Tragedy in Springfield, Mass.: When VAWA and Local Domestic Violence Intersect

by Mary Reardon Johnson, Executive Director, YWCA of Western Massachusetts

Officer down!  Around the city of Springfield, Mass., sirens blare, lights flash, emergency vehicles screech and news media are dispatched. Yellow tape goes up and the first accounts are sent out over the air and internet.

The veteran police officer responded to a call requesting assistance for a woman who had just received a restraining order and feared returning to her apartment.  Reports indicated that she feared her alleged abuser’s reaction the court’s order for him to vacate the apartment.  Their baby was with him in their apartment.  Court documents indicate that she reported he was dangerous and had a gun.  Media accounts report that he grabbed the woman and shot the officer through the door, then shot the woman, opened the door, and issued a fatal shot to the officer’s head.  The abuser subsequently fled and killed himself. The police officer died in the line of duty. The woman was left in critical condition. Miraculously, the baby was physically unharmed.

A stunned and mourning city felt the pain, disbelief, danger, complexity and rippling consequences of domestic violence.

I felt it as a domestic violence advocate.  I know the terror, hopelessness and helplessness women feel for themselves and their children.  I was immediately fearful that women would be further discouraged from taking out restraining orders and requesting help because they fear retaliation and escalation, or fear that even the police may not be able to protect them.  It became even more imperative to talk about the services available to victims of domestic violence — including protection for our heroic police officers.

I realized that despite the inherent challenges and clashes of institutional cultures, women’s advocates needed to continue to work with and within all the systems that “our women” must navigate.  It has not been easy, but over the decades we have learned to work with police, courts, sheriff departments, schools, hospitals and other service providers.  Each of us has a vivid perspective and expertise that impacts the women we serve.  True confessions reveal that we can also be fierce competitors for dwindling resources.

In our community, funding from the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has encouraged and mandated collaboration between social service providers and local law enforcement.  With the initial VAWA legislation in 1994, Congress recognized the massive and complex problem of domestic violence and, in response, helped us begin to formulate a strategy in that respected and challenged our individual and collective expertise.  As a result, the number of restraining orders has increased, the number of domestic violence-related homicides has decreased and maximizing resources has saved taxpayer money.  The VAWA funding that YWCA of Western Massachusetts received from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women has dramatically improved and enhanced our ability to deliver services.  VAWA is legislation with a proven track record and impact.  I am discouraged that its reauthorization is not imminent.  How can there be a problem with such successful outcomes and savings?

By failing to move VAWA forward, Congress is putting the lives of police officers, women in abusive households and their children at risk.  As we have seen in Springfield, this is a matter of life and death.

Working together, supporting one another, respecting differences, forcing systems of service to be accountable, improving communities and reducing the impact of violence against women in our communities are all good. Now let’s all work together to make sure that Congress reauthorizes VAWA without further delay.

Mary Reardon Johnson, M.S.W,. has served as the executive director of the YWCA of Western Massachusetts for 30 years.  She has overseen the design and construction of the largest battered women’s shelter in New England and the development of the organization as the largest and most comprehensive provider of domestic violence services in the state.

Cross-posted with YWCA USA.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Saudi Arabia Allows Women in Olympics, But Will Any Qualify?


For the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, women from all competing countries will be offered an opportunity to take part in the international event. That’s because the Saudi Arabia government announced yesterday, through its London embassy, that it will permit female athletes to join its team at the 2012 London Games, which begin July 27. Saudi Arabia, which strictly enforces Sunni Islamic law, thus joins two other conservative Muslim countries, Qatar and Brunei in opening the Games to their female citizens; both have previously only entered male athletes.

But there’s a catch.

Official permission to compete, encouraged by criticism from the International Olympic Committee, does not guarantee qualifying for the Games. And that will make it hard for Saudi women athletes, particularly when public sports events for them are banned and both access to facilities and permission to play are rare. In 2009 and 2010, the Saudi Regime went as far as to shut down private women’s gymnasiums, prompting an online campaign against the ban that ran with the slogan: “Let Her Get Fat.” Although the state introduced schooling for girls in the early 1960s, it failed to introduce physical education classes to the girls’ curriculum, with one senior cleric saying girls risked their virginity because they could tear their hymens during schoolyard play.

Athletic potential and consent to compete is negligible when access to the superior facilities and coaching that rival countries offer their top entrants is practically nonexistent. It cannot be easy to picture yourself scoring a perfect 10 in gymnastics when the country you represent earned a zero in the category of “political empowerment” in the 2009 Global Gender Gap Report [PDF].

Saudi Arabia’s most promising potential woman competitor was Dalma Rushdi Malhas, a 20-year-old American-born equestrian who was originally Palestinian but gained Saudi citizenship. She earned a bronze medal as an independently financed competitor during the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore and may be the most highly regarded woman athlete in Saudi Arabia. Malhas’ progressive, wealthy parents allowed her to train in Europe.

But on Monday, she failed to qualify for the Games after her Swedish mare suffered an unfortunate back injury and was unable to practice for a month during the qualifying period. Malhas was thus unable to meet the minimum eligibility standard to compete.

During his reign, King Abdullah, the country’s monarch since 2005, has loosened restrictions on women’s civil liberties; for example, he recently announced that he would allow women to vote in municipal elections in 2015. But Saudi Arabian women still live as second-class citizens [PDF]. They are banned from driving and need the permission of their “male guardian” in order to travel, continue their education or open an independent bank account.

Though Saudi officials declared Malhas to be the only realistic competitor, there is room for others to compete, but if successful, they would have to be dressed “to preserve their dignity.”

Does this qualify as a victory for women in Saudi Arabian sports? Not so much, but perhaps it’s a start. Though Malhas achieved a remarkable feat with her athleticism, her progress through the Olympic trials was in no way facilitated by the Saudi Arabian government. Had she grown up in Saudi Arabia, it’s unlikely she would have had an opportunity to train. Really, the government is lucky it can stake a claim to Malhas at all.

Cross-Posted from the Ms. blog.

Official London 2012 Olympic logo.

Rio Disappoints on Women’s Rights


Like many, I went to Rio full of expectations. I had been feeding off of the hype for months:

This UN conference will be a seminal moment in history!

The outcomes from Rio+20 will set the agenda for a new development paradigm reaching beyond 2015!

Leaders from around the world will make sure the world is a better place for youth, women, indigenous populations and generations to come!

I could go on. But if you’ve seen any of the news on the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development [so named because of the Earth Summit in the Brazilian city 20 years ago], which ran from June 20-22, you know it did not live up to the hype. Ask anyone from any sector–oceans, food security, education, energy–and they will all express disappointment. But for those of us advancing the sexual and reproductive rights of women, Rio+20 has been particularly disappointing.

Not only is the Rio +20 outcome document, “The Future We Want,” silent on reproductive rights, but during the negotiations many of the EU and G77 countries who have been progressive on these issues in the past were completely silent as well. Despite encouragement from the U.S. [including in a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] and a handful of other countries to protect and support women’s rights, these “allies” said nothing and did nothing as the Holy See, Malta, Poland, Algeria, and other conservative countries rolled back the clock.

