This post originally appeared on the Ms. Foundation's Igniting Change blog. Rallies for workers' rights in Wisconsin and other states have raised critical awareness about the potential implications -- and targets -- of budget cuts across the US. But in addition to the fate of unions and public sector employees at the local and state level -- the majority of whom are women -- the battle over budgets will also determine the fate of key social services, many of them on which women and children in particular depend. Nothing makes this more real for us at the Ms. Foundation than when our grantees report how budget cuts will impact -- indeed, threaten -- their own programs and their own communities. For example, just a few weeks ago, the Washington Department of Health decided to cut funding for the state's only women-specific HIV/AIDS education and support program -- a program run by Seattle-based BABES Network-YWCA, our longtime grantee. This decision, BABES tells us, along with an additional funding cut at the county level, will result in a 75 percent reduction in their program budget -- an untenable outcome that will leave hundreds of women without critical support services. In a press release issued yesterday on National Girls and Women HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Pat Migliore, an HIV-positive Seattle resident and BABES co-founder, said, "BABES serves 400 women and affected family members every year. This will have a huge consequence for the health of women we are desperately seeking to keep in care." BABES and other Ms. Foundation grantee organizations led by and for women with HIV/AIDS fear that this recent decision signals the start of a national trend to eliminate other "women-centered" HIV/AIDS support services. Budget constraints already forced another Ms. Foundation grantee, the Women’s Lighthouse Project, a Denver-based organization that served HIV-positive women, to close its doors in November 2010, and other grantees such as Women Alive in Los Angeles, CA have seen critical components of their government funding disappear. “As funding gets tighter in this new economic climate, we must make sure women’s unique needs don’t fall through the cracks,” says Cynthia Carey-Grant, Executive Director of Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Disease (WORLD), an Oakland, CA-based organization and Ms. Foundation grantee that has been serving HIV-positive women since 1991. Although women make up over 25 percent of new HIV cases, and continue to suffer worse health outcomes than HIV-positive men, there exist -- even before the most recent state budget crises and nationwide economic crisis -- few programs and extremely limited federal, state and local funding dedicated to meet women's specific needs [pdf]. In fact, many of our grantees operate on shoe-string budgets to provide the only women-centered support services in their city, county or state. And there's no doubt how critical these services are: whether it's because they offer peer counseling to help women overcome depression and isolation resulting from the stigma of being HIV-positive, or because they help women access and maintain HIV treatment and care and surmount barriers such as a lack of child care or transportation -- these programs save women's lives. "Peer support groups are an essential place where women can be connected to a community, where they can be honest about their issues, feel accepted, receive knowledge and become empowered about their medical treatment," says Janet Cameron, Program Director of SMART, a grantee based in New York City.  "People don’t understand this because they think treatment is just about medicine. ...But we know adherence to meds isn’t just 20 minutes at the doctor. People live with their HIV status 24/7." Support services also play a critical role in bringing about policy change. Here at the Ms. Foundation, we've heard countless stories of women who have joined an organization's peer support group, made important changes in their own lives, and then gone on to become peer leaders, staff members, and conduct community outreach and policy advocacy to make long-term systemic changes that will improve many more women's lives. [Listen to Demetra Tennison's story, a peer advocate at the Women Rising Project in Austin, TX.] “Supportive services for women are not negotiable – emotional and practical support are necessary for HIV-positive women to stay in care,” says Liz Brosnan, Executive Director of grantee Christie’s Place in San Diego, CA, and Vice-Chair for the National Women and AIDS Collective, a national policy coalition first incubated at the Ms. Foundation. “In addition to barriers to health care overall, women living with HIV face high levels of stigma, violence, and have multiple family responsibilities that they prioritize over their own health.” Our grantees also point out that President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy, released in July 2010, emphasizes the importance of improving access to care and health outcomes for people living with HIV. But, this goal, they say, cannot be accomplished for women without psychosocial support services. “Achieving President Obama’s ambitious goals will require sustained investment in community-based, gender-responsive programs,” says Carey-Grant of WORLD. And this, we believe, means not just maintaining, but exceeding current funding levels for programs intended to meet women's needs. That said, today we must do all we can to protect women-specific HIV/AIDS services from disappearing altogether -- in Washington State and every other. Please start by acting now to help reinstate funding in Washington State so that, as BABES implores, "newly diagnosed women can meet with a skilled peer counselor for support, education and referrals and that BABES can continue to reduce the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS." And if you live anywhere else in the country, be sure to read the fine print to understand just who will suffer if HIV/AIDS and other social services are cut -- and then advocate in response for women's health and well-being. By Ellen Liu Program Officer Ms. Foundation for Women Learn more about the Ms. Foundation's Women and HIV/AIDS grantmaking.
