Parenthood Federation of America's vice president of education, Leslie Kantor, in a statement celebrating the report.
Without much explanation, the US Supreme Court took a major abortion case off of its docket today, providing relief for abortion rights supporters concerned about how the conservative court may have decided the case.
Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice was a "plea by the state of Oklahoma to revive a law that restricts doctors' use of drugs rather than surgery to perform an abortion with the medication RU-486 and others." The law in question had been struck down by Oklahoma's Supreme Court in 2011. The US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in June, but held off on reviewing it until some issues were clarified. Oklahoma's highest court finally provided the necessary clarifications last week, explaining that the law would ban all medication abortions - even ones approved by the FDA.
Because of the large scope of the law, if the Supreme Court were to rule on Cline, it would have to examine whether an abortion procedure allowed by the federal government can be banned by a state. A decision in favor of Oklahoma's right to enact such a restrictive law would open the door for other states to attempt similar techniques to chip away at abortion rights.
This victory may be short-lived. Texas recently enacted a similar law that restricts medication abortions as well, and a challenge to the law is headed to the Supreme Court.
A federal appeals court of three judges granted the Texas Attorney General's request yesterday to reinstate restrictions on abortion providers after a federal district court had blocked the implementation of the restrictions earlier this week. Proponents of abortion rights will appeal the decision either to a full Court of Appeals En Banc or to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, some 12 Texas clinics that cannot meet the unnecessary requirement of the doctor having admitting privileges at a nearby hospital will close today.
Clinics, because of the intense harassment of their doctors, have been forced to have doctors travel a distance to the clinic. These long-distance doctors generally do not have local admitting privileges which are unnecessary because in the rare case of an emergency the local hospital would have to admit the patient.
"The immediate impact will be felt by low-income women who will not only lose services to abortion but also to birth control, STI testing, and cancer screening as these clinics close," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. The closest facility for some Texas women will be three to four hours, especially in the southwestern part of the state.
This is a "deeply disturbing court decision tonight that will hurt a lot of women -- this fight [is] far from over," Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wrote on her Twitter account last night.
Immediately after a federal district court Judge Lee Yeakel had struck down the law, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed for a stay to allow the law to go forward. A three judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted his request yesterday.
While the appeals court left in place Yeakel's decision on medical abortion, it disagreed with the hospital admitting privileges decision. The appeals court claims that the ruling overlooked the interests of the state in regulating the medical profession, and that the US Supreme Court has held that having "the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough to invalidate a law that serves a valid purpose," reports NPR .
Starting today, girls in Oklahoma under the age of 18 will be forced to abide by stricter parental consent laws in order to obtain an abortion.
The Oklahoma Board of Health voted in early October to update the state's previous parental notification laws. The laws will now require girls seeking abortions to have their parents provide government-issued identification and written documentation that proves he or she is the parent, has been notified, and consents to the procedure. The board voted to require that in cases of emergency, a doctor can go ahead and perform an abortion, but the parents must be notified afterwards by mail.
Minors may receive a judicial waiver of the parental notification requirement only under three circumstances: if there is a medical emergency, if the minor is a victim of abuse or neglect, or if a judge finds by clear and convincing evidence that the minor is sufficiently mature and well-informed to decide whether to have an abortion. These circumstances are open to interpretation, and they can put vulnerable teens in danger.
Earlier this month, a 16-year-old girl in Nebraska's foster care system was denied an abortion when a lower court judge - who had previously been an attorney for anti-abortion extremist group Operation Rescue - found that the girl was not mature and informed enough to make the decision to have an abortion, despite strong evidence to the contrary. She will be forced to carry her pregnancy to term.
"Quite ironically, the legislature seems to be saying that an immature teen cannot have an abortion but can become a parent," Martha Skeeters, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, told RH Reality Check.
One in seven Americans will be immediately affected as cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) take effect today. The temporary benefits from the 2009 economic stimulus, which had increased food stamps by around $24 per person and gave an immediate boost to the economy, have come to an end.
The across-the-board cuts mean that a family of four receiving food stamps will receive $36 less per month. The average benefit per person in 2012 was only $133 per month, so this is a significant decrease for individuals and families struggling to make ends meet.
"People are living at the margins," Ellen Vollinger, legal director and SNAP advocate at the anti-hunger organization the Food Research and Action Center, told Reuters. "It's not an abstract metric for people. It's actual dollars to keep food in the refrigerator."
Despite the importance of SNAP for keeping 47 million Americans out of poverty - especially children - Republicans in the House of Representatives are pushing for more cuts. The House recently voted to cut $4 billion annually from SNAP for the next ten years, which would total a $40 billion loss for the program.