Ironically, on the very day the Rio+20 outcome document was finalized, the Guttmacher Institute and UNFPA released a study [pdf] showing that little progress has been made in meeting women’s need for contraception. In the 69 poorest countries, the need actually increased from 153 to 162 million women between 2008 and 2012.

Heads of state will now return home patting themselves on the back for arriving at such a quick consensus and for all of the speeches and handshakes and photo-ops throughout the week. But when they return home, what will they have to say to the millions of women whose basic sexual and reproductive rights these leaders did too little to protect or support? The stakes are too high for the answer to be “nothing.”

We need to let them know that their silence is unacceptable.

Cross-posted from Population Action International and Ms. blog.

Photo of UN plenary room at Rio+20 by Flickr user brunosan under license from Creative Commons 2.0

Did Someone Say Vagina?

As a theater director, the first person I thought of when I heard the news from Michigan was Eve Ensler. I’ve directed The Vagina Monologues twice and, despite unsettling doubts that the play does not actually work as the V-Day events intend (to end violence), I loved doing it both times.

In theater speak, The Vagina Monologues​​​ works in an Aristotelian way to create a catharsis out of pity and fear. In regular speak, that means that the play encourages the audience to identify with the characters, leading to an empathetic emotional experience. This in itself is pretty cool, but emotional experiences are, by definition, internal to individuals, whereas ending violence requires structural social change.

Nevertheless, I am here to tell you that a performance of The Vagina Monologues scheduled for Monday evening on the steps of the Michigan Capitol is activist theater that can work. In fact it’s just about the best idea I’ve heard in a long time.

The local artists putting together the event recruited six Democratic state legislators–Sen. Rebekah Warren, Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, Rep. Barb Byrum, Rep. Stacy Erwin Oakes, Rep. Dian Slavens and Rep. Rashida Tlaib–to read monologues. It was reported yesterday that they’ll also be joined by Rep. Lisa Brown, the woman barred from speaking on the Michigan House floor after, horrors!, she used the word vagina in a debate on an abortion bill. (Rep. Byrum was the other legislator silenced as punishment, after introducing a pointed parody amendment to the abortion bill that wouldn’t allow vasectomies except to save a man’s life.)

The rest of the cast is filled with volunteers. And, as if notified by a vagina signal in the sky, Ensler herself will attend.

In case you’re one of the few people who haven’t seen it yet, every monologue in this groundbreaking show deals either directly or indirectly with a woman struggling to describe her experience of her own body and to a create meaningful narrative out of things that have happened to her. In so doing, the women in the play say “vagina” and many other words that supposedly mean the same thing, over and over and over, until the audience is comfortable not only hearing the words but often saying them, too. In many cases, a highlight of the show is the audience chanting “cunt” together.

Taking Ensler’s play outside the relatively safe walls of the theater and putting it in before the public, in the mouths of politicians, will directly confront prudish folks with the language and imagery of female anatomy. These are not bad words. We need these words. These words are about women, and we will not allow anyone to erase women by erasing the words that describe them.

This is political action aided by the individual identification at the center of The Vagina Monologues. Organizer Carla Milarch of Ann Arbor’s Performance Network Theatre says,

It’s just a perfect example of the ways we use language to oppress people. The more we understand that and say ‘I’m going to say the word vagina in any context’ … is taking back the power of the word.

Milarch is still seeking volunteers to perform; for more information, contact her here. And if you’re in Michigan, show up at the capitol at 6 p.m. and shout, “Vagina! Vagina! Vagina! Vagina! Vagina!”

Cross posted at Holly L. Derr and Ms. blog.

Thumbnail photo on front page of blog sho ws UC Berkeley performance of The Vagina Monologues. From Flickr user ben.chaney under license from Creative Commons 2.0

HERvotes Blog Carnival: It’s Time to Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act!

By Fatima Goss Graves, Vice President for Education and Employment at the National Women’s Law Center

For this 14th #HERvotes blog carnival, we’re blogging about equal pay and the need for the Paycheck Fairness Act – which will be on the Senate floor for a vote next week.

Why do we need the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA)?   It would update the 50-year-old law by providing incentives to employers to pay women fairly.  It also would ban employers from retaliating against their employees who choose to share salary information with their coworkers.

It’s time for Congress to stand up for the rights of working women and to advance fair pay! The PFA is pending in the 112th Congress, with a vote expected in the Senate on June 5. It has twice passed the House, and it fell just two votes short of a Senate vote on its merits in the last Congress. This is a commonsense bill that would help women and their families – especially in this tough economy.

So please join us in supporting the PFA today! Start by calling you Senators today and urge them to vote for it. After you’ve called, read and share the blog posts below. We’ll be tweeting about this blog carnival all day with the hashtag #HERvotes and we encourage you to join us!

#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.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Read More:

I Didn’t Get Equal Pay.  You Should– Lilly Ledbetter, via AAUW

Advancing Paycheck Fairness for Latinas means Advancing Immigrant and Reproductive Rights– Natalie D. Camastra, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Restoring Some Reality to the Paycheck Fairness Debate– Fatima Goss Graves, National Women’s Law Center

Paycheck Fairness Makes the Political Personal– Alison Channon, National Women’s Law Center

Closing the Wage Gap Is About Fairness, Not Magic!– Samantha Lint, National Women’s Law Center

NASW Supports the Paycheck Fairness Act– National Association of Social Workers

If Our College Graduates Can’t Fight For Fair Pay, Who Can? (PDF) – Jamie Dolkas, Equal Rights Advocates

Salary Negotiation, Powerful Women and the Wage Gap– Katherine Birdsall, Feminist Majority Foundation

Raise the Minimum Wage and Narrow the Wage Gap– Abby Lane, National Women’s Law Center

Paycheck Fairness Does Not Have to be an Oxymoron– Malak Yusuf, Wider Opportunities for Women

America’s Women and Families Deserve a Vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act– Sarah Crawford, National Partnership for Women & Families

The Facts Behind the Call for Equal Pay– Christine Miranda, NOW

Families, the Wage Gap, and the Economy– Caitlin Highland, Feminist Majority Foundation

Stimulate the Economy: Pay Women Fairly– Linda Meric, 9to5, National Association of Working Women

HERvotes Blog Carnival: Equal Pay and the Single Woman– Elisabeth Gehl, Business and Professional Women’s Foundation

The Wage Gap: Collective Change, Not Choice– Maggie Fridinger, National Council of Women’s Organizations

The Paycheck Fairness Act: Telling the Truth About Workforce Equality – Dani Nispel, National Council of Women’s Organizations

Paycheck Equality: It’s Not a Suggestion, It’s the Law– Anny Bolgiano, Coalition of Labor Union Women

Women of Color, the Wage Gap and the Paycheck Fairness Act– Katherine Birdsall, Feminist Majority Foundation

A Jewish Call for Equal Pay– Ian Hainline & Katharine Nasielski, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Justice for Working Women– Miri Cypers, Jewish Women International

The Paycheck Fairness Act: For When Women are Old and Broke– Kate McGuinness, Fem2.0

The Relationship Between Unequal Pay and Other Forms of Gender Discrimination- Debra Miller, Feminist Majority Foundation

HERvotes Blog Carnival: Economic Security

by Terry O’Neill, National Organization for Women

In time for Mothers Day, the 12th HERvotes blog carnival is dedicated to getting the word out about economic security for women, especially in their retirement years.  Women need better benefits — not cuts — under social safety net programs.

