You’re Invited: Meet Daisy Hernández on October 4!

On Saturday, October 4, feminist author, writer, and scholar Daisy Hernández will take a quick break from her book tour to unwind with Feminist Majority Foundation supporters at our offices and at a reception nearby. Will you join us? If you’re a feminist in the DC metro area, you won’t want to miss out!

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Hernández is the author of the acclaimed A Cup of Water Under My Bed, a memoir that tells the story of her own upbringing as the child of immigrant parents and her lifelong navigation of cultures, sexual identity at the crux of cultures, sexual identity, and class. She’s also the former executive editor of ColorLines Magazine, a former Ms. magazine columnist, and the co-editor of the 2002 anthology Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism. 

Don’t miss this chance to mix and mingle with an amazing feminist and author. Space is limited, so RSVP now!

I’m Pro-Choice Because Sophie Needed One

Click to view the series.
Click to view the series!

Names have been changed.

I don’t know when I decided to be pro-choice, but I remember my first pro-choice act: sophomore year of high school, I helped a friend get an abortion.

I was fortunate enough have a nurse practitioner for a mom who did her best to make us feel comfortable asking about sex. As soon as my older sister hit high school, we had a tin of condoms and reproductive health pamphlets in the bathroom for anyone who might have needed them. I also had a pretty comprehensive sex-ed from 5th grade all the way through 8th grade at my public school. It started with videos of moms making a uterus out of pancake batter to learning how to say “penis” and “vagina” without giggling from 6th to 8th grade.

Entering high school, I kept condoms and safe sex pamphlets in my locker at school and made my locker combination widely known just in case someone needed them. I knew people were having sex and knew people weren’t doing it safely. I was hoping to do my part until my high school’s mandated sex ed our sophomore year. Unfortunately, it came too late for my friend, Sophie.

I remember the panic in her voice when Sophie told me her period was late… 2 months late.

via Shutterstock
via Shutterstock

I remember the torturous wait for the pregnancy test results.

I remember the confusion when she explained to me that she and her boyfriend always used condoms—except that time they had sex in the lake, since she knew you can’t get pregnant when having sex in water. (She clearly didn’t have the same thorough sex-ed that I did.)

I remember the crying when it came back positive.

We eventually talked about her options: keeping the baby, putting the baby up for adoption, or getting an abortion. She knew she wanted her boyfriend to be part of the conversation, so I stepped back so they could figure out what was best for them.

Two weeks passed and they still hadn’t made a decision or even found out more about their options. So, one day after lunch, Sophie and I snuck off to use a pay phone in a secluded part of school to call Planned Parenthood. Sophie asked me to make the phone call. The woman who answered explained Sophie’s opportunity to make a decision about an abortion was quickly coming to an end, but regardless, she should come in and have an exam to make sure she was in fact pregnant and to make sure she and the fetus were healthy in case she decided against an abortion.

Sophie went to her check-up with her boyfriend where it was confirmed she was pregnant and was given more information about all her options and prenatal vitamins (Planned Parenthood is great like that).

Soon after, Sophie passed out in gym class and realized she wasn’t going to be able to stay in school and carry the pregnancy to term. We made an appointment to terminate her pregnancy and she finally told her mom (both her boyfriend and I weren’t old enough to drive so she needed a ride). Fortunately, her mom was supportive and Sophie’s pregnancy was terminated right at the end of her 1st trimester.

These days according to a recent Facebook-creeping session, Sophie is a nurse and happily married (not to her high school boyfriend) with two super cute kids.

Me? I’ve been a vocal pro-choicer ever since I saw first-hand the process of making the decision to terminate a pregnancy. I’ve seen how difficult of a decision it is and I’ve seen how the passing of restrictive abortion laws based on the weeks a person is pregnant can force that decision out of a woman’s hands.

So when I hear about the proposal of new laws which basically force the police to enter the exam room with women or when I’m clinic escorting at the local Planned Parenthood trying to protect women from the vitriol and hatred spewing from the anti-choice protestors, I think about my friend Sophie and the panic in her voice when she told me she thought she might be pregnant, the sound of her voice when she called me after her abortion, and the proud smile on her face when she graduated high school.

I trusted my friend Sophie enough to raise the baby if she decided to carry the pregnancy to term, but that meant I had to trust her enough to terminate the pregnancy too. It wasn’t my right to decide she was capable of one, but not the other. Sophie wasn’t a special exception; she’s just like every other woman in the world: trying to reach her full potential and make the best decisions possible.