This post originally appeared on the Ms. Foundation for Women's Igniting Change blog. 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day – a day for the celebration of women worldwide. In 25 nations (including China, Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam and Zambia), the day has become a national holiday, a time not only to cheer for women's advances, but also to reflect upon the many global inequalities women still face. We honor this day in the United States, too, and stand in solidarity with our sisters who are struggling to surmount injustice around the globe. But here at the Ms. Foundation, we know we must do more than look outward at the failures and fault-lines of equality beyond our borders. Today, this entire Women’s History Month, and throughout the year, we must take a hard look at our own country’s shortcomings. While we pride ourselves on our global leadership and our national ideals, there is no doubt that the US falls hideously short. Of course, we need not look far. Whether it’s Representative Chris Smith’s (R-NJ) attempt to redefine rape and set the women’s movement – and our entire country – back decades, or Congressional attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and other Title X providers, it is clear that women’s reproductive rights and health are under blatant attack. But even before the Right’s most recent assault on women’s lives, the status of women’s health in the US has lagged far behind. Did you know, for example, that over the last 20 years, deaths from pregnancy and childbirth in the United States have doubled? And need we remind you that this is taking place in a nation that spends more than any other country in the world on health care? And then there’s Wisconsin. While the battle over collective bargaining rights and unions is not being framed by mainstream media as a “woman’s issue,” it more than surely [E1] is. Women make up a majority of public sector workers at the state and local level – they also make up 56 per cent of the "working poor" and are most likely, alongside people of color, to benefit from union membership. As such, our friends at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research point out, women and their families stand to lose the most if workers’ rights in Wisconsin and elsewhere are dismantled. In a time of ongoing economic crisis in which women continue to lose jobs, this is an especially frightening prospect. The current US political and economic climate alone makes women’s fate seem especially grim. But this should not obscure the fact that women have long experienced the disproportionate impact of harmful policies and gender discrimination. No matter the decade, if you’re a woman here in the US you’re more likely than a man to be poor, to earn minimum or below minimum wage, to pay more for health insurance…and the list goes on. This while only a small percentage of us are at policymaking tables where decisions are made that directly impact our lives. And how do we compare to the rest of the world? Global statistics tell a striking story of just how poorly the US performs when it comes to promoting women’s well-being. Among 42 countries with “high human development” levels, the US currently ranks 37th -- in the bottom five of such countries -- in terms of gender equality according to the United Nations’ 2010 Human Development Report [pdf]. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index [pdf], which analyzes rates of economic opportunity and participation, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment to compile its ratings, puts the US in 19th place globally. That means women in America fare worse, by some measures, than our sisters in nations like Sri Lanka, South Africa and the Philippines, not to mention much of Western Europe and all of Scandinavia. The bad news continues. The US currently ranks last among the 11 industrialized nations who are members of the Group of 10 in terms of both infant and maternal mortality rates. Our current gender wage gap of 19 cents places the US 64th [pdf] in the world. And we rank 73rd in terms of women's political leadership, falling behind nations like Rwanda, Uganda and Pakistan, and tying with Bosnia. Frankly, it doesn't matter what list you turn to, or how you spin the data: check any of the published rankings of global inequality from a gendered perspective and nowhere will you see the US ranked in the top ten of nations closing the gender gap. Nowhere. Shocking? Disappointing? Certainly -- yet if you understand the realities of daily life for most women in this country, the reason we maintain our embarrassingly low rankings, year after year, is disturbingly self-evident. Just ask the nearly 150 social justice organizations we support – groups led by and for women who, either through personal experience or through the lives of their members, come face to face with this unjust reality every day. They, better than anyone else, understand how urgent the need for change is. Across the country, our grantees are fighting to win progressive changes that women in every corner of the world should be able to call their own. In Colorado, West Virginia, and other statehouses nationwide, they are fighting for reproductive justice, and against regressive measures that devalue women’s lives. In Wisconsin, Indiana and elsewhere, they are standing on the front lines to defend the right to collective bargaining now under attack. In Arizona, in Kentucky, and in Washington, DC, they’re taking on unjust immigration policies that disproportionately impact women and families. And at every level, whether city, state or federal, they’re fighting to ensure that women’s perspectives, and women leaders, are included at policymaking tables where key decision about our nation’s future are being made. So, today, as the world pauses to celebrate the achievements of women worldwide, we honor our remarkable grantees. They, some of our country’s most treasured social justice trailblazers, are exemplary models of the kind of change-makers we should all aspire to be. We believe in their voices. We believe in their vision. We believe in their power to promote women’s well-being and create the just and inclusive democracy our nation was meant to be. On this 100th International Women's Day, we stand with all women and girls -- down the street and around the world -- to cheer our wins and inspire us all to further action. We have come a long way… but we've got miles to walk, here in America and across the seas. Anika Rahman President & CEO Ms. Foundation for Women