The economic slump in both the U.S. and Europe has prompted elites to call for “austerity.”  But we know that’s just a code word for cutting social programs women rely on disproportionately.  It turns out, though, that politicians who champion “austerity” will pay a price at the polls.  Just look at Europe: Last week, French voters ousted Nicolas Sarkozy and Greek voters threw the government into crisis — mainly in reaction to harsh cuts in social programs and (in France) an increase in the official retirement age.  Voters get it: austerity leads to a stagnant economy.

Here in the U.S., austerity imposed by state and local governments has thrown hundreds of thousands of government employees out of work, the majority of whom are women.  Want to know why the unemployment rate, while declining, hasn’t gone below 8 percent yet?  It’s mostly because of spending cuts imposed by conservative state officials like Texas Governor Rick Perry, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Florida Governor Rick Scott, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and others.

Despite elites’ call for across-the-board federal budget cuts and reductions in Social Security benefits, women’s organizations are calling for improvements in those benefits — specifically, child care credits for those who drop out of the work force to care for children or ill or disabled family members; an improved minimum benefit for lifetime low-wage and part-time workers, who are disproportionately women; fairer rules for disabled widows and surviving spouses, benefit equality for working widows; and equal benefits for same-sex spouses and partners, among other improvements.

In a report to be released today (Friday, May 11), the National Organization for Women Foundation, with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare call for these improvements to be made. In “Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling: A Proposal to Modernize Women’s Benefits” (PDF) we call for updating the program to face the new demographic reality: many women are now both bread-winners and primary care-givers and our guaranteed social insurance system should recognize that fact.

Join us by sharing the posts below on Facebook, Twitter (using the hashtag #HERvotes), and other social media.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Read More:

Moms Deserve Economic Security, Not Just Flowers– Beth Scott, Regulatory Affairs Manager, American Association of University Women (AAUW)

My Time, Intellect, Skills and Labor are Worth Less than Those of My Male Peers? Really? Yes, Really.– Anny Bolgiano, Intern, Coalition of Labor Union Women

The Gifts Mothers Really Want– Ellen Bravo, Director, Family Values @ Work

Thank You, Mom, for Teaching Me to Be Safe and Secure– Malore Dusenbery, Special Populations Associate, WOW

Can’t Afford to Work?– Shawn McMahon, Manager of Research and Innovation, WOW

Making a Vital Lifeline More Secure for Women– National Organization for Women

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

Obama Evolves!

President Barack Obama participates in an interview with Robin Roberts (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


It’s official. After a week of speculation about whether the White House was going to take a strong stand on marriage equality, President Obama has gone on record in support of same-sex marriage rights. After explaining how his views have changed over the years, the President said the words that many of his supporters have been longing to hear:

It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.

We’ve come a long way from 1996, when congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act. At that time, Illinois congresswoman Cardiss Collins said that the bill “should really be called the Republican Offense on People who are Different Act because it is nothing more than blatant homophobic gay-bashing.” She continued:

As I walk past the Republican side of the aisle, I expect to hear something similar to an old joke from the civil rights era: ‘Some of my good friends are gay, I just wouldn’t want my son or daughter to marry one.’

That “old joke” betrayed the crass racism of whites who would claim to have black friends and then clarify just how little that friendship meant: Good enough to mention for political gains, but not full human beings you’d let your offspring marry. As the first black woman to represent a Midwest state, elected in 1973, Collins had no doubt heard this joke in her youth. She connected the dots between racism and homophobia: “My grandmother probably couldn’t envision a time when interracial marriages would be legal in America, but today they are. One kind of discrimination is just as onerous as another and neither should be tolerated.”

Earlier this week Joe Biden made waves by saying that he is:

absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights. All the civil rights, all the civil liberties.

Commentators parsed his every word to see how it lined up with the “evolving” views of the President and by extension the Democratic party. Then when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke even more emphatically in favor of marriage equality, speculation only intensified about how to interpret his views: one man’s opinion, an orchestrated attempt to curry favor with lesbians and gays or a new direction for the White House.

Back in 1996, members of Congress in the House debate on DOMA felt quite free to call homosexuality “immoral,” “depraved,” “unnatural,” “based on perversion” and “an attack upon God’s principles.” In the Senate, Jesse Helms said that the critics of DOMA were “demanding that homosexuality be considered as just another lifestyle–these are people who seek to force their agenda upon the vast majority of Americans who reject the homosexual lifestyle.”

America as a whole has evolved since then. According to a Gallup poll released this week, almost two-thirds of Democrats and half of all Americans support marriage rights for lesbians and gays. And in spite of the success of marriage bans as ballot initiatives, such as yesterday’s passage in North Carolina of Amendment One, the courts (here, here, here, and here), have found that marriage bans are precisely what Representative Collins said DOMA was back in 1996: a form of discrimination against gays and lesbians. These days, politicians tread carefully when they talk about homosexuality in general. You don’t hear anyone denouncing gays and lesbians as immoral on the campaign trail. Mitt Romney could have a gay campaign spokesperson, but under a Romney administration a gay man couldn’t marry his same-sex partner. Rick Santorum has said he has gay friends, and Sarah Palin famously had at least one.

Now President Obama has shown us what friendship really means. Civil unions, he made clear in his comments today, just aren’t the same thing as marriage. Mr. Biden expressed it best: “What this is all about is a simple proposition,” he said, “Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love?”

Love and loyalty. Two qualities we all seek in our spouses, in our friends—and in our leaders. President Obama has shown true leadership today. For politicians who still want to say “I have gay friends, but” this administration has drawn a new line in the sand. When it comes to equal rights, you can’t have it both ways. No joke.

TAKE ACTION: Click here to send a note of thanks to President Obama for showing his support for gay marriage.

TOP: Photo of President Obama and Robin Roberts from the White House. RIGHT: Photo of Cardiss Collins from Wikimedia Commons.

Audrey Bilger is coeditor (with Ms. Senior Editor Michele Kort) of the new Seal Press anthology Here Come the Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love & Marriage, an exploration of how the legalization of same-sex marriages has irrevocably changed the way lesbians think about their unions and their lives.

Originally posted on the Ms. magazine blog.

Stand Up, Fight Back!: Unite Against the War on Women

by Kristen Schuetz

“What do we do when women’s rights are under attack? Stand up, fight back!”

That was the call that rang through downtown Los Angeles last Saturday, April 28, in protest against the ever-present War On Women, which has dragged on since Congress’ introduction of the “let women die” bill in early 2011. But for more than 300 protesters in L.A., enough was enough. Women and men—young and older—gathered in Pershing Square, armed with hand-painted signs and energized by fervid support for women’s rights. Some even traveled from Riverside and the High Desert—more than 100 miles outside of L.A.—to lend their support and voices.