Twenty thousand girls under age 18 give birth every day in the developing world, adding up to 7.3 million births each year. Of that number, 2 million births occur to girls under age 15, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which released its 2013 report on the State of World Population yesterday.
Entitled "Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenges of Adolescent Pregnancy," the report calls for a shift away from interventions targeted at the girl, towards interventions that address the underlying causes of adolescent pregnancy, including gender inequality, poverty, sexual violence and coercion, child marriage, lack of access to education, and lack of economic opportunities, among other multidimensional factors.
The report also highlights the need to reframe adolescent pregnancy, and challenges policy makers to see the problem as a result of girls' lack of choices and autonomy. The report notes that most adolescent pregnancy occurs among girls who are marginalized, have limited access to services, and have little decision-making power. This reality is made stark when the picture of these young mothers becomes clear. According to the report, 90 percent of pregnancies to girls under age 18 occur within child marriage. One in nine girls in the developing world are married before age 15. Lack of education opportunities is often tied to child marriage. The report indicates that girls who are allowed to attend school are less likely to become pregnant or be married.
Adolescent pregnancy can have long-term consequences for girls, their families, and communities. Young girls are more at risk for maternal death and obstetric fistula. About 70,000 girls in developing countries die each year from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
The report makes several recommendations for improving the outlook for girls globally. These include the elimination of child marriage, enforcement of laws against sexual violence and abuse, engaging men and boys to support girls' human rights, expansion of comprehensive sexuality education, increasing access to reproductive health services and contraception, and ensuring access to education through targeted interventions.
Today marks the 35th anniversary of the passing of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). In 1978, after mounting pressure from the National Organization for Women, Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act - which bans sex discrimination - to include protections for pregnant women.
"One of the most significant gains for women's rights was the Pregnancy Discrimination Act," said President of Feminist Majority Foundation Eleanor Smeal, who was instrumental in getting Congress to pass the act. "It results in valuable financial benefits for women every year."
The act was passed in response to the Supreme Court's decisions in Geduldig v. Aiello and General Electric Company v. Gilbert, finding that Title VII's prohibition against "sex" discrimination did not include a ban on pregnancy-based discrimination. To reverse this, the PDA asserted that pregnant women should be "treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs." Firing, demoting, reducing pay, or refusing reasonable accommodations for pregnant women were all made illegal.
Protections for pregnant workers are vitally important. Almost two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant, and 90 percent of those women continue to work into their last two months of pregnancy. Low-income women and women of color are more likely to be affected by pregnancy discrimination, because they are more likely to hold low-paying jobs with limited flexibility.
Although the act has had a huge positive impact, there is still room for improvement. Courts around the United States have been interpreting the act narrowly, often allowing employers to fire, force unpaid leave, or refuse reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.
"Today, the act must be strengthened," Smeal adds. "But it was a major leap forward for women in employment in the United States."
The New York Women's Equality Coalition rallied yesterday morning on the steps of New York City's city hall to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the recent passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act by the New York City Council. They also called on state legislators to take action to ensure that the New York Women's Equality Agenda - which contains an important measure to strengthen pregnancy discrimination protections - does not die on December 31, 2013.
Protections for pregnant women are vitally important. Almost two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant, and 90 percent of those women continue to work into their last two months of pregnancy. Low-income women and women of color are more likely to be affected by pregnancy discrimination, because they are more likely to hold low-paying jobs with limited flexibility.
A recent report by the National Women's Law Center showed how pregnant women are often fired or forced to take unpaid leave from jobs because employers fail to make reasonable accommodations that they would make for other workers.
"Women make up almost half of the labor force, but all too often they are forced to make an impossible choice: risk their own health and pregnancy to keep a job or lose their income at the moment they can least afford it," said NWLC Vice President and General Counsel Emily Martin. "Pregnant workers are ready, willing and able to continue working but they are often forced out by employers who refuse to make minor accommodations. These women and their families pay a steep price when they're pushed out of jobs. There's no reason for pregnancy to be a job-buster."
Currently only a handful of states provide protections for pregnant workers. A federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was reintroduced in Congress last May.
10/30/2013 - Outrage Over Kenya Rape Grows
People around the world are calling for justice for a 16-year-old Kenyan girl who was brutally beaten, gang-raped, and thrown into a 20-foot latrine by six men in June.
The girl, whom media outlets are calling "Liz," was walking home from her grandfather's funeral in Kenya's northwestern county of Busia when the men attacked her. The attack caused severe spinal cord injuries and fistula, leaving her reliant on a wheelchair to get around and unable to control her bowels.