This post originally appeared on the Ms. Foundation for Women's Igniting Change blog. While Republican statehouses in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio are trying to push through sweeping anti-worker legislation, the virulent anti-immigrant bills just keep coming: in a move that could leave millions of women immigrants and their children more vulnerable than ever, the State of Arizona is now proposing a slew of new measures that could, according to the New York Times, make last year's discriminatory SB 1070 "look mild" in comparison. Aiming to create an environment in Arizona where "life [is] so difficult for illegal immigrants that they stop coming, or leave," these new bills would seek to prohibit undocumented immigrants from driving, receiving public benefits, and enrolling in school. Children born in Arizona to undocumented parents would receive a special, "second class" of birth certificate -- which would note that Arizona does not consider them true citizens of the state. In practice, the Times notes, these measures would,
...compel school officials to ask for proof of citizenship for students and require hospitals to similarly ask for papers for those receiving non-emergency care. Illegal immigrants would be blocked from obtaining any state licenses, including those for marriage. Landlords would be forced to evict the entire family from public housing if one illegal immigrant were found living in a unit. Illegal immigrants found driving would face 30 days in jail and forfeit the vehicle to the state.
There is no doubt that, if passed, these various pieces of covertly racist legislation would create a virtual prison for immigrants in the state, leaving them isolated, vulnerable and dangerously barred from public resources and public life. And those most likely to bear the burden of these drastic new measures are, indisputably, the women and children who together make up a majority of the US immigrant population. “If this kind of legislation actually goes through it’s clearly extremely punitive, especially for immigrant women," says Catherine Tactaquin, director and co-founder of Ms. Foundation grantee the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "The roles that women play in the families and communities, often as care-givers – the people who might walk the child to school, who might be bringing someone to the hospital for emergency care – this legislation is going to have a direct impact on the very functioning of that person within a family unit, within the community. I think the legislation is very aware of the kinds of roles women do play in the community -- and I think it’s targeted.” As we've noted before, women form the very backbone of the immigrant community in the United States. They head the majority of immigrant households, care for the elderly and children, and provide communities with vital connections to schools, hospitals and social services. When immigrants are further criminalized by laws such as those now being proposed in Arizona, women, families and entire communities suffer. When women are categorically denied health care, they become sick and unable to care for their loved ones -- with consequences far beyond their own families (think public health). When women are squeezed out of the workforce because it is illegal for them to drive, but then have no recourse to public benefits, poverty rises. And when children are denied the basic right to a public education, whole communities are put at risk. The denial of so many basic human rights to our immigrant population will indeed produce a punishing effect -- though it may not be precisely what Conservatives have in mind (that is, flight).  Instead, these measures simply make inevitable the slide of immigrant communities into ever greater isolation, poverty and violence -- particularly violence against women and girls, who are made more vulnerable when fear of deportation pushes them deeper into the shadows. And poverty and violence, the anti-immigrant forces should note, are historically very hard to contain: eventually, all of Arizona -- and all of America -- will pay a price for sanctioning the dehumanization of our immigrant communities. The high costs these measures would entail in Arizona-- in terms both human and economic -- have been enough to convince numerous organizations to stand up and oppose the legislation. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce has spoken out against passage, noting that such draconian measures will only further harm local businesses, whose revenues have dipped thanks to boycotts of the state around SB 1070. And Democratic politicians in the state have raised serious questions about why Republicans -- lead by State Senator Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070 -- are focusing on legislation like this now, when jobs and the economy should be the real priority. It's a sentiment echoed by those working on the ground to push back against the measures. “This legislature is going to guarantee that Arizona goes down in flames by ensuring that the public focuses on the immigration issue, rather than focusing on the economy," says Isabel Garcia of Ms. Foundation grantee Coalicion de Derechos Humanos. "They’re diverting attention away from the role corporations have played in undermining the economy, and instead they’re scapegoating immigrants.” Garcia also notes the similarities between the stigma being placed on immigrants in Arizona and the treatment of Blacks after the Civil War. "They’re trying to isolate people just as they did after slavery," she points out. "They trying to figure out, "How can we control these people? How can we isolate them?" In the case of Blacks, Jim Crow was the answer; today in Arizona, you don't have to squint too hard to see that something breathtakingly similar is taking place. And it's taking place largely on the backs of women. “When we look at the attacks on the 14th Amendment in particular," Tactaquin of NNIRR points out, "the poster child for that fight nationally – and especially in Arizona -- is the Latina woman. Proponents of dissolving birthright citizenship see Latinas as a group they can stereotype: they’re coming across the border to have a child who is then a so-called ‘anchor baby’-- which will result in greater immigration, legal or not, of people coming into this country from other countries. I think they’re intentionally trying to develop a characterization of not just the community, but of women in particular, as taking advantage of resources and opportunities here, and at the same time giving birth to another generation of people of color. So there really is intentionality there to draw a very negative stereotype about immigrant women.” Whether the immigrant women of Arizona, and their families, will indeed be forced to bear the burden that these new pieces of legislation seek to place on them is something the state of Arizona will determine in the not too distant future; at present, the bills are awaiting a vote from the full State Senate. But we all have a role to play in ensuring nothing so disastrous can come to pass: Stand up for the women of Arizona now... before it's too late.