The Unite Against the War on Women rally, organized by the national grassroots campaign Unite Women, included a march around Pershing Square, educational tabling and speeches from various community activists. Among the guest speakers were comedians Sarah Silverman and Zach Galifianakis, and local politicians, including L.A. City Councilmember Jan Perry and Congressional candidate Jerry Tetalman, who is running against Rep. Darrell Issa—the man behind the infamous all-male birth control hearing panel.

Dinah Stevens of Planned Parenthood and and duVergne Gaines of the Feminist Majority Foundation spoke out for reproductive rights, equal pay and the end to gender rating in health insurance policies.

But Los Angeles was hardly the only city to unite against the ongoing political attacks on women. Rallies took place in nearly every state, with politicians and celebrities–such as Martha Plimpton in New York City and singer-songwriter Neko Case in Vermont—united in solidarity for women’s reproductive health and overall welfare. After attending Saturday’s UAWOW rally in Los Angeles, Ms. put together a gallery featuring photos from L.A., its sister rally in Sacramento and numerous other events throughout the country. Special thanks to Unite WomenUnite Women CAUnite Here Local 11 and the individual women’s rights supporters who submitted their photos: Stephanie Brakey, Colleen Campbell, Wendy Erichsen, Lisa Harris, Samantha Lifson, Joan Marie, Mary Mullane, Val Mungia, Karene Nagel, Leslie Neidig (Unite Women KY) and Alexandra Asher Sears.

Just days after the Unite Against the War on Women rallies, protesters gathered in major cities Tuesday to celebrate May Day. Although women’s rights were not a main component of the May Day rallies, the protesters, who largely called for workers’ rights, echoed many of the same concerns presented on April 28: universal healthcare and job reform. As the signs bobbing around Pershing Square had proclaimed on Saturday, “There are no jobs in my uterus.”

Cowritten/photos curated by Lauren Barbato

Originally posted at Ms. Magazine Blog.

Less Than One Week Left to Stop Amendment One

co-written by Melody Moezzi & Tracy Hollister

North Carolina has the dishonorable distinction of becoming the first state to put an anti-gay marriage amendment on a 2012 ballot.

On May 8, voters in the state will weigh in on the North Carolina’s Amendment 1, which states that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” This strict language not only eliminates the possibility of marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for lesbian and gay couples, but also significantly limits the rights of all unmarried couples.

We in North Carolina’s LGBT activist community feel we have a strong chance at defeating Amendment 1. Our country is reaching a tipping point around same-gender marriage. In the last year alone, we’ve hit several key milestones. Some highlights:

But we need your help. Watch this video to find out how–no matter where you live–you can help turn the tide of discrimination and beat North Carolina’s Amendment One.

To recap, you can help defeat Amendment 1 by taking any or all of the following five simple steps:

  1. Share this video with your friends and family far and wide, and follow the Coalition to Protect NC Families on Facebook and Twitter. (Using or following the hashtags #May8 and #Amendment1 will help you keep up to date).
  2. If you live in North Carolina, get out and vote against this amendment on May 8, or better yet, vote early (anytime from now until May 5). Find your county’s early voting locations here.
  3. If you don’t live in North Carolina, contact any friends or family members in North Carolina who are likely to be against the amendment and make sure they vote! No need to change minds here; we just need to get our allies out to vote!  
  4. Wherever you live, call to help get out the vote by joining a virtual phone bank. Sign up for training here.
  5. Donate to the Coalition to Protect NC Families. Every dollar will be matched up to $100,000 by a generous couple and used to buy a television ad to get the message out about the harms of Amendment 1.

Tracy Hollister is a feminist, policy analyst, Unitarian Universalist and full-time marriage equality advocate.

Melody Moezzi is a writer, activist, attorney and award-winning author.

Originally posted at Ms. Magazine Blog.

HERvotes Blog Carnival: What Health-Care Reform Means to Women

By Cindy Pearson, co-founder of Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need

For the tenth #HERvotes blog carnival, we’re celebrating the second anniversary of the new health-reform law, the Affordable Care Act, or ACA.

Why are women so excited about the ACA? Well, for a start, the law has already started removing barriers to health care and improving services for millions of women and our families, helping us access the care we need to stay healthy.

This week’s #HERvotes blog carnival is going to raise women’s voices all across the country. We will tell our stories of how the Affordable Care Act has helped us, what is still wrong with our health care system and what we’re doing to make a difference. We will express our anger about the insurance company abuses–such as charging us more than men for our health insurance–that will continue until the ACA is fully implemented. And perhaps most importantly, we’ll share why this important advance for women should be upheld by the Supreme Court when it takes up the Affordable Care Act next week.

Please join us in lifting our voices–because we all have something to gain from the Affordable Care Act.

You can participate by telling your own story and by sharing the posts below on Facebook, Twitter (using the hashtag #HERvotes) and other social media.

#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.

Read more:


As ACA Faces a Supreme Court Challenge, Who Is at Stake?– Shivana Jorawar, NAPAWF

Stand Up For Health Care Tumblr– NARAL Pro-Choice America

10 Things to LOVE About the Affordable Care Act– Debra Ness, National Partnership for Women and Families

Celebrate Second Anniversary of Affordable Care Act– Family Values @ Work

The Affordable Care Act: Hope for Health Care Equality For All– Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health via RHRealityCheck

Health Insurance Access for Young Latina Adults – National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Health Reform to Expand Reach of Community Health Centers– National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

No Co-pay for Pregnancy Care is Good for Latina Moms and Babies – National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Medicaid to Service 6 Million More – National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Prevention Saves Latinas’ Lives – National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Insurance protections for Latinas’ with Pre-Existing Conditions – National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Cervical Cancer Prevention for Latinas – National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

No Co-Pays for STI/HIV Testing – National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Showing love for women, mothers and Babies – National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

The Affordable Care Act Turns 2 – No Baby Step for Women– Gloria Lau, YWCA USA

Why It’s Time for Women’s Rights– Sophia Yen and Ellen Shaffer, Trust Women/Silver Ribbon Campaign

20 Million Women and Counting …Two Years of the Affordable Care Act– Jacqueline M., Planned Parenthood Action Fund

Thank you, ACA: Protecting Our Country’s Well-being by Protecting Students–  Andrea Alajbegovic, National Women’s Law Center

New Options for Those with Chronic Illness–  Dania Palanker, National Women’s Law Center

Affordable Care Act: A Necessity for Women’s Health– Katharine Nasielski, Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism

How the ACA is Helping My Family–  Sarah Robinson, National Women’s Law Center

The Limbo of a College Graduate–  Brittany Papalia, National Women’s Law Center

Preventative Care: Protect the Affordable Care Act– Mallen Urso, National Women’s Political Caucus

Why I Support the Health Care Law– Amy Cotton, National Council of Jewish Women

Where Would Women be Today without the Landmark Programs that were Enacted Over the Last 45 Years to Protect and Advance Women’s Health?– Raising Women’s Voices

The Impact of the Affordable Care Act on One Young Woman– Lindsay Yancich, NOW

Why We Need the Affordable Care Act- Julie Seger, AAUW

Healthcare Stories the Supreme Court Needs to Read– Nancy Keenan, NARAL Pro-Choice America

Today’s Story on How Health Reform Helps Women– NARAL’s Blog for Choice

HERvotes Blog Carnival: Gen Y Women Benefit from the Affordable Health Care Act- Business and Professional Women’s Foundation

Celebrating the 2nd Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act!- Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, MomsRising

2 Year Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act-What’s In It for Young People?- Sarah Audelo, Advocates for Youth

The Affordable Care Act and Women’s Health– National Association of Social Workers

Health Reform: Winning for Women– Tara Mancini, WIN’s Women’s Health Policy Network

Two Years Later, Reflections on the Landmark Health Care Law, Miri Cypers, Jewish Women International

Real Stories on Why Health-Care Reform Helps Women,Thomas Dollar, NARAL Pro-Choice America *updated daily*

Photo of Barack Obama signing the Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010, from Wikimedia Commons.