That’s why I’m urging Congress to treat reproductive rights like the human rights that they are so women like Sophie from all across the country and of all ages have the opportunities to reach their full potential.

Women Are The Driving, and Oft Forgotten, Force Behind the Western Sahara’s Movement for Independence

As Africa’s last colony, formerly Spanish and now ruled by neighboring Morocco, the territory of Western Sahara has been awaiting independence for nearly four decades — during which several promises have fallen through.

In 2010, Western Sahara’s struggle for independence underwent some radical renovation. Activists set up a protest camp, Gdeim Izik, in an empty stretch of desert without permits, making it illegal according to Moroccan law. According to the Boston Globe, there were workshops, a charity group, and a dialogue committee which handled correspondence with the Morroccan government. After 28 days, the camp was burned to the ground by authorities and in the process, many protesters were beaten and arrested and some were even killed. Gdeim Izik has served as inspiration for several events that followed, and many see it as the inspiration for the Arab Spring. Since the camp was dismantled, the media silence has been broken (though there still isn’t much coverage) and the movement has been invigorated and is now stronger and more determined than ever.

If there is any coverage in regards to Western Sahara’s struggle for independence, women are, more often than not, left out of the conversation – yet it is women in Western Sahara who are leading and playing a large role in the movement.

photo via United Nations on Flickr
photo via United Nations on Flickr

Women in the Western Sahara have participated in actions ranging from a guerrilla war with Morocco to peaceful protests in their struggle for recognition and independence. Western Sahara is a Muslim-majority region– meaning that it is expected that in such a region women would be barred from political participation – but many women have attributed their activism to a mostly moderate interpretation of Islam and their indigenous Sahrawi roots. The guerrilla war with Morocco has given women in the refugee camps (several of which are in Algeria) the ability to participate in the day-to-day operations that are part of the ongoing movement; this has empowered many women to participate in activism, though, according to The Washington Post, “female empowerment spans both ends of the political spectrum, and some women work in support of the Moroccan government.” (Women have also paid the highest price in the struggle for liberation, often finding themselves as the victims of violence often at the hands of police. Human Rights Watch reported that Moroccan courts have convicted Western Saharan activists on information that they either obtained through torture methods or that was falsified by authorities.)

As activist Sultana Khaya explains, “The Sahrawi woman is very great; she’s very powerful. I don’t even think about getting married until the Sahrawi women become independent.”

“Rape Is Rape” Bill Fails in NY Senate, Bronx Teacher Vows to Continue Her Fight for Justice

[Trigger Warning: This post contains references to sexually violent acts and threatening behavior.]

Lydia Cuomo, a 27-year-old Bronx teacher, was brutally raped at gunpoint by drunken off-duty cop Michael Pena. That was in August 2011, but over the past year Cuomo has traveled to Albany, NY numerous times to tell her horrific story in hopes of finally finding legal justice – something that’s been denied to her thus far.

Under current New York law, rape is strictly defined as forced vaginal penetration. Cuomo was vaginally, anally, and orally violated, but the crime committed against her was not considered rape, and was instead classified as “criminal sex acts.” Since her attack, Cuomo has been working with state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas on pushing a ‘rape is rape’ bill to broaden that definition. While the Assembly this year passed the bill, it died in the Senate when a new bill that made distinctions between vaginal, oral, and anal rape was introduced and passed instead.

“It’s depressing, disheartening, and discouraging,” Cuomo stated after the state legislature ended its legislative session without passing her ‘rape is rape’ bill. “The Senate bill defeats the entire purpose. They’re saying for some reason, vaginal rape is different than oral and anal rape when the point should be it’s all the same crime. Their bill didn’t speak to what I wanted at all.”

Cuomo plans to continue her efforts next session.

A Man Who Will Choke You in Public: What Scares Me About Nigella Lawson’s Abuse

On Sunday, the Mirror’s People page published photos of the “domestic goddess” Nigella Lawson apparently being choked by her husband, Charles Saatchi, at Scott’s restaurant in London. Lawson was seen without her wedding ring following the incident, and left home with a suitcase. Nonetheless, she has declined to comment publicly and he brushed the incident off as a “tiff” to reporters:

“About a week ago, we were sitting outside a restaurant having an intense debate about the children, and I held Nigella’s neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasize my point. There was no grip, it was a playful tiff. The pictures are horrific but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place. Nigella’s tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt. We had made up by the time we were home. The paparazzi were congregated outside our house after the story broke yesterday morning, so I told Nigella to take the kids off till the dust settled.”