This article originally appeared on RH Reality Check. On Friday, February 18, the U.S. House of Representatives dealt a crushing blow to the health and well-being of millions of women across America: in a 240-185 vote, the the House approved H.R. 1 -- also known the Pence Amendment -- which would prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funding for any purpose, including providing basic preventive health care to women and families. Consider it a slap in the face to women in general, especially to low-income women who have nowhere else to turn for their primary health care. At present, Planned Parenthood provides nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, 830,000 breast exams, more than a million Pap tests, and helps prevent more than 612,000 unintended pregnancies each year. Annually, three million women and men in the United States visit Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers for trusted health care services and information; for some of those clients, largely those that are low-income, the nurses and doctors at Planned Parenthood are the only health care providers they ever see. Because we at the Ms. Foundation for Women believe, without question or qualification, that all women are due the fundamental human right to quality reproductive health, education and services, we have been a long-time partner and supporter of Planned Parenthood affiliates nationwide. We currently count Planned Parenthood of Utah, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Michigan, Planned Parenthood Southeast (which covers Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi), and the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts among our cherished grantees. And today, in light of the shocking news out of the House of Representatives, we are ever more committed to the goals of Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights, health and justice organizations whose efforts protect and value the lives of women across America. For those of us who have stood on the front lines of the reproductive justice movement for years, there's no doubting that this attack on Planned Parenthood is a not-so-covert attack on abortion rights. Planned Parenthood has been targeted, in this case, because it does provide (among many other services) abortions to a small percentage of its clients. This is a fact that Conservatives like Rep. Mike Pence, who authored the bill, abhor -- and will apparently go to deeply irrational lengths to prevent. Because whatever your stance on abortion may be, there's no mistaking that providing preventative health care to millions of women, men and families is in fact a good thing. Preventative services save lives, and, in the long-run, save money -- an outcome you'd imagine this "pro-life” and "fiscally conservative" cadre from the Right could get behind. Instead, the Right has chosen to make millions of everyday Americans, many of them low-income, the collateral damage in their war on reproductive rights. The impact of the proposed funding cuts would likely be immediate and stunning. “Without Title X funding for Planned Parenthood in Atlanta, we can anticipate seeing more women who can only afford to purchase their birth control but cannot afford an exam," says Leola Reis, spokesperson for our grantee group PP Southeast. "We anticipate increases in undiagnosed cancers and STDs, and over all increasingly poor health outcomes for Georgians.” That is a reality we, as a nation, can little afford to promote. Subjecting women and other vulnerable communities to reductions in health care access in the name of budget cuts and moral wranglings over abortion is both dangerous and absurd. Those of us who value women's lives and the health of our nation must do all we can to push back against the rising tide of anti-woman and anti-justice rhetoric emanating every day from the Right. "Morality," Rebecca Traister noted recently in Salon, "is not the exclusive domain of the unborn, whatever we have been told for decades. Morality is on the side of women, on the side of children, on the side of a society that offers aid to its impoverished and to its young and does not discriminate against half its population." From our perspective, there's no question that Planned Parenthood stands on the just side of our moral arc – one that focuses health and lives of women. We are as proud as we ever have been to stand alongside Planned Parenthood. Anika Rahman President & CEO Ms. Foundation for Women
This post originally appeared on the Ms. Foundation's Igniting Change blog. What happens when poor women are denied access to safe abortions? Just ask folks in Pennsylvania, who are now dealing with the fallout from recent revelations of substandard, sometimes deadly, conditions at a "rogue" abortion clinic in West Philadelphia. Kermit Gosnell, an unlicensed "doctor" who ran the Women's Medical Society on the outskirts of Philly for more than 30 years, is now charged in the death of at least one patient and seven newly born babies at his clinic, which largely serves low-income women and women of color. The abuses that Gosnell and his staff are accused of are nothing short of horrific -- and it's all but certain that anti-abortion forces will seize on them as support for the notion that abortion in this country should never be legal. But as Daniel Denvir points out in an article now running simultaneously on RH Reality Check and AlterNet, abortion foes have once again got it entirely backwards. It's not abortion itself that is to blame for these lost lives and barbaric practices; rather, it's the policies advocated for by anti-abortion activists that bear the burden of guilt here -- particularly those that deny government funding for abortion -- because they too often "[force] women into... life-threatening situations." Since the original adoption of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, the US government has been barred from using federal