Liz was found crawling out of the latrine and crying for help by villagers nearby. She knew some of the attackers, so she gave the people helping her their names. They then chased three of the men down and took them to the local police station. There, police ordered the men to to cut grass as their only punishment; the men were then let go--even though under Kenya's Sexual Offences Act they should receive no less than 15 years in prison. In addition, Liz's mother was told to clean her off, destroying potential forensic evidence.
In a statement, the Kenya Coalition on Violence Against Women called the situation "yet another example of blatant impunity and repeated noncompliance by the police and other government authorities. Rape and other gender crimes have consistently been treated as lesser crimes--this is unacceptable."
The attack came to the world's attention thanks to Jared Momanyi, the director of a Kenyan clinic that specializes in treating victims of sexual violence. He was so outraged when Liz's case was referred to him that he called a reporter at the Daily Nation in Nairobi. He said of this case, "This was an attempted murder and it's not an isolated case; it's one among many."
Since then, 4,000 pounds has been raised to pay for an operation to repair Liz's internal injuries, and the global campaigning network Avaaz launched an online petition calling for immediate arrest and prosecution of the rapists and disciplinary action for the police officers. It currently has over 1,270,000 signatures, and that number grows every second. The director of public prosecutions in Kenya has ordered the national police to investigate why the local force did not investigate the rape, but so far there have been no updates.
"My wish is to see justice done," Liz said.
Domestic violence survivors, advocates, and members of Congress will convene today in Washington, DC to mark the end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month and to urge passage of federal gun reform laws to protect domestic violence victims. They are calling especially for background checks for all gun sales.
For many victims of domestic violence, whether their abusive partner has a gun or not is a question of life or death. There is a five-fold increase in the risk of women being murdered by an intimate partner when that partner owns a firearm [see PDF]. In states that require background checks for all sales of handguns, 38 percent fewer women are murdered by intimate partners.
Even more women could be protected if loopholes in background check laws were closed. Abusers can easily avoid background checks by buying guns from unlicensed private sellers at gun shows or online. Efforts to close those loopholes have been unsuccessful. In April, the national gun lobby defeated bipartisan legislation that would have expanded background checks.
The Supreme Court will soon consider the scope of a federal law that bans people who have been convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun.
Just one day before restrictive abortion laws in Texas were to take effect, a federal district court struck down a provision of the law that would require abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges and ruled that restrictions on medication abortion could not be enforced in certain circumstances.
Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the admitting privileges requirement was unconstitutional after finding that the provision had no rational relationship to improving patient care, treatment, or outcomes [see PDF]. The court also found that the requirement would force abortion clinics to close as the majority of providers do not have admitting privileges and would, for a variety of reasons, be unlikely to get them. As a result, the provision would place an undue burden on women seeking abortion services in Texas.
The court also considered the law's restrictions on medication abortion, which would force physicians to follow the FDA protocol on the use, dosage, and administration of mifepristone. The court found that the FDA protocol, written in 2000, no longer represents the medical standard of care for abortion providers, and that physicians have developed a new standard - endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists - that requires a significantly lower dosage of mifepristone [see PDF]. This new standard of care, the "off-label" protocol, also allows medication abortion to be used "safely and reliably" up to 63 days following a woman's last menstrual period (LMP), versus the FDA protocol which limits medication abortion to 49 days LMP.
Although finding that the new off-label protocol is safe, effective, and more comfortable for women, the court determined that "individuals do not have a constitutional right to a preferred medical option, so long as a safe, medically accepted, and actual alternative exists" - in this case, surgical abortion.
But, Judge Yeakel also found that surgical abortion is not a medically sound option for certain women who are between 50-63 days LMP. For these women, the Texas law would be an undue burden on their ability to obtain an abortion. The court therefore ruled that the medication abortion restrictions were unconstitutional "to the extent those provisions prohibit a medication abortion where a physician determined in appropriate medical judgment, such a procedure is necessary for the preservation of the life or health of the mother," meaning that the law cannot be enforced in these situations.
"Today's decision has averted a catastrophic health crisis for women across the state of Texas," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Politicians, not doctors, pushed for both of these unconstitutional restrictions - despite the best medical standards for women's health care."
Judge Yeakel was appointed to the federal district court by President George W. Bush in 2003 on the recommendation of Republican Senators Kay Bailey-Hutchison and John Cornyn. He previously served, at the appointment of then-Governor Bush, as a justice on the Texas Third Court of Appeals.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on whether an Oklahoma law that forces physicians to use the FDA protocol for medication abortions is constitutional. The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the law late last year. The Supreme Court has asked the the Oklahoma justices to provide more information on the state law before the case proceeds.