Regardless, the photos came as a shock to many, perhaps because Lawson, who is a renowned television personality and food writer, is the latest piece of walking, talking proof that anyone can be a victim of domestic violence.

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People often believe that domestic violence won’t or can’t happen to them. It can. Anyone can end up in a relationship in which intimate partner violence is prevalent which is scary in and of itself. As Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon recently wrote, “what is known is that a woman who is beautiful, who is wealthy, who is successful, who is over the age of 50, can have a man reach out and grab her by the throat during an ‘intense’ debate just as easily as a woman who is poor or young or uneducated.” Indeed, the Guardian just published a roundtable showcasing the breadth of experiences women readers have had with domestic violence in their own lives and their own reactions to the publishing of these photos, as well as the fact that seemingly nobody in the restaurant desired to intervene in what appeared to be a violent and emotional confrontation between a man and a woman:

I felt shock and anger when I initially saw the photos of Nigella Lawson. At the act itself and the look on her face; at the fact that someone was taking a picture of it but doing nothing; and that no one at all intervened. I grew up with a violent stepfather and utterly despised him. I became very hard and almost had to parent my mother to protect her at a very young age. My stepfather knew not to push me too far, because given enough provocation, I would have at least tried to kill him. And he knew it. I am about to turn 42 and started my first “proper” relationship about 18 months ago (I only had flings with people I didn’t care about before), because of my fear of becoming a victim like my mum. I actually think that printing the photos is a pretty revolting thing to do, and pretty much as intrusive as it gets. I still can’t get over the fact that someone would rather have photographed it than helped her. Mind-blowing.

For me, I agree that the most jarring part of the entire situation is that Saatchi did all of this in public to almost no immediate alarm. Anyone who is part of the movement to end domestic violence will tell you that it is a scary day when a batterer will put their hands on you in public. The message inherent in public abuse is clear: an abuser no longer feels inclined to go to whatever lengths to hide their behavior. In a way, it’s arrogant. It relays the message that “no where is safe” to the victim because the abuse has escalated from being an issue they deal with inside of the home to an issue that can arise whenever, wherever. The fact that nobody intervened only sustained that message. The fact that we care more about photographic evidence than a human being’s safety sustains that message.

If it can happen to Nigella Lawson, it can happen to anyone. This is anything but a private matter.

WHO: Violence Against Women is a Crisis of “Epidemic Proportions”

The World Health Organization released the findings of a study yesterday comprised of data from 141 studies in 81 countries that led them to deem violence against women a crisis of “epidemic proportions.” Statistics revealed in the study range from the fact that 35% of women worldwide will experience either “intimate partner or non-partner violence” within their lifetimes to the major impacts of violence, both physical and psychological/mental.

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This is huge: violence against women been recognized by a major international organization as a worldwide epidemic. But what does that mean? A few things:

1. This new data shows that violence against women is a worldwide, common occurrence. The hope is that this will help to give better, unbiased coverage in regards to rape and abuse because stigma associated with the aforementioned occurrences can have detrimental effects on studies.

2. The WHO advocates for an urgent need “to invest in prevention to address the underlying causes of [violence against women]”, which they describe as being constructed by several “social and cultural factors.” This could potentially pave the way for larger scale programs that work to directly address the issue at hand, instead of beating around the bush, so to speak.

3. In addition to a call for more prevention programs, there are several necessary recommendations to the health sector that players in the movement to end violence against women have been trying to put into practice for years. Among these recommendations are training health providers how to ask/screen for violence, imputing a set of standard operating procedures, putting a referral system in place so that “women can access related services” and making sure that confidentiality is guaranteed. While many of these practices are widely used in many clinics today, it’s not nearly as widespread as it needs to be in order to consider these practices a ‘standard procedure’ that most all clinics and healthcare providers follow.

The ultimate victory here, though, is that while much of the data and content in WHO’s report is widely known among activists, organizations, and the like, it’s news to many who haven’t been exposed to such a study or statistics prior. This study could be the foundation of a new era that may lead us to the end of violence against women as a whole.

Gay Marriage is About to Have Its Golden Moment, But What About the Rest of Us?

Editor’s Note: For this piece, we chose to preserve the unique spellings of “womyn” and “wimmin” in this post to represent the unique perspective of the author and her chosen vernacular to discuss her experiences.

