Paycheck Fairness is Long Overdue

I learned early on, as the daughter of immigrants, that although the Constitution says that “all men are created equal,” all men and women are not treated equally. My parents saw getting a good education from a reputable institution as one way to “even out the playing field, ” so I thought my degrees from UC Berkeley and Columbia University would protect me from such injustices.

I was terribly wrong. I would ultimately end up being paid substantially less for doing the same job as a male counterpart for two years—and I found out because the person who was earning more than me was my partner.

I met my husband in 2004, when we were both enrolled in the same graduate programs at Columbia University. Two years after we graduated with the same dual Masters degrees in Education and Counseling Psychology, we were hired by the same agency for the same position.

I was extensively more qualified than my husband to serve as a school-based clinician: I had more than five years work experience in the field, outstanding references and a California Pupil Personnel Services Credential. But I am a Chinese American woman, and my husband is a white man—and I was offered only $35,700 a year, whereas he was offered $41,000.

That whopping 13 percent difference grew over two years to mean over $10,000 lost—effectively robbing us both of an extra $440 a month to pay for rent, access to healthy food and child care and cutting short my own future earning potential and social security benefits.

Our attempts at investigating and mitigating the situation were unsuccessful. Our emails, phone calls and letters to the employment agency went unanswered. We couldn’t afford a lawyer. We were forced to accept the situation. And I felt disrespected and devalued.

Once I knew about the wage gap manifesting in my own marriage, every single day became an emotional and mental struggle. I consciously resisted internalizing what had happened to me as my fault, fought back against thinking that somehow it was me who wasn’t enough. Sometimes, it was difficult to even be around my husband knowing that I worked every bit as hard, arguably harder than him, but was still paid less.

This wasn’t just an illegal, unjust and unethical situation. It was a traumatic one—and it required hundreds of hours of counseling and social activism to heal.

Over 50 years ago, the Equal Pay Act made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially equal work. Ten years ago, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restored the rights of pay discrimination victims, and made it clear that in the eyes of the legal system, the time limit for filing a discrimination claim resets with each discriminatory paycheck.

But even that is not enough. Today, women who work full time, year-round, are paid only 80 cents on average for every dollar men earn. That’s a $10,169 gap each year that persists and exists in every state—regardless of geography, occupation, education or work patterns. And it is even worse for moms and women of color.

Despite all this, I’m confident that we’re on the precipice of change. Among candidates in competitive Senate, House and gubernatorial races in 2018, equal pay was the issue most commonly included in candidates’ platforms. Presidential candidates are prioritizing wage and family issues. The U.S. is more primed than ever to pass legislation to curb this unjust practice.

The U.S. finally moved closer to pay equality on Wednesday, when Congress convened a hearing on the Paycheck Fairness Act to hear from experts and those who have suffered because of the wage gap. This critical legislation would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, help to break harmful patterns of pay discrimination and establish stronger workplace protections for women. It would assist businesses who need support with their equal pay practices and ensure the Department of Labor uses tools to investigate and identify any disparities.

My story should not be so common. Wage discrimination carries a profound impact on the lives of women—both in their ability to afford necessities for their families, and in the psychological and emotional toll this discrimination leaves behind. My family came to America believing that by working hard(er), we would have the same opportunities as everyone else—but we’re not there yet.

I’m hopeful Congress will finally do right by women and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. True equality is long overdue.

Laura Mui is a marriage and family therapist in Oakland, California.

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The U.S. Legal System is Failing FGM Survivors

Half a million. That is how many women and girls across the U.S. are currently at risk of or have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a number that surprises many—and so should the fact that just 28 states have enacted laws to provide protection against this form of violence and control over female bodies and sexuality.

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With #ZeroToleranceDay to #EndFGM approaching let’s not forget that Female Genital Mutilation happens all over the world. When girls grow up where FGM is against the law, they may be taken somewhere where FGM not illegal, or where the law is not implemented effectively. We must work together to ensure girls are safe from FGM across the world. Taking a girl, for the purpose of having her cut, where FGM not against the law does not stop it being a human rights violation. FGM is a global issue but so is the movement to end it. Stand with us to #EndFGM – link in bio #womensrightsarehumanrights #humanrights #womensrights #wespeakout #antarctica #whyimarch #womenswave

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FGM involves removing and damaging external female genitalia for non-medical reasons, thereby interfering with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. The World Health Organization cites four classifications of FGM: clitoridectomy, which is the partial or total removal of the clitoris; excision, involving the removal of the entire clitoris and the cutting of the labia minor; pricking, nicking or in other ways damaging the female genitalia; and infibulation, recognized as the most extreme form of FGM, in which all external genitalia are removed and the two sides of the vulva are stitched together, leaving only a small hole. All forms of FGM are internationally recognized as gender based violence, with no medical benefit, and FGM is also recognized as a human rights violation.

The procedure is typically carried out on girls between infancy and 15 years of age. Survivors of FGM are impacted everyday for the rest of their lives. After being cut,  menstruation, and sexual intercourse can be excruciatingly painful, and women and girls who have undergone FGM can face serious difficulties during childbirth, along with other persistent risks to their physical and psychological well being. Some girls even die from infection or bleeding. As of 2016, there are over 200 million women and girls worldwide who are living with  FGM.

In September 2015, 193 countries, including the U.S., adopted a target in the United Nations Sustainable Development goals to eliminate FGM by 2030. FGM was made illegal in the U.S. in 1996, more than two decades ago, but it was not until last year that the first federal charges were brought under the law.