Afghan journalist Najiba Ayubi will be honored with a 2013 Courage in Journalism award at a second awards ceremony hosted today by the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) in Los Angeles.
Najiba Ayubi is the managing director of The Killid Group in Afghanistan, a public media group made of eight local radio stations and two weekly, national magazines. She also co-founded the Afghan Independent Media Consortium and the Freedom of Expression Initiative to promote free expression in journalism.
During Najiba Ayubi's 25 years as a journalist, she has faced threats from every direction, including from members of Afghanistan's parliament, the country's secret service, warlords, and anonymous aggressors, but she courageously continues reporting on politics, women's rights, and other sensitive issues. "Every time I confront a threat in journalism, I feel some sort of satisfaction in my heart, and I recognize I am doing something very important that I am being threatened for," Ayubi said.
Despite the challenges facing journalists in Afghanistan, Ayubi has said that media has grown in the country. "When the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, all journalists, raised their voices and created a new Afghanistan media," she said, "and with the support of the international community Afghanistan media has become as extensive as it is today."
IWMF will also honor Nour Kelze, a photojournalist for Reuters in Syria, and Bopha Phorn, an investigative reporter for The Cambodia Daily, with Courage in Journalism awards. Edna Machirori, the first black female editor of a newspaper in Zimbabwe - considered one of the most dangerous countries for journalists - will also be honored with the IWMF annual lifetime achievement award.
You can watch the livestream of the award ceremony here.
A North Carolina GOP activist and county GOP executive committee member resigned after making racist comments in an interview on The Daily Show last week. In the interview, Don Yelton unabashedly makes racist comments and reveals that the true purpose of the state's new voting laws is not protection against voter fraud but voter suppression. A video clip of the interview immediately went viral.
In the interview, Yelton says that the recently enacted voter suppression law is "going to kick the Democrats in the butt," and if the law hurts college kids too "lazy" to get photo IDs or "lazy blacks that wants the government to give them everything, so be it." He shares more offensive opinions about race for several minutes. Yelton then suggested that although he has been "called a bigot before," he is actually not racist because "one of my best friends is black."
North Carolina's new voter suppression laws reduce the number of early voting days, prohibit same day voter registration, and prevent 16 and 17 year olds from pre-registering. Voters will also be required to show government-issued photo ID at the polls before being allowed to vote, but college and university IDs will not be accepted.
These restrictions on voting significantly constrain the ability of certain groups to vote, including racial minorities, women, and students. According to the Brennan Center for Justice [PDF], 25 percent of eligible African-American voters, 18 percent of people aged 65 and up, and many students do not have a current government-issued photo ID card. In addition, 34 percent of women voters do not have an ID that reflects their current name.
The North Carolina GOP has distanced itself from Yelton, saying in a press release that his comments were inappropriate and that he does not speak for the local or state GOP.
10/28/2013 - Saudi Women Campaign Against Driving Ban
Over 60 women claimed to have driven in Saudi Arabia this weekend in an ongoing campaign to obtain the right to drive. Some 35 women filmed and uploaded videos of themselves driving on Youtube. Although there is no official traffic law that bans women from driving, women are not allowed to get licenses, and the government issued a decree just last week making it illegal for women to drive.
Because of the ban, women must rely on male relatives or drivers to get around. This unjustifiably limits women's mobility and constrains them economically, especially because there is no mass transit system in Saudi Arabia. Women need to drive to get to schools and jobs, making this an economic issue as well as a human rights one.
The freedom to drive is an important part of the right to mobility, recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not permitted to drive. This prohibition directly conflicts with the commitments the Kingdom has made to protect the human rights of Saudi women, including those in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Saudi Arabia has ratified.
This is the 3rd of this kind of campaign since 1989, and it has been the most successful effort so far. Mai Al-Swayan, an economic researcher, told CNN she drove on Saturday. "I'm very proud," she said. I feel like we accomplished the purpose of our campaign."
The campaign went ahead despite some obstacles. Several prominent women leaders received phone calls last week from the Interior Ministry warning them not to drive Saturday. One woman, Saudi professor and campaigner Aziza Yousser, also had two "suspicious cars" following her for the whole day. Roadblocks were set up in Riyadh and police checked cars to make sure that women were not driving.
Some news outlets report that there were no arrests, but a few women have come forward to say they were stopped and held briefly. In Jeddah, Samia el-Moslimany said she had been taken into detention and was later forced to sign a pledge that she would not drive again. Saudi news website sabq.org reports that six women had been stopped for driving in Riyadh.