Health Reform: Winning for Women

by Tara Mancini,  co-chair of WIN’s Women’s Health Policy Network

I think it is no coincidence that the 2nd anniversary of the ACA coincides with the celebration of Women’s History Month. Women have made numerous contributions to society that throughout the ages have received little attention, much like the important protections afforded to women through the ACA that often go unacknowledged. Yet, neither are Women’s History Month or the anniversary of the ACA a time for sullen faces; let us celebrate all that we have achieved!

– Prevention & Wellness Benefits: Beginning in 2014, co-payments will no longer be required for well women visits, contraception, or maternity care in the individual market. These benefits take into account the health of both women that do not wish to conceive and those that are planning a healthy childbirth. That is something we can all be proud of, planned parenthood!

In addition, Essential Health Benefits (EHB) must be offered to all enrollees in the Exchanges as well as in non-grandfathered small group and individual plans. EHB includes 10 categories of services including substance abuse, mental health services, and prescription drugs. These are services that too many Americans go without, and their inclusion speaks to the administration’s acknowledgement of health as being more than just about the physical.

-Affordability: Beginning in 2014, women, finally, cannot be charged higher premiums than men for the same health insurance policy. Given that women already face a number of financial difficulties, including lower wages for equal work, the prohibition for insurance companies to charge women higher premiums for being, well, women, is an huge step in the right direction!

Moreover, many uninsured adults will benefit from the expansion of Medicaid eligibility up to 133% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Again, this is pretty colossal! Medicaid covers about one-third of the nation’s children, as either a primary or secondary insurer. Yet, most states do not even cover parents up to the poverty line. Children need healthy moms (and dads, of course), so let’s celebrate this healthy step benefitting kids and parents!

Still, those that are not eligible for Medicaid, but have income between 133% up to 400% of FPL and do not have access to affordable employer- sponsored insurance will be provided tax credits to offset the cost of obtaining insurance in the Exchanges.

– Guaranteed Coverage: No longer can consumers be denied coverage due to preexisting conditions, or denied a policy renewal as a result of health status. We’ve heard the horror stories (however rare some may be), that means that one abnormal pap cannot be counted against you.

Also, as of the fall of 2010, young adults up to age 26 are eligible to stay on their parents private insurance plan. This has been a boon, both for those without access to affordable employer coverage, and as an alternative to the student health plans, often lacking in benefits.

While some of these benefits are specific to women, many stand to benefit everyone’s access to health. So you see, it is true; when women win, we all win!!

Cross-posted with Tidbits on Gender, Politics, and Culture

Note: Tara Mancini is co-chair of WIN’s Women’s Health Policy Network. Excerpts from this blog were previously published in the March newsletter. All opinions expressed above are the author’s alone.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

“Where Are the Women?”

by Ali Tweedt, FMF Intern

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s (D-NY) now-infamous words have gone viral paired with a picture of last Thursday’s all-male panel at the hearing on contraception coverage by religious institutions. The hearing, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” was a circus from start to finish. The hearing was orchestrated by Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who did not approve any witnesses for the minority to testify on behalf of the countless women who would benefit from the birth control mandate requiring insurance providers, not the Catholic Church, to pay for contraception in the case of religiously affiliated institutions such as hospitals or universities. Congresswomen Maloney and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) walked out after appealing Issa’s decision to reject testimony from the minority’s chosen witness Sarah Fluke, a 3rd year law student at Georgetown, concluding that she was unqualified to speak at a hearing he claimed was about “religious liberty,” and NOT about contraception coverage, or “women.”

I ground my teeth through most of the panel’s testimony, beginning with Bishop William Lori’s “pork in a Jewish deli” analogy: “Well you wouldn’t force a Jewish deli to serve pork would you?” and ending with Craig Mitchell’s, Ph.D. claim that the Affordable Care Act is “not good for America.” –I’m sorry, what?

While each Democratic representative noted the clear absence of women on the panel and questioned the political agenda of the Chairman and witnesses, each Republican representative insisted that this issue is “not about women,” and “not about contraception.” Time and time again, I heard each witness claim that the new mandates “substantially burden our religious freedom” and yet they refused to acknowledge the issues significantly affect the lives of countless American women regardless of denomination.

When questioned about whether non-religious employees or clients of religiously affiliated institutes and organizations would be granted access to contraceptive coverage without co-pays, each witness essentially stated that because the mission and goals of the church are clear, those who choose to work there must abide by the teachings of Catholicism. Tough luck doctors, employees, and students of these institutions! Just do without contraception, or go elsewhere!

My heart sank as every Democratic Representative tried valiantly to pose thoughtful and significant questions regarding women’s health, only to have their questions and statements shut down and dismissed as irrelevant to the topic of religious freedom. It seemed the panel would always revert back to denying that this was an issue of women’s health at all, despite that fact that women are the ones being affected by these proceedings.

After almost 3 hours of testimony and questioning, Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) took his five minutes to reflect  about the nature of this hearing, and to speak for the silenced women in the room and all across America:

“I believe today’s hearing is a sham… Here you are being asked to testify about your rights being trampled on, an overstatement if there ever was one, while you’re on a panel and your participation on the panel makes you complicit in of course the trampling of freedom because we were denied on this side of the aisle ANY witnesses who might have a different point of view…And I think that’s shameful. I think it actually contradicts exactly what you think you’re here to testify about. And I think it taints the value of this panel that could’ve been a thoughtful discussion, [he points at the panel] but it’s not… I think this is a shameful exercise and I am very sad that you have chosen to participate and be used the way you’re being used…Shame… Making charges that are just outlandish and frankly beyond the panel serves no purpose other than political demagoguery in an election year. And men and women of the cloth, it seems to me, ought to run, not walk away from that line.”

Thankfully there has already been a lot of backlash to this conservative production. It becomes harder and harder to ignore the blatant sexism in these hearings and debates when the rights of American women, especially concerning health care, are dictated by men who exclude women from the conversation if their opinions do not support conservative ideology. Clearly, the war has just begun.

Seven Things You (and the Media) Need to Know about Birth Control

by Jacqueline M., Planned Parenthood Action Fund

We were thrilled with President Obama’s decision a few weeks ago to protect access to birth control for women who work at religiously affiliated universities, hospitals, or institutions. By not further expanding a refusal clause to the birth control coverage benefit under the Affordable Care Act, he is insuring that these women receive the same benefit as millions of others across America.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as happy as we are. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have refused to accept the president’s decision and accused the administration of infringing on their religious liberty, despite the fact that there already exists an exemption for churches and places of worship. Nevertheless, many have announced their refusal to comply with the mandate.