dollars to pay for abortions. That means that Medicaid, which provides health care to our nation's poor, cannot be used to cover abortion-related services -- forcing many poor women and women of color (who are disproportionately poor) who find themselves wanting to terminate their pregnancies to settle for the cheapest services available. The lack of government funding for abortion turns the question of reproductive health into a stark economic calculus: can you afford to pay for a safe, clean clinic? One whose doctor is actually licensed to perform the procedure you seek? Or must you rely on what your pocketbook allows -- which can sometimes amount to substandard, unregulated care, at the hands of practitioners who may or may not be qualified to do the work at hand, and who may choose to cut corners to save costs where they can. Though many states have stepped in to increase abortion access for poor women by using state dollars to fund Medicaid coverage, Pennsylvania, as Denvir notes, is one of 26 states that has done no such thing -- leaving its most vulnerable women, many of them in rural areas -- to fend for themselves. Women in 82 percent of Pennsylvania counties lack access to abortion clinics, at present, and even where they are available (in cities like Philadelphia), there's no debating that a woman's ability to pay has everything to do with the quality of care she is likely to receive. Don't expect this situation to get better any time soon. As the New York Times pointed out late last week, conservatives in Congress, and at the state level, are already launching "aggressive campaigns" to limit abortions and women's access to them. From banning abortions earlier in pregnancy, to forcing women to view ultrasounds, to expanding the Hyde Amendment so that it would pertain to private insurance as well (see Daily Kos' piece on H.R. 3 or the Smith Bill), conservatives know that the results of midterm elections have provided them the perfect political opportunity to push through legislation that curtails women's access to abortions -- and endangers their lives. “This is the best climate for passing pro-life laws in years,” Michael Gonidakis, executive director of Ohio Right to Life, told the Times. We wish we could say he was wrong. While Congress and state legislatures continue to wrangle over just how far they can beat back Roe vs. Wade without an immediate Supreme Court challenge, every day, low-income women across the country face grueling decisions about their reproductive health -- decisions that often leave their very lives at risk. If we want fewer stories like the one coming out of West Philly most recently, we ought to be doing everything we can to push back against conservative efforts to limit our reproductive choices. Removing federal restrictions to abortion funding would be one brave and long-overdue step in the direction of protecting the health of all of our nation's women; unfortunately, conservative leaders are highly unlikely to see the logic of that conviction.
This post originally appeared on the Ms. Foundation's Igniting Change blog. If there was ever any doubt that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) had a positive impact on the economy and those facing grave economic insecurity, a new report indicates that those doubts can now officially be put to rest. Recent analysis of data from the US Census Bureau shows that thanks to the temporary expansion of our social safety net under ARRA, more than 4.5 million people were kept out of poverty in 2009 -- making ARRA, "one of the single most effective pieces of antipoverty legislation in decades," according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. For those who struggled most profoundly through this economic crisis -- including women and people of color, who were disproportionately affected by the tanking economy -- we now know these funds irrefutably made a difference, putting more money in the pockets of everyday Americans to keep them above the poverty line and providing vital connections to much needed social services and work supports (think child care, early education, health care and the like). But despite the major wins that ARRA achieved, its effects may end up being short-lived -- thanks to the "natural" expiry of ARRA funds and Conservative efforts to block spending on these important services going forward. You may remember that in December, Congress rejected an omnibus appropriations bill that would have preserved funding at near ARRA levels for programs like childcare and early Head Start. As a result, tens of thousands of low-income children previously covered by these programs will soon have no place to turn, and their parents will no longer have a safe, affordable place to leave them while they work -- putting the economic security of thousands of families at risk. Many other vital services -- including health care and other critical benefits -- are now also in jeopardy, and millions more people may be forced into poverty as a result. CBPP's analysis found that ARRA funds played a critical role in keeping US poverty figures essentially flat in 2009 -- a major accomplishment given the deep recession and "very high" unemployment figures nationwide (in 2008, before the Act was put in place, poverty rose from 13.2 percent to 14.3, by comparison). Though ARRA is only one piece of the broader safety net offering protections to struggling individuals, families and communities, the funds have clearly made their mark in offsetting economic contraction. By CBPP's calculations, ARRA funds impacted:
  • 1.3 million people through extensions and expansions of federal unemployment benefits;
  • 1.5 million people through improvements in the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit;
  • nearly 1 million people through the law’s new Making Work Pay tax credit; and
  • 700,000 people through an increase in benefit levels for the SNAP program (previously called food stamps).