In a world of progressive gay politics, it seems that the “right to marry” has taken center stage. As we await the SCOTUS ruling on Proposition 8, I can’t help but be bothered by how the mainstream LGBTQ movement and the media would love you to believe this issue is at the forefront, but, the reality is that there are many more urgent, pressing issues facing the LGBTQ community and, in particular, young LGBTQ people. Marginalized groups within this community are disproportionately affected by a wide array of issues that aren’t getting talked about –  and, if they are, they’re not getting near the amount of coverage they need to be.

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Fundamentally speaking, I think that if I, as a bisexual womyn, continuously have to defend my sexuality because I am met with resistance from heterosexual and homosexual circles because I’m seen as someone who simply doesn’t want to ‘choose sides’, there’s a fundamental problem that still hasn’t been dealt with. Beyond that, there are many issues that I don’t experience (due to my privilege, no less) that make the day-to-day experience of many LGBTQ peoples a struggle.

Take, for instance, queer homelessness. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 20% of homeless youth are LGBT and, once homeless, LGBT youth are at higher risk for victimization and mental health problems. In addition, LGBT youth are “roughly 7.4 times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than heterosexual homeless youth” and they commit suicide at almost twice the rate as their heterosexual counterparts. Even being able to get into a homeless shelter can be an issue for LGBT peoples, specifically transgender people. For example, transgender wimmin may be forced to enter a shelter with heterosexual men which may expose them to unjust discrimination potentially including verbal, physical, and/or sexual abuse. This means we need to do one huge thing to make shelters more accessible: transition them into safe spaces for transgender people! While there are more progressive shelters that are doing this, it’s not nearly as widespread as it needs to be — existing mainly in urban centers, but transgender people are everywhere, so much work is still needed in that arena.

While wimmin’s access to healthcare is getting some time in the limelight, much needed time, no less, not enough people are talking about how access to proper healthcare differs for lesbian, bisexual, and transgender wimmin. Especially in reference to seeking care and/or accountability for your batterer after an incident of intimate partner violence, same sex couples experience immense difficulty. Fewer services are available to help lesbians and bisexual wimmin, many fear discrimination, and, if children are involved, they often fear losing them. In addition, an issue specific to same sex couples, whether male or female, is threats from the batterer to “out” the victim (meaning ‘expose’ them as lesbian or bisexual to their families if they are ‘in the closet’).

Many trans* wimmin who undergo hormone therapy also experience many undesired side effects that require medical care that is difficult and, in some cases, impossible to receive. There are programs like the Chicago Women’s Health Center’s Trans Greater Access Project (TGAP) that are seeking to expand health care access for trans* people and offer trans* specific services like acupuncture and massage therapy to aid with the side effects of hormone therapy and a gynecological program that provides transmasculine and gender queer clients with access to gynecological care informed by trans* people. While this is amazing, it’s important to note that this is the exception and most certainly not the rule.

Crimes against transgender wimmin are committed daily with little to no *good* coverage. Earlier this year, Cleveland’s Plain Dealer reported on the body of a trans* womyn found in a pond. Instead of identifying the situation as such, their article was titled “Oddly dressed body found in Olmsted Township pond identified.” To make the matter worse, the writer of the article knew Cemia Acoff, the trans* womyn that was murdered, was, in fact, a womyn, but continued to mis-gender her. As if mis-gendering the body wasn’t bad enough, the writer continues to refer to Acoff as “it.” In this eerie, dehumanizing way, the Plain Dealer completely minimized the situation and posthumously degraded and dehumanized Acoff simply because she was trans*.

In the case of CeCe McDonald, a 23 year old trans* womyn who was recently convicted on manslaughter charges, although all evidence clearly pointed to self-defense, the system failed her beyond a wrongful conviction. CeCe is being forced to serve her sentence in a men’s prison. This sentence speaks to a number of issues – not only the unfairness of the criminal justice system, but also the systemic bias toward trans* wimmin of color, particularly those who are Black. The evidence that would have proven that McDonald acted in self-defense was completely ignored — reinforcing the practically widely accepted belief that violence against trans* POC is essentially not violence at all. According to Ebony’s article Why Aren’t We Fighting for CeCe McDonald?, “studies show that, despite comprising only 8 percent of the LGBTQ community, transgender women account for nearly half of all LGBTQ hate crime murders.” CeCe McDonald’s case does not exist in isolation.

In conclusion, although it may be a ‘fundamental human right’ to be able to marry that many LGBTQ people seek to be awarded, there are issues that get in the way of the day-to-day affairs of many people within the community that make ‘the right to marry’ the last thing on their list. It’s about time the safety and well-being of all queer wimmin took center stage.