The reality is that since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and particularly since the initial policy was announced in August, there has been a faction, both within Congress and among some in the anti-choice community, who have not only opposed it, but fought it tooth and nail. And as we’ve seen most recently during the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation situation, there are those who will try to bully their way to policies that the vast majority didn’t ask for and don’t support.

When it comes to women’s health, and particularly birth control, they are completely out of touch. Birth control is overwhelmingly popular, not just among women, but specifically among Catholic women voters (77 percent support this birth control benefit). And yet, these men continue to object…

Here are seven things you need to know about this issue that the media’s not really talking about:

1. Americans Overwhelmingly Support Including Birth Control as Preventive Health Care
Ninety-nine percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 who have had sex with men have at some point used birth control. So it’s no surprise that this is one of the most popular benefits of the health care reform law. Here’s what the public thinks

• Seventy-one percent of American voters, including 77 percent of Catholic women voters, support a requirement that health plans cover birth control at no cost, according to a 2010 survey.
• A similar poll in May of 2011 found that 77 percent of Americans believe that private medical insurance should cover birth control and 74 percent believe that government-sponsored plans should do the same.

2. Access to Birth Control Improves Women’s Health Outcomes
The respected, nonpartisan Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended birth control be covered as a women’s preventive service for a reason: it is fundamental to improving women’s health and the health of their families — medical research has demonstrated this fact for decades. For example, improved access to birth control is directly linked to declines in maternal and infant mortality.

3. Many Women Struggle with the Cost of Birth Control
A 2010 survey found that more than a third of female voters have struggled to afford prescription birth control at some point in their lives, and as a result, had used birth control inconsistently. This isn’t surprising: co-pays for birth control pills typically range between $15 and $50 per month. Other methods, such as IUDs, often cost several hundred dollars, even with health insurance.

4. Any Expansion of the Refusal Provision Could Limit Millions of Americans and Their Families from Access to Birth Control
Nearly 800,000 people who receive benefits through Catholic hospitals would lose them. Approximately two million students and workers attend universities that have a religious affiliation. That’s millions of American workers who would lose a benefit that finally makes an essential health care service affordable.

5. Courts Have Already Ruled That Religious Organizations Operating Hospitals, Universities, or Charities That are Open to the Public are not Entitled to Expansive Exemptions
The state supreme courts in California and New York both found that contraceptive equity laws with narrower exclusions for employers do not substantially burden religious beliefs or practices. “[W]hen a religious organization chooses to hire nonbelievers it must, at least to some degree, be prepared to accept neutral regulations imposed to protect those employees’ legitimate interests in doing what their own beliefs permit.” (case citation: Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany v. Serio, 859 N.E.2d 459, 468 (N.Y. 2006).

6. Failing to Provide Women with Coverage for Contraception in Health Plans That Otherwise Cover Prescription Drugs and Devices is Sex Discrimination
Prescription contraceptives are used exclusively by women. Because of this, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has argued that the exclusion of insurance coverage for prescription contraceptive drugs and devices in an employer’s health plan that covers prescription drugs violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

7. Both President Obama and Vice President Biden Opposed the Expansion of “Conscience” Clauses in 2008 as Senators
In the final month of the Bush administration, the Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt issued a draft regulation that would have allowed doctors, nurses, pharmacists and a broad spectrum of health care workers the right to refuse to perform or discuss abortion or any other activity they find morally objectionable. As senators, both President Obama and Vice President Biden signed a letter (link) sent to Secretary Leavitt urging him to halt movement on the rule. Obama said, “[This proposed regulation] raises troubling issues about access to basic health care for women, particularly access to contraceptives. We need to restore integrity to our public health programs, not create backdoor efforts to weaken them.”

If you believe the president made the right decision protecting birth control coverage, tell him you support the no-cost birth control policy by adding your voice today.

Cross-posted with Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Women Are Watching Blog

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

One more time…

by Jill Morrison, National Women’s Law Center

Abortion. [uh-bawr-shuhn]

Contraception. [kon-truhsep-shuhn]

These are not the same. Yet I’ve repeatedly seen claims that the HHS decision on contraceptive coverage requires religious employers to cover “abortifacients.”

Clearly, those opposed to the preventive services rule know they are on shaky ground when it comes to rallying their troops against contraception. After all, their troops are using the stuff en mass (but hopefully not in Mass). Ninety-eight percent of Catholics have used a form of contraception opposed by the Vatican. The “abortifacients” claim is based on the fact that the preventive services rule requires coverage for emergency contraception. Some still seem to think that EC causes an abortion. It does not. I repeat. It does not. If you don’t believe me, then turn to another source, like the Catholic Health Association.

Yes, the Catholic Health Association ran a four-part series in the January-February 2010 edition of its publication Catholic Health Progress addressing the ethics of providing EC to rape survivors. The subtitle of one of the articles definitively states, “Science shows [Plan B] is not an abortifacient.” The FDA has most recently approved another type of emergency contraceptive, Ella, which can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex. The drug cannot disrupt an established pregnancy so it too is a contraceptive, and not an abortifacient.

Enough with the deceptive tactics.

Cross-posted with Womenstake

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

HERvotes Blog Carnival: Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act

by Emily Alfano, National Council of Jewish Women

For the eighth #HERvotes blog carnival, our coalition of women’s groups is joining forces for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found alarming rates of sexual violence, stalking, and domestic violence. One in 4 U.S. women has been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner, and nearly 1 in 5 has been raped in her lifetime.

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider legislation that would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the largest policy effort aimed at responding to and preventing these crimes. First passed in 1994, VAWA supports comprehensive, cost-saving responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Since its passage in 1994, more victims report domestic violence to the police and the rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence against women has decreased by 53 percent.

HERvotes supports VAWA’s lifesaving programs and services and urges Congress to reauthorize and improve VAWA’s critical programs for five more years.

Let’s spread the word and make sure Congress hears our voices.

Join us by sharing the posts below on Facebook, Twitter (using the hashtag #HERvotes), and other social media.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Take Action:

National Organization for Women petition to Congress

Read more:

A Critical Tool to Save Lives: VAWA -Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III, American Bar Association

Violence Is a Cycle: We Must Reauthorize VAWA -John Roach, Break the Cycle

Immigration, Intimate Partner Violence, and the Violence Against Women Act -Anjela Jenkins, Law Students for Reproductive Justice Fellow, blogging for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Teen Dating Violence -Christine Bork, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago

Hey Congress, How About Giving Half the Population Some Love? -Janet Hill, Coalition of Labor Union Women

“It’s a Good Time To Be a Black Woman? Well, Not So Good When It Comes To Violence”– Angela Sutton, Black Women’s Health Imperative

Combating Domestic Violence: A Call to Reauthorize VAWA– Mallen Urso, National Women’s Political Caucus

Taking the Violence Against Women Act to Higher Ground– Emily Alfano, NCJW

Tell Your Senator to Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act Now- Elizabeth Owens, AAUW