Remember: those aren't just numbers. They are real people -- many of them women and people of color -- who were given the opportunity to put food on the table, pay their bills, look for work, and, yes, stimulate the economy as a direct result of ARRA funding. Not to mention the many organizations that were able to turn stimulus money into better opportunities for all kinds of people. For example, in Connecticut, Ms. Foundation grantee All Our Kin used ARRA funding from the Department of Social Services to train 20 local communities in the use of CT's Infant/Toddler Guidelines, which seek to improve the quality of child care in the state. Because of that grant, each community will now be able to deliver coaching and consultation services to 20 local providers, predominately women -- for a total of 400 family child care providers trained statewide. Stories like those make the fact that these funds are now drying up all the more catastrophic. It's true enough that ARRA funds were always conceived of as a temporary measure: they were a one-time, $787 billion injection of cash into the economy, intended to create jobs, spur economic growth, and expire on September 30, 2010. But it is also true that government leaders had an opportunity, back in December, to learn from the successes of ARRA and refuse to turn their backs on the thousands of families helped along by the government's investment in them; they had an opportunity to find ways to stimulate economic growth by investing not just in business and big earners (see Bush tax cuts), but also in the so called "little people" people who actually make our economy work. Astonishingly, at least in the case of the omnibus bill, they chose very pointedly not to do that -- and the burden of that decision will fall, disastrously enough, right on the backs of America's working families. It's not yet clear how states and the federal government plan to fill these gaps in funding, but what's certain is that allowing women and families to fall between the cracks on this one cannot be the solution. Knowing that the ARRA funds had a real and positive impact on capping poverty should be enough to convince us that what we need is more, not less, investment in the well-being of all people in the US to get our economy back on track. Whether our political leaders can now find a way to come together and make that happen is another question entirely.
This post originally appeared on the Ms. Foundation's Igniting Change blog. Happy New Year! Now that we're all refreshed and refueled after a short holiday break, it's time to get back to the business at hand: pushing for progressive change that benefits us all -- something that's about to get significantly harder as conservatives harness increased power in Congress and in legislatures nationwide. One issue we're sure to be hearing (and talking) much about in the near future is the coming state-level assault on undocumented workers and "immigration reform" -- a battle that will have particularly severe impact on immigrant women, who now make up the majority of immigrants in the United States. According to a recent article in The New York Times, at least six states (Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina) are now planning to propose anti-immigrant legislation much like Arizona's rightly maligned SB-1070 bill, which is currently tied up in the courts after being challenged by the federal government and progressive groups on the ground. In addition to expanding the abilities of the police to question anyone "suspected" of being undocumented, as the Arizona legislation did, these bills also seek to bar undocumented students from public colleges and universities; allow for seizure of vehicles and property "used to transport or harbor illegal immigrants"; visit severe penalties on business that employ undocumented workers; and generally make life hell for anyone who is or aids an undocumented immigrant. As David Bacon of Urban Habitat notes, the goal of laws these laws is to so alienate and isolate the 12 million undocumented immigrants now in this country that they simply flee out of fear -- of incarceration or, quite simply, starvation. Pretty high-minded policy for a nation that prides itself of being a "global leader," don't you think? And it doesn't stop there: keep a close eye, too, on a coordinated campaign coming out of Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri and Pennsylvania this week, pushing for the repeal of the 14th amendment, which guarantees birthright citizenship to those born on US soil. It sounds like a cruel joke, but it isn't: these lawmakers plan wage a synchronized battle to make sure that the children of undocumented workers are cut out of the American dream, once and for all. And according to reports, they've got a better shot at making some headway in the regard than they have for many years. For undocumented women and children, these policies spell nothing but disaster. Women form the backbone of immigrant communities: they head the majority of immigrant households, they care for the elderly and children, and they provide communities with vital connections to schools, hospitals and social services. When immigrants are further criminalized by laws such as these, women and their families suffer -- as do entire communities. What results is an inevitable slide into greater poverty, isolation and violence -- particularly violence against women and girls who are made more vulnerable when fear of deportation pushes them further into the shadows. These, of course, are outcomes no thoughtful citizenry could willingly endorse. Yet that is exactly what conservatives are trying to suggest we do, under cover of saving jobs from the "undocumented masses" and protecting the safety of "real" Americans. Those of us who believe in equality and justice simply cannot accept that faulty logic; we must fight to find a better way forward. Women leaders in immigrant communities are ready for that fight -- with groups like Ms. Foundation grantees the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the National Asian Pacific America Women's Forum already pushing back, creating unique strategies to counteract the dangerous tactics of the Right and create positive outcomes in their communities. "Women are definitely at the front line of this battle for human rights,” says Caroline Hotaling, Program Officer at the Ms. Foundation for Women. “Whether it’s a group of undocumented mothers confronting an adult anti-immigrant posse at an elementary school in Phoenix; a lawyer defending battered women from deportation in Michigan; or everyday women voicing their concerns at countless local government meetings across the country, immigrant women are fighting for the dignity of their communities.” We'll be writing much more in the days and weeks to come about how these conservative policy proposals negatively impact immigrant communities and damage our society as a whole -- and about the role women leaders are playing in crafting effective and more humane policies and solutions. America's treatment of its immigrant population is an issue none of us can afford to ignore; too much of our nation's future -- and the well-being of women and families -- depends on getting this one right.