No Copay Day and You

American women should be celebrating today because an important provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is going into effect. Birth control will officially be available to women with no copay, as will breast exams, breast-feeding support, domestic violence counseling, HPV testing, and many other services.  These preventative services will save women a huge sum of money over a lifetime, especially for women who buy birth control pills every month. I spend $20 a month on birth control, which adds up to $240 a year. Assuming I remain on the pill for another ten years, I will be saving $2,400 thanks to the ACA. Other women have even more reason to rejoice, as some birth controls can cost up to $50.

Women can now more easily afford essentials such as healthier food or more gas while not putting off their own health.

However, accessing copay-free services is not as easy as simply waltzing into a pharmacy tomorrow and demanding your birth control. As Jezebel explained recently, there are caveats to accessing these services.

First of all, if you do not have insurance, you cannot access the copay free preventative care yet. This provision only applies to new or re-enrolled plans that start once the provision goes into effect—so today, or any day hereafter. If your insurance is through a religious institution, the provision also does not take effect for another year and uninsured women will have to wait until 2014, unless they are on Medicaid.

Moreover, if a plan has existed since before March 23, 2010 and not changed costs, it may have been grandfathered in and may not need to adjust to the new copay requirements. However, according to the National Council of Jewish Women, if these plans are considered “new” any time after tomorrow, they will still be required to cover these services.

Finally, plans retain the ability to control costs. This means that if a generic is cheaper than another brand of birth control, companies are only required to cover the cost of the generic. If for some reason you cannot take the generic form of your birth control, you may have to pay.

Because every plan is different and the regulations surrounding the provision can be complicated, women should call their health insurance provider and ask them when the copay free services will begin. You need to know when your plan year starts. Most school insurance plans begin in August, and many employers’ plans begin January 1st—so most students can get their co-pay free birth control soon, but many women may need to wait five months to access these services. You should also ask if your specific brand of birth control or other preventative services will be covered.

Today is a day to celebrate! But it’s also a day to pick up the phone and call your insurance company, or talk to your employer, and find out exactly how and when these policy changes will be effecting you.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

#HERvotes, a multi-organization campaign launched in August 2011, advocates women using our voices and votes to stop the attacks on the women’s movement’s major advances, many of which are at risk in the next election.

Image courtesy of the White House.

The House Will Vote on Bill to Criminalize Apparent Sex-Selective Abortions in U.S.

UPDATE: The House rejected this bill.

Debate began in the House of Representatives yesterday on H.R. 3541, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA). The bill, sponsored by Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ), would impose fines or imprison doctors who perform desired abortions due to the fetus’s gender and bar federal funding for organizations that do not comply.

According to the World Health Organization, sex-selective abortion is becoming more frequent in southern, eastern, and central Asian countries. Anti-choice groups presented studies during deliberation claiming that the practice is also increasing in North America. Douglas Johnson, the Legislative Director at the National Right to Life Committee, told The Hill that “this particular bill puts in the spotlight a systematic and egregious form of violence against women and their daughters.”

However, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, international consensus is that nations working to end this practice should change the underlying problems that contribute to sex-selective abortions, rather than criminalize them. These efforts have been successful in South Korea, for instance, where officials saw a decrease in the unbalanced male-female birth ratio after passing several laws expanding women’s rights.

The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and the Black Women’s Health Imperative wrote a joint blog post on the Huffington Post claiming the law targets women of color, particularly Asian-American women by placing them under increased questioning and scrutiny.

On February 16, 13 of 33 House Judiciary Committee Members voted against PRENDA.  At that time it contained language aiming to ban race discrimination as well. The House will be voting on the bill tomorrow under suspension of the House rules. A Democratic aide informed The Hill that the House Republican Conference is therefore breaking its own rule, which states no bill will be considered under suspension of rules if “opposed by more than one-third” of the committee that reported it. Two-thirds of the House will have to vote for the bill in order for it to pass.

Photo by Flickr user World Can’t Wait under license from Creative Commons 2.0.

Families, the Wage Gap, and the Economy

A family eating dinner (from Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

More women as the primary breadwinners? More men staying at home and taking care of the kids? This may sound like a prime step to gender equality and the eradication of gender roles, but unfortunately the reality is not as cheerful. Women may be replacing men as primary breadwinners in many families, but women still only earn, on average, 77 cents for every dollar paid to men for equal work, according to the US Census Bureau.  The pay inequity can significantly impact a family’s income, especially when the woman is the breadwinner.