In Washington, DC, several feminist leaders, including Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, gathered at the Saudi Embassy to show their support for the women driving.
The World Economic Forum recently released its 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, which ranks the US 23rd in women's equality. The Global Gender Gap Index is a framework for depicting gender-based disparities around the world and tracking progress on gender parity by using economic, political, education- and health-based criteria. Each country's ranking is determined by measuring internal gender-based gaps in the ability to access resources and services.
Eighty-six out of 133 countries improved their global gender gap between 2012 and 2013, with women's political participation experiencing the most progress. But according to the report [PDF], although the US is doing well in women's education, the country is still struggling to make major progress in closing the gender gap in politics and economics. The US ranks 60th--below India, China, and Uganda--in terms of political empowerment, which takes into account indicators like the ratio of women to men in congress and ministerial positions. Currently, women only make up 18 percent of Congress, having risen only 1 percent since last year. US women also still struggle with a significant wage gap, making an average of 77 cents to every dollar that men make. African-American women make an average of 64 cents to a man's dollar, and Latina women make 55 cents.
One factor negatively affecting women's economic equality in the US is the lack of mandatory paid maternity leave and other supportive family services. The US is one of only three countries that has no mandated paid maternity leave. In contrast, Pakistan has 12 weeks of paid maternity leave and Canada has 50 weeks. In the US, federal law requires businesses to give 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but many women can't afford to take time off unpaid.
10/25/2013 - Head of US Global AIDS Program to Step Down
United States Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby is expected to step down from his position by the end of the year. As the head of the US Global AIDS program, Ambassador Goosby leads the implementation of PEPFAR - the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief - which funds HIV/AIDS programs around the world.
PEPFAR has supported HIV testing and counseling and antiretroviral treatment for millions of people. Under Goosby's leadership, PEPFAR has created partnerships to support countries' efforts to implement HIV prevention programs and care services and has focused efforts on reaching particularly vulnerable populations.
While PEPFAR has had unprecedented success in fighting HIV/AIDS globally, the problem remains staggering - particularly for women. Over half of all people living with HIV are women, and it is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age worldwide.
Prevention efforts, however, have been marred by politics and the misguided influence of conservative religious ideologies on science. As reported by Jeanne Clark in the Summer 2013 issue of Ms., despite official guidance supporting comprehensive sex education, PEPFAR continues to be held hostage to abstinence programs, which are not proven to be effective in preventing HIV transmission. Research also shows that integrating HIV counseling and testing into family planning and maternal health services can improve service delivery. Yet, PEPFAR funds cannot be used to purchase family planning commodities, and providers receiving PEPFAR money can refuse to offer family planning services. Persistent condom shortages in the global south have also made women more vulnerable to HIV infection.
Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal and National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill have urged that the next leader of PEPFAR must ensure that women's rights are at the center of the U.S. response to HIV/AIDS. They also call on President Obama to appoint a woman in the post. "The majority of people living with AIDS in countries receiving U.S. assistance are women," they write. "Women are critical in the fight against HIV, and must have a place at the decision-making table."
New information released by the United States Department of Education reveals that a record high number of public school students were homeless last year.
Over 1.1 million students enrolled in preschool or K-12 during the 2011-12 school year were homeless, comprising two percent of all public school students. The data (see PDF) shows a 10 percent increase in the number since the previous year, and a 72 percent increase since the recession started in late 2007. North Dakota is the state with the largest increase in its homeless student population, with a 212 percent increase from last year. But overall, California, New York, Texas, and Florida have the highest numbers of homeless students.
At night, 75 percent of these students double up in places with other families, while 15 percent stay in homeless shelters, 6 percent stay in hotels or motels, and 4 percent are unsheltered--meaning they may stay in cars, parks, campgrounds, temporary trailers, or abandoned buildings.
Federal investments in children and families significantly help to keep kids out of poverty and at a lower risk for homelessness. For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, currently in use by over 47 million Americans, reduced childhood poverty in 2012 by 1.67 million children. Despite these benefits, the House of Representatives recently voted to cut $4 billion annually from SNAP for the next ten years, totaling a $40 billion loss for the program
"Headlines are filled with indicators that the economy is improving, but the record numbers of homeless students show that children and their families are still feeling the effects of a tough economy," Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions, said in response to the data. "We can protect our homeless children by protecting investments in their housing, education, nutrition, and health in upcoming federal budget debates."
This data does not reveal the full extent of homelessness in the US. It is estimated that around 3.5 million individuals overall experience homelessness in a given year, though exact numbers are hard to come by.