This post originally ran on the Ms. Foundation for Women's Igniting Change blog. Over at the Women's Media Center, they're running an important campaign to end sexism in the media -- a campaign you should be part of. Their goal is to hold media outlets accountable when they treat women candidates unfairly, and at the moment, they're dealing with a doozy. Karen E. Polito is the Republican candidate for State Treasurer in Massachusetts. On September 20, radio producer Bill Cooksey of WRKO-AM radio, Boston, took to the air to give Polito his endorsement -- but not for any reason having to do with her stance on issues of merit, or her qualification for the job. No, Bill Cooksey went live on air to endorse Karen Polito because, in his words, "She's got a banging little body." From the transcript of Cooksey's show:
I think she's hot. She's tiny, she's short. She's got a banging little body on her. Facial wise, I give her about a seven. Body wise, I give her about an eight-and-a-half. Tight little butt. I endorse Karyn Polito.
As our friends at the Women's Media Center point out, there's simply no room for this kind of unfair and demeaning commentary in the media -- both because it violates the very notion of objective journalism, and because it does actual damage to women candidates' chances at the ballot box. Recent research undertaken by WMC, the WCF Foundation and Political Parity has found that these kind of sexist remarks "significantly undercut [a female candidate's] political standing," causing them to lose twice as much support, on average, than criticisms that are not sexist in nature (for example, policy-based attacks). It would be one thing if Bill Cooksey were alone in making these kind of remarks (which his radio station is now vociferously defending). But, in fact, comments like these about women candidates are a dime a dozen these days, both from the media and from other politicians. Just take Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's recent introduction of NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand as the "hottest member" of the Senate. Or Jay Leno's joke this week about Delaware Senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell performing oral sex. These kind of remarks, whatever their provenance, do real violence to women candidates -- and to women at large. They are no different than the catcalling and street harassment that millions of women around the world experience each day, and that grantee groups like Hollaback are fighting to end. They reduce all women to little more than the sum of our body parts, and reinforce a culture where belittling and violating women is easy fodder for a quick laugh. In a climate like this, how can we be surprised that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime? The folks at WRKO may think of this as little more than a joke, but we're not laughing -- and neither are the folks at WMC. Their "Name It, Change It" campaign is calling upon those of us who find Bill Cooksey's comments offensive to demand an apology from the station. You can take action by phoning or emailing WRKO-AM and voicing your displeasure. WRKO phone: 617-779-3400 Email: [email protected] Julie Kahn, Vice President & Market Manager: (617) 779-5306 or [email protected] Jason Wolfe, Vice President of Programming & Operations: (617) 779-3541 or [email protected] Bill Cooksey on Twitter: @W_Cooksey Take a moment to now to speak up on behalf of women candidates -- and women everywhere. And check out one way the Ms. Foundation is working to change the portrayal of women (in this case, young women) in the media.