Married women are increasingly out-earning their husbands, not due to salary increases, but because in the first year of the recession in 2008, men accounted for three out of every four lost jobs. According to an analysis of the Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group Files, in early 2009, 5.4% of working wives’ husbands were unemployed, compared to 2.4% in early 2007. The number of families with working husbands and unemployed wives rose at a much lower rate, going from 1.6% to 3.3%.

While increased economic autonomy for married women is certainly something to cheer about, the reality is that women are still not earning their fair share. In families where both spouses are employed, the wife earns approximately one-third of the family income, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If the wage gap were closed, families living on a mother’s income would be able to afford more health insurance, groceries, gas, and other important goods. For instance, according to state-by-state research conducted by the National Partnership for Women and Families, if women were paid equally, Connecticut women would be able to pay for 3.7 years’ worth of family insurance, and Washington state women could afford an additional 1.7 years’ worth of food. If the wage gap were to be eradicated, the loss of a husband’s paycheck due to the recession or other causes would be less devastating.

Legislation does exist to protect women’s right to equal pay, but passage of a bill that would further protect women has been frequently delayed. The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA), H.R. 1519 in the House and S. 797 in the Senate, would reinforce and improve the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) by narrowly defining several aspects of the EPA, providing for class action law suits, prohibiting the punishment of employees for discussing wages, improving the collection of salary information by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, reinstating Department of Labor pay equity programs, and expanding the types of compensation plaintiffs can receive.

The Act has 35 cosponsors in the Senate and 180 cosponsors in the House. Actions have been stalled, however, since mid-2011. On April 12, 2011, the bill was read twice in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). On May 20, 2011 the bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. Since then, no congressional actions have been taken and, although the economy shows signs of recovery, families are still suffering. If the PFA passed, some of this suffering could be alleviated as families depending on a wife’s salary could afford more food, better insurance, and other necessities to improve their situation. Women and their families deserve the protections of the PFA and Congress must act now, when more and more families depend on the wages of women

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Teen Pregnancy Rates at All-Time Low

The teenage birth rate dropped to an historic low according to an April 2012 report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (PDF). According to the report, the birth rate dropped 9 percent between 2009 and 2010. The birth rate for 2010 was the lowest since 1946.

Laura Lindberg of the Guttmacher Institute told US News, “If we’re going to stand up and applaud these declines in the teen birth rate as a positive social outcome, we need to provide teenagers and young adults with contraceptives. Any effort to roll back access to contraception for teenagers might result in a reversal of these numbers.”

The CDC report cites use of contraception as a main factor in the decline. The report also credits the use of two birth control methods at the same time, such as birth control pills and condoms. Birth rates dropped across all racial and ethnic groups, though Hispanic teenagers continue to have the highest birth rate. The teen birth rate is highest in the Southern states and lowest in the Northeastern states.

Wisconsin Governor Signs Anti-Woman Bills

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker quietly signed a set of over 50 bills last Thursday, many of which will have a direct impact on women’s health in the state. The bills include requiring teachers to stress abstinence-only sex education, barring abortion coverage through health insurance exchanges, and requiring doctors to consult privately with patients about abortion without friends or family of the patient.

He also repealed the 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which had allowed victims of discrimination in the workplace to seek damages in state courts. Michelle Goldberg of The Daily Beast writes that in repealing pay equity alongside sexual and reproductive health measures, Walker “demonstrated that our political battles over women’s rights aren’t just sex and reproduction – they extend to every aspect of women’s lives.”

Walker did not announce the bills until midday Friday. Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, said in a statement, “Perhaps he thought that in doing this behind closed doors, with no public notice, before a holiday weekend for many families, his actions would go unnoticed. He was wrong. We will not be silent – these issues are too important to ignore.”

Murkowski Condemns Attacks on Women

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) condemned recent attacks on women last week during a local radio interview while visiting the town of Homer, Alaska. Her remarks were in response to a call-in question from a constituent who asked about her position on reproductive rights.

Murkowski called the recent attacks made by radio show host Rush Limbaugh against Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown Law School student, “offensive, horribly offensive,” reported the Homer News. She continued, “To have those kind of slurs against a woman…you had candidates who want to be our president not say, ‘That’s wrong. That’s offensive.’ They did not condemn the rhetoric.”

Limbaugh called Fluke, who who was not allowed to testify at a House Committee hearing on the religious exemption on contraception coverage and women’s health, a “slut” and a “prostitute.” His initial comments included the remark, “What does it say about the college [sic] co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.” Since this initial incident and subsequent offensive remarks made by Limbaugh over 100 companies – including Ford, GM, Toyota, Allstate, Geico, Prudential, State Farm, McDonald’s and Subway – have pulled their advertisements from the show, sending a strong message to radio show hosts that they will not support hate speech and misogyny.