Why VAWA is a Queer Issue- Terra Slavin, L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center and Sharon Stapel, New York City Anti-Violence Project

Universities Should Support VAWA- Melissa Siegel, National Youth Advisory Board

Students Against Dating/Domestic Abuse– Sara Skavroneck, National Youth Advisory Board National Youth Advisory Board Against Dating ViolenceKevin Mauro, National Youth Advisory Board

Teenage Dating Violence and VAWA– Nikki Desario, National Youth Advisory Board

Joining Forces – Women Veterans Speak Out: The Trenches, Remembered– Joan Grey, Business and Professional Women’s Foundation

Violence Against Women Act up for Reauthorization– National Association of Social Workers

Wake up, People! Domestic Violence is an Epidemic!– Donna Pantry, Elf Lady’s Chronicles

Recession and Women: How Economic Insecurity Enables Abuse– Donna Addkison’s, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW)

More Bipartisan Support Needed for Violence Against Women Act– Terry O’Neill, Say It Sister- NOW’s Blog for Equality


Joining Forces – Women Veterans Speak Out: The Trenches, Remembered

by Joan Grey, Business and Professional Women’s Foundation Mentoring Liaison

We all have our stories.  Maybe these narratives, rather than DNA, are really what make us human.  On the topic of military sexual trauma, I turned to my West Point women classmates for their input.  Ours was the first co-ed class. Out of over 900 graduates, 62 were women.

We didn’t get to know each other as well as you might think for all the shared challenges we faced. The message we absorbed was, “Where two or more are gathered, a conspiracy is brewing.” So, we went our separate ways, tried to blend in, and not draw attention.  A bellowed command of, “Miss, halt,” caused more than a few collisions and scuffed spitshines when women scurrying to class instantly obeyed.

Were we harassed? As Anne put it, “Oh, let me count the ways.  But was this exclusively because I was a woman? Yes and No.  Was this just part of being a cadet at West Point? Yes and no.”

Some ideas were “design flaws” like the shorty, see-thru bathrobes; go-go boots; swimsuits that failed to cover; 4000 calorie meals (leading to Hudson hip disease); and parade coat without tails. What was the administration thinking? Others were humorous, at least in retrospect, like the mandatory makeovers (what message does that send?) and group consciousness raising session that required physical restraint (Go, Karen!).

Some problems were simply criminal. A classmate was attacked in her room. She left; he graduated. It was not the only nighttime intrusion, but one that was most widely known, especially when you consider pre-internet days.

After this episode, women cadets were required to sleep two or more to a room. If your roommate was gone overnight, the remaining cadet needed to bunk with someone else or find another woman to sleep in her room, to ensure women’s safety at night.  Because of West Point’s honor code, we had “Absence cards” but not locks on the doors. Ever inventive, women applied military tactics by propping brooms or chairs against doors as early warning devices.  Locks weren’t installed on barracks room doors until around 1990—14 years after the arrival of women cadets.

And some rules were intended to prevent illicit encounters–like doors open when members of the opposite sex where in the room; then changed so the door didn’t have to be wide open—disruptive to studying; and yet again, door open and propped with a trash can. Dr Seuss would have had a field day composing a tale (see The Sneetches). At some point, windows received privacy shades, with specific rules about inches from sill in daytime.

Department of Defense (DOD) defines Military Sexual Trauma (MST) as rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. MST affects both women and men in uniform, but disproportionately affects women. Sexual assault and rape is widespread, with one study reporting that almost one in four women had been assaulted or raped, and that’s just reported cases. A female soldier in a war zone is at greater risk of being raped by a fellow soldier than dying under fire. Maybe the problem hasn’t gotten worse; but just better reported as a possible justification for increased assaults at military academies. Women entered military academies in the mid-70s. However, reporting on the effectiveness of sexual-violence related programs and policies was not mandated until 2007.

It’s the anecdotes rather than statistics that punch you in the gut though…

Neu Ulm, Germany; 1981; a guesthouse on an American Kaserne: The hotel was American-operated, in a gated community, as military facilities tend to be.  The group bathroom/shower was down the hall—separated from the sleeping area—more like a hostel, but a step up from a bunk in the barracks with no privacy. The window in the bathroom was a concern. One side of the casement had been lodged behind the washing machine. To close the window would require pulling the machine out and it was wedged beside the dryer. So the window stayed open, figuring it was the middle of the night and the room was on the 3rd floor. Mistake. A hand reached into the shower. A man pulled back the shower curtain. Water off, towel grabbed, and backed up toward the locked door; she managed to escape. He was never caught, but the souvenir composite sketch is a reminder that it actually happened… Like the shower scene from Psycho, the image will suddenly surface.

Why bring this up now, more than 30 years after the first West Point class with women graduated? Not only because of an increase in assaults at military academies, but  there has been a lot of interest lately with the showing at the Sundance Film Festival of the Invisible War which reports in an unflinching manner on rape in the military and the reauthorization of The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA provides money to enhance investigation and prosecution of violent crimes perpetrated against women

Even if we weren’t physically assaulted, were we unscathed? The first class of West Point women can boast of a lot of accomplishments—mothers, doctors, lawyer, Indian chief (still reading?), Rhodes Scholar, teachers & professors, nun, general officer, SES’, activists, movers and shakers.  Perhaps the statistic that gives most hope is how many woman classmates have let their children attend service academies.  Mothers wouldn’t knowingly send their children into danger.

Commandeering the public address system to play I Am Woman before graduation was discussed but didn’t happen. Like the lyrics of that song, the West Point women of 1980 are resilient.

Yes I am wise

But it’s wisdom born of pain

Yes, I’ve paid the price

But look how much I gained

If I have to, I can do anything

I am strong

I am invincible

I am woman

I raise a glass to all pathfinders—you can bend but never break us.


Cross-posted with Young Women Misbehavin’

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Obama’s Deeply Paternalistic Statement on Plan B Decision

by Jon Walker

This post originally appeared on Firedoglake.

This is a pure expression of male paternalism regarding women being able to make their own reproductive decisions. From USA Today:

President Obama said today that “as the father of two daughters,” he supports his health secretary’s decision to block over-the-counter sales of the Plan B “morning after” birth control pill to girls under 17 years of age.

“I did not get involved in the process,” Obama said during a White House news conference, though he added he supports the decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Who needs lengthy scientific review, when apparently father knows best?

The idea that Obama wasn’t involved with HHS deciding for the first time ever to overrule the FDA, but he just happens to agree with the outcome produced by this unprecedented move, simply doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Unemployment Insurance in the 1930s and Today

by Michael J. Wilson

Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) was founded in 1947 by Eleanor Roosevelt and other liberal luminaries in order to protect the legacy of her husband, the recently-deceased President Franklin Roosevelt, a legacy that included unemployment insurance (UI).  That legacy was under attack by a rabidly conservative Republican Congressional majority recently swept into power by a wave election.  Sound familiar?  The point is that the struggle today is not a new battle, just a new stage in an ongoing one, one on which ADA has a unique historical perspective.