Who deserves help in this troubled economy -- the rich or everyone else? That's the question at the center of debate around the proposed extension of George W. Bush's tax breaks for America's wealthiest few. Over on the National Women's Law Center blog, there's an excellent entry into this discussion from Regina L. Oldak, Senior Counsel at NWLC, who argues convincingly that tax cuts for the wealthy indicate that America's got its priorities all wrong. Instead, she suggests, Congress should be doing more to strengthen our economy by helping the families who are actually struggling -- most notably, women headed families, for whom unemployment rates now stand at a 25 year high of 13.4 percent. In an economic climate where twenty-five percent of men and thirty-five percent of women say they have $500 or less in savings (as a major national poll [pdf] from the Ms. Foundation and the Center for Community Change recently found), offering tax cuts to the wealthy really gets it backwards, notes Oldak. Low and middle income communities own the spending habits that will eventually help jump-start this economy; therefore, our economic policies should aim to provide these communities with the influx of cash they need to keep themselves, and our economy, afloat. Oldak writes,
Extending tax cuts for low- and moderate-income people can boost the economy because hard-pressed families spend nearly every additional dollar to make ends meet—which, in turn, creates demand for goods and services and thus encourages businesses to hire more workers. However, the very wealthy save more of the money they get from tax cuts because they already have what they need (and much of what they want). For that reason, the Congressional Budget Office ranks tax cuts for the very wealthy as the least effective option for promoting economic growth.
Instead of revitalizing these Bush era tax cuts for the rich, Oldak suggests, Congress needs to act now to pass "substantial measures that would create jobs and provide emergency assistance to families including the Jobs for America Act, additional funding for child care, restored funding for child support enforcement, and an extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund." Those are measures that would provided much needed, tangible support to families who are increasingly finding themselves on the margins of society, unable to make ends meet -- and help stimulate an economy that arguably cannot recover without them. Americans, whatever their income level, are eager to find stability and security in this roller coaster ride of an economy. But those who are struggling to put bread on the table clearly deserve greater levels of support from their government in times like these. It's time for Congress to get serious about taking a stronger role in making this economy work by investing in programs that benefit low and moderate income communities. The wealthy, as they always have, will find their way.
Ninety years ago today, American society experienced a long overdue shift in the status quo. On August 26, 1920, after decades of struggle, the United States finally afforded women the right to vote. The women responsible for this triumph walked no easy road to victory. Jane Addams, Abigail Adams, Lucy Burns and Alice Paul. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ida B. Wells. Frances E.W. Harper, Sojourner Truth and Margaret Fuller. Lucy Stone. Lucretia Mott. Susan B. Anthony. Their names may be more or less familiar, but we too often forget how much these women sacrificed, over more than a century, to make possible every advantage today's women now enjoy. Personal losses were common: some of these women alienated spouses, friends and loved ones as a result of their commitment to seeing women treated as full citizens. Others were shot at. Attacked by mobs. Locked in jail and threatened with death. There was no shortage of creativity when it came to devising ways to try to scare these women out of the streets and back into the kitchen. And yet, despite all this, they pressed on. They rallied at Seneca Falls in 1848, and hosted a National Women's Rights Convention in 1850. They built formal organizations and associations to further the cause. They advocated in the streets, and organized in the statehouses until one hot day in August 1920, their movement had gained so much steam that 36 states ratified an amendment giving women the right to vote, ensuring that suffrage would be the right of every American woman. It was a remarkable thing these women did, over so much time, and with so much opposition. They literally changed the world for those of us who live in it now. On this day, the 90th anniversary of their triumph, we pause to honor all they did, and all they gave, on our behalf. Bringing true honor to these extraordinary women requires us to do more than just nod our heads in remembrance of the good fight they fought. It requires a commitment from those of us who treasure a democracy of full equity and inclusion to continue their work of ensuring that all Americans have equal access to the freedoms and opportunities our Constitution promises. The grantees of the Ms. Foundation are the embodiment of that fighting spirit. From the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, to the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative; from National Advocates for Pregnant Women to Green for All to the National Women's Law Center -- every one of our grantees works each day to build a more just democracy and help make equality, finally, the law of the land. Their work is, in so many ways, a direct extension of the groundbreaking work the suffragists did to begin to level the proverbial playing field, and we applaud them for their courage and determination in the face of so the many challenges that continue to block the path to full equality. Happily, our grantees are not alone in their efforts. The movement to build women's collective power runs broad and deep, and is made up of thousands of social justice organizations driving change. Among them is a group called Vision 2020, which has launched a decade-long national project dedicated to pick up where the suffragists left off. Their goal is to see gender equality achieved no later August 26, 2020 -- the centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment. The group's first public event takes place on October 21-22, 2010, when a congress of national delegates, representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, will meet at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to launch an action agenda to move America toward equality by this important date. It's hard to imagine that the suffragists wouldn't be exceedingly proud. On this important day in women's history, be sure to make your own commitment to honoring their legacy: pledge to support a new generation of women's leadership working to ensure equality for all.