During her interview, Senator Murkowski also said, “The right to a safe and legal abortion has been affirmed by the courts, and I stand by that…I will continue to support funding Planned Parenthood.”

Women’s Rights Advocate Becomes Malawi’s First Woman President

Malawian Vice President and women’s rights activist Joyce Banda became the country’s first female president on Saturday when she was sworn in following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika. Supporters cheered on Saturday in celebration in the nation’s capital, Lilongwe.

The south African country, which has undergone severe economic recession in recent years, was given the official news of their president’s death several days after his actual death and leadership was yet unclear. Banda’s falling out with Mutharika in 2010 raised questions and controversy over her succession among some. She had been expelled from her party over the president’s decision to prepare his brother as his replacement. Banda formed her own party, the People’s Party, while remaining as vice president.

As a longtime women’s activist, Banda was active in organizing around women’s empowerment in her country. She marched in January with Malawian women calling for an end to street attacks on women. She founded the Young Women Leaders Network, as well as the Joyce Banda Foundation, an organization that supports young girls, many of whom are HIV positive. “We have no choice in Africa but to invest in women,” Banda said in a speech last December.

Woman Turned Away from Wisconsin Polls For Lack of Voter ID

An 87- year old woman was refused the right to vote in last week’s Wisconsin presidential primary due to a lack of proper identification as defined by the state’s new voting regulations. Wisconsin’s strict voter identification requirement, which requires a photo and address in order to vote in elections, was signed into law last year by Governor Scott Walker.

While the law was in effect for February’s primary election, it was suspended in March by Dane County County Circuit Judge Richard Neiss, when it was deemed unconstitutional. This caused confusion, however, among poll workers, leading workers at one polling place to refuse the woman’s vote.

The disenfranchisement of the seniors has been a serious consequence of the voter ID laws that have passed in states throughout the country. This is only one of several incidents where elderly voters have been denied the right to vote due to voter identification requirements. Another Wisconsin woman, Ruthelle Frank, 84, had previously voted in every election for the past 63 years. Due to the new voter restrictions, Frank has to pay a fee to purchase a birth certificate from the Wisconsin Government despite the fact that the Constitution forbids charging a fee to constituents for the right to vote.

A study in Wisconsin estimated that 177,399 residents of the state aged 65 or older, 23% of that population, do not have the proper identification for voting.

Mothers Protest Inhumane Treatment of Sons in Supermax Prison

A group of mothers and sisters of inmates in an Illinois prison protested the conditions of the facility this week. Tamms Correctional Center in Chicago has been cited for inhumane treatment of its inmates, often locking them up for 24 hours a day with little or no breaks or interaction with others. Relatives were joined by past inmates of the prison and members of human rights advocacy groups for a press conference on Wednesday, following a legislative hearing on Governor Pat Quinn’s plan to close the facility in order to save the state millions of dollars.

Showing support for this plan, family members spoke out about the inhumane treatment of inmates in the prison. One mother described her son’s weight loss and slide into depression because of extreme isolation, while another spoke of her son’s daily routine in order to stay active and sane, which involves walking in circles for hours around his windowless concrete cell. Many of the inmates in Tamms also have mental illnesses, on which solitary confinement is shown to have particularly damaging effects. Tens of thousands of the 2.3 million people currently incarcerated are forced into long-term solitary confinement within the U.S. prison system.

Patrice Warren, whose brother has been incarcerated in Tamms for over 6 years, said, “A lot of them are committing suicide. I don’t want to lose my brother to the system like that.”

According to a 2009 study by the Belleville News-Democrat, 54 Tamms inmates have been in solitary confinement for more than 10 years. The American Civil Liberties Union has called solitary confinement “inconsistent with human rights principles” and is calling for the closing of the Tamms facility.

The state commission is expected to make a decision on the prison’s closure on May 11, though Quinn could close the facility regardless of its decision.

Lawmakers Request LGBT Rights Executive Order

A group of 72 lawmakers in the U.S. House submitted a letter earlier this week calling on President Obama to issue an executive order instituting federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the workplace. The administrative action would require that all companies doing business with the U.S. government enforce non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“This order would extend important workplace protections to millions of Americans, while at the same time laying the groundwork for Congressional passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a goal that we share with you,” the lawmakers wrote. The executive order would be similar to that of ENDA, but much more limited, in that it only applies to federal contractors.