National UI was belatedly (compared to other industrialized countries) instituted in the United States in the 1930s as part of the New Deal.  The Government put out a booklet to defend and explain the system; several sections of the booklet are introduced by quotes from labor experts on the need for unemployment insurance:

For the past 4 years the American people have witnessed a tragic demonstration of the breakdown of our older methods of dealing with men and women who are out of work through no fault of their own. The fundamental case for unemployment protection lies in the fact that under a democratic form of society we are forced to prevent any large scale starvation. Funds must be provided somehow…– Stanley King in American Labor Legislation Review, December 1933

Yes, preventing large-scale starvation would seem to be right up there on any to-do list for decent, democratic societies– then and now.  Another Depression-era author pointed out that even if the government shirked its duty to provide direct assistance to the unemployed, society would still bear the cost of the plague of joblessness.

The cost of security for millions of workmen is not only very small. It is not a new cost. Like the price of many other things, we are paying it now without knowing it. It is not an additional cost of doing the business of the Nation; it is partial recognition that the real responsibility for unemployment is not personal but social. Somebody is paying right now for unemployment and must continue to pay.–C. A. Kulp in American Labor Legislation Review, March 1934

Avert your eyes from the latest unemployment statistics; shut your ears to stories of 500 people applying for a single job opening; go hide in your gated community.  Unemployment– especially uncompensated, impoverishing unemployment– will still take its toll:  in a lingering, painful recession; falling tax revenue, family break-ups, foreclosures, crime.  So helping the unemployed keepbody and soul together is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing.  Before breaking for Thanksgiving, Congress must extend emergency unemployment insurance for at least a year.

The need to sustain the families and communities of our nation during this prolonged economic downturn is obvious to most of us. Such duties have always been with us; but the struggle to do so now, in the present, in November 2010, calls upon all of us to do our part.  Otherwise we risk a cold and sorrowful holiday season – not just for the unemployed, but for us all.

Cross-posted with Mom’s Rising

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Happy Holidays, Congress! It’s Time to Extend UI

by Julie Vogtman, Senior Counsel, National Women’s Law Center

After the Thanksgiving feast, some lament how quickly the focus shifts to next round of holidays – but I have to admit I embrace it. Christmas music in the air 24/7? Fine by me. My tree is up, the house is bright with twinkly lights, and I’m thrilled to exchange my typical coffee order at Starbucks to a peppermint mocha in a bright red cup.

Sadly, I can usually count on some Members of Congress to put a damper on my holiday spirit. Just this Sunday, as I was trying to get a head start on trimming the tree, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) was on “This Week,” saying he was “terribly disappointed” that the super-committee (of which he was a member) did not agree on a deficit reduction plan along the lines of his proposal – a proposal that would cut taxes for the highest-income earners while forcing lower-income families to bear both harsh program cuts and substantial tax increases. (Needless to say, we at NWLC were not disappointed that Sen. Toomey’s plan did not win over a majority on the super-committee.)

Then, when Christiane Amanpour asked Sen. Toomey whether he would support an extension of federal unemployment insurance (UI) for long-term unemployed workers (which is set to expire at the end of this year), he replied: “You know, we’ll take [the payroll tax cut and federal UI extensions] up, and I think probably some package of that with other features might very well pass.” Those “other features” are not likely to include even the tiniest of tax increases for millionaires, which Sen. Toomey and his colleagues have repeatedly rejected in connection with other jobs measures; indeed, the Senator went on to say, “the problem that’s creating this deficit is not a revenue problem…What’s happened … is this staggering explosion in spending… And that’s what’s got to change.” So in other words, given the 9 percent unemployment rate, Sen. Toomey might agree to continue UI benefits for the millions of workers counting on them – but only in exchange for steep spending cuts. (Other senators, like Rand Paul (R-KY), have made similar statements in recent weeks.)

I, for one, think “what’s got to change” is a mindset that prioritizes the protection of the very wealthy above all else, while demanding continued sacrifice from the poor and the unemployed. Any spending cuts demanded in return for a federal UI extension are likely to come from programs that low-income people depend on, including some of the very same people relying on UI. Even just this once – heck, because it’s the holidays – I’d love to see a majority in Congress agree to extend UI simply because it’s the right thing to do, without exacting a ransom.

Fortunately, some Members of Congress are trying to do just that. Tomorrow Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) is hosting a press conference to highlight the stories of the workers who depend on UI benefits and call for passage of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act. We’ll be reporting back soon to help you get to know the people behind the unemployment numbers.

Cross-posted with National Women’s Law Center

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Unemployment Insurance, Good for People, Good for the Country

By Sherry Saunders, Director of Communications, Business and Professional Women’s Foundation

I think we all were heartened by the news in November that while 13 million Americans remain out of work, the overall unemployment rate decreased from 9.9 percent to 8.6 percent.  But we also learned that while the rate of unemployment improved, the duration of time out of work increased.  More workers stopped actively looking for work and dropped out of the labor force than gained jobs during the last month. In addition over 5.6 million Americans have been looking for work for six months or more. For women age 20 and over the average was 42.1 weeks. For women age 55 or over, it was 54.8 weeks.

Looking more closely at the women behind those numbers, we find that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Women’s Law Center, the unemployment rate for single mothers was 12.4 percent, up from 12.3 percent in October 2011 and 11.7 percent in June 2009. And African-American women’s unemployment rate in November was12.9 percent, up from 12.6 percent in October 2011 and 11.7 percent in June 2009.   In addition, among women age 20 or over, 5.1 million were officially unemployed and another 2.8 million were not in the labor force but wanted work.

A glimmer of good news was found in the over all veteran unemployment rates which fell in November to 7.4 percent yet remained unacceptably high, 11.1 percent, for those who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan era.  For men who separated since 2001, the unemployment rate fell from 12.3 percent in October to 10 percent in November. But for their female counterparts the unemployment rate shot up to 18.7 percent from 10.9 percent in October, possibly attributed to smaller population sampling size.

The measure of who we are is what we do about these numbers that are in fact real people with real families to support. As a nation we have provided long-term jobless workers federal emergency unemployment insurance benefits, which supplement state unemployment insurance, which generally lasts only 26 weeks or less. In previous recessions, Congress always extended these benefits whenever unemployment reached higher than 7.2 percent.  But even though unemployment is expected to remain above 8.0 percent through 2012, Congress continues to bicker about extending these programs even though they will expire at the end of December leaving these real people with no money for food and other essentials. Quite a Christmas present.

If Congress doesn’t act by December 31, nearly 2 million people will lose their benefits in January alone. Millions more will lose this critical lifeline in the near future – over 6 million during 2012 if Congress continues to ignore the plight of their fellow Americans.

We also need to remember that unemployment insurance isn’t just essential for families struggling to make ends meet; it is also good for our economy. The long term unemployed are not in a position to save or invest their unemployment dollars; they need to spend them right away on food, clothing, rent, mortgages, transportation and the like. Studies done by the Urban Institute and others have show that every dollar spent on employment insurance stimulates 2 dollars in growth in the U.S. economy. Since Congress claims that jobs are high on their agenda, they need to recognize that not extending unemployment insurance will take dollars out of our already fragile economy and result in even larger future job losses.

So for both compassionate and pragmatic reasons, I urge Congress to step up and do its job.

Cross-posted with the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation Blog

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.


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