The letter was written by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), with Rep Lois Capps (D- Calif) and retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) as original signers. “The opportunity to expand protections against workplace discrimination to members of the LGBT community is a critical step that you can take today, especially when data and research tell us that 43 percent of LGB people and 90 percent of transgender people have experienced workplace discrimination,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. They are joined by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the first non-LGBT civil rights group to add its support.

Both the Labor and Justice Departments have given full approval for this action and have submitted their recommendations to the Obama administration for final action. The White House has been silent on the issue.

Obama Forum on Women and the Economy

This morning, President Barack Obama, in addressing some 300 women leaders, activists, business leaders and entrepreneurs and academics at a White House Forum on Women and the Economy, emphasized the gains for women under his Administration, including increasing judicial appointments, preventive health care coverage, removal of sex discrimination in insurance pricing and saving teacher jobs. He said more jobs would have been saved for teachers and for construction workers if the House had passed his Jobs Act. In his remarks, the President spoke about women, now half of the nation’s workforce and 30% of small businesses, as key to US economic growth. He emphasized the efforts of his Administration to ensure women’s economic security, to create jobs, and business loans for women. Obama stressed equal pay for women is necessary for women, for families and the overall economic health of the country.

Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, who chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls and Tina Tchen, Executive Director of the Council and Chief of Staff to Michele Obama, announced the release of the Council’s report “Keeping America’s Women Moving Forward.” Some achievements outlined in the report include: $4.5 billion for 16,000 loans for women-owned small businesses; summer employment for more than 185,000 low-income young women; and, subsidized employment for over 215,000 women. An additional 400,000 jobs were added or saved for teachers, some 70% of whom are women, under the Recovery Act and the Education Jobs Fund.

In reviewing women’s advancements under his Administration, Obama told the participants that 20.4 million women are already benefiting from expanded preventive health care services such as mammograms and breast and cervical cancer screenings under the Affordable Care Act and 2.3 million women have received college loans through the expansion of the Pell Grant program.

The morning’s program included breakout sessions with Attorney General Eric Holder and White House Advisor on Domestic Violence Lynn Rosenthal, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Deputy Assistant to the President on Health Policy Jeanne Lambrew, and Cecilia Munoz, Domestic Policy Council Director. At the breakout session on violence, Eleanor Smeal, Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) President, thanked the Attorney General for the recent modernization of the FBI Uniform Crime Report Definition of Rape to include most rapes. The FMF had led, with the Women’s Law Project, the Rape is Rape Campaign to change the archaic 1927 definition of rape.

Anchorage Rejects Gay Rights Initiative

Voters in Anchorage, Alaska overwhelmingly rejected an initiative on Tuesday that would add civil rights protections for gay citizens. Proposition Five would have extended the city’s civil rights laws to include protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

One Anchorage, a group advocating for gay rights in Alaska, organized the Proposition 5 campaign and received support from Democratic United States Senator Mark Begich. United States Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski also supported the bill, telling reporters “I think this is overdue and we make sure that within this community that there’s no discrimination and there’s no tolerance for any discrimination at all.”

The bill, originally vetoed by Mayor George Sullivan 35 years ago, was also vetoed three years ago by current mayor and Sullivan’s son, Dan Sullivan. On Tuesday, the bill was defeated 58 percent to 42 percent with 94 percent of the vote counted. Final results have yet to be announced.

Same-sex marriage is illegal in Alaska, and the state is among 14 others in the US without a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Employees working for private companies are not legally protected from sexual orientation discrimination.

Case Against Title IX Dismissed

The federal district court for the District of Columbia dismissed a case last week brought against the US Department of Education by the American Sports Council (ASC). The ASC argued that Title IX’s three-part test should not be applied to high schools. The test is used to determine whether schools provide equal opportunities for both girls and boys to participate in sports.

The ASC and other groups that have fought against Title IX’s three-part test argued that the test diminishes boys’ opportunities to participate in sports. The Department of Education denied this claim, saying that Title IX does not cut opportunities; it only requires that school athletic programs do not discriminate based on gender. The court dismissed the case on the basis that the ASC could not demonstrate that the three-part test caused the loss of boys’ sports programs.

Assistant secretary for civil rights for the Department of Education Russlynn Ali told the New York Times, “across administrations, Democrat and Republican alike, Title IX has always applied to elementary and secondary schools.”

According to the National Women’s Law Center, male participation in sports is increasing and girls still lack resources and opportunities to play, even after the implementation of the three-part test of Title IX.

Check our website for information on Title IX.

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