In 2017, a Detroit-area emergency room physician, Jumana Nagarwala, was charged with using a clinic belonging to another doctor, Fakhruddin Attar, to perform FGM on what federal law enforcement estimates was up to 100 young girls over a twelve year period. In November 2018 all eyes were on Judge Bernard Friedman’s courtroom in the Eastern District of Michigan as he heard the case brought against Nagarwala by nine girls, ranging in age from seven to 13, from Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota.

Equality Now joined FGM survivor-led organizations Sahiyo, WeSpeakOut and Safe Hands for Girls in submitting an Amicus Brief in the case, in which we argued that the federal government has the authority to prohibit FGM based on the cross-border nature of what is an organized community activity, and that Congress also has the power to enact laws in accordance with treaties the U.S. has signed—including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by the U.S. in 1992, which requires signatories to report on what is being done to address FGM in accordance with global recognition of the practice as a violation of the human rights of women and girls.

We knew that this wasn’t just about nine young girls whose lives had been irrevocably changed in a clinic in a Detroit suburb. At the time of the trial, Illinois and Minnesota had laws against FGM. Michigan didn’t. Among the 28 states with laws prohibiting FGM, only eleven have provisions in their laws prohibiting transporting a child out of state to undergo FGM. What happened to these girls in Michigan is indicative of what we know is at risk of happening to hundreds of thousands of girls across the U.S., or what has already happened to those women and girls living with FGM. 

FGM doesn’t just transcend geographic boundaries; it happens across lines of religion, culture, education and socioeconomic status. It happens among groups like the Dawoodi Bohra, at the center of the Michigan case, but also in white Christian communities. “FGM happened to me in white, Midwest America,” Dr. A Renee Bergstrom, whose clitoris was removed at the age of three as a “cure” for masturbation, wrote in a December 2016 essay for The Guardian. She goes on to describe “Christian leaders and doctors recommending circumcision,” “physicians carrying out the practice” and “American culture first accepting this form of sexual abuse and then denying it ever occurred.”

Judge Friedman ultimately ruled that Congress had overstepped its authority in the 1996 legislation outlawing FGM, and ruled the federal ban on FGM “unconstitutional.” But his argument did not sanction FGM, nor does it carry any authority outside of Michigan’s Eastern District. He failed to see that FGM is a “commercial practice,” ignoring the reality that, in most communities, medical practitioners and traditional cutters are compensated for their services—and that performing FGM is lucrative work. The Department of Justice, which recognizes FGM as a form of child abuse, appealed the decision, and now it’s up to the Sixth Circuit Court to reinforce that FGM clearly falls under the lawmaking authority of Congress as stated by the Constitution.

How is it that other countries are making positive progress on banning FGM—while the U.S risks potentially moving backwards?

Standalone laws against FGM, at the state and federal levels, send a powerful and important message about our nation’s will to protect girls in the U.S. and around the world from harm and human rights violations. Protecting children from FGM, however, also requires going beyond law enforcement. We need to be engaging schools, teachers, school counselors, health workers, community leaders and social workers—the people girls at risk engage most with and those who can provide services to FGM survivors. 

Advocates marked International Day of Zero Tolerance Day for Female Genital Mutilation earlier this month, on February 6—a day for the global community to come together to raise awareness around FGM. Building on informal working groups that began several years ago, this past Zero Tolerance Day, Equality Now was thrilled to be part of the launch of the U.S End FGM/C Network, and we’re proud to serve on the inaugural Steering Committee. The Network brings together policymakers, healthcare professionals, civil society organizations, foundations, activists and survivors committed to eradicating FGM in the U.S. and around the world.

The key to ending FGM around the world is talking about it, and using the law as a tool for prevention and education. Together—with survivors who are sharing their stories, raising their voices and making a different choice for their daughters—we can ensure the conversation around FGM is had more widely and more openly and engenders more protections for those at risk.

And we can start right here at home—by demanding a law against FGM in every single state.

Shelby Quast is the Americas Director at Equality Now and has worked internationally for over three decades in a broad range of disciplines. She is a recipient of the Fulbright award and has taught at the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America, American University, Jagiellonian University in Poland and the Indian Institute of Management in Lucknow and holds a J.D. from Columbus School of Law at CUA and a B.A. in International Business from the University of Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @ShelbyRQuast.

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Protect Your Heart: Connecting the Dots Between Maternal Health and Heart Health

You likely know the statistics: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women and men, in the U.S. and worldwide. More than 400,000 women die each year from heart disease, and although death rates have been stable in the past 10 years, living with heart disease is physically, psychologically and financially burdensome for women and their families.

As researchers who work to identify risk factors for heart disease, we also know that mothers and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to heart disease.

The American Heart Association has designated February as Heart Month, with the Go Red for Women campaign, developed in 2004 to raise awareness about heart disease in women, marking a major centerpiece of their efforts. Yet greater awareness is needed on the link between pregnancy complications and later heart health risks.

Most of the time, women carry and safely deliver a healthy newborn—but sometimes, expectant mothers develop complications, termed “adverse pregnancy outcomes,” that threaten their own lives and those of their unborn child—including hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia; gestational diabetes; pre-term delivery at 37 weeks; and births of babies in the less than 10 percent height and weight percentile.

These adverse pregnancy outcomes are common, complicating 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies. They’re also dangerous. According to a 2018 study from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, women with a history of either preeclampsia or small-for-gestational age infant have a two-fold higher risk for heart disease and premature death, and women with the combination of both have up to an eight-fold higher risk of heart disease. And each year in the U.S., 50,000 women die during and immediately following pregnancy as the result of often common and treatable complications of pregnancy.

While many adverse pregnancy outcomes can be managed effectively during and immediately after pregnancy, others cannot. When they cannot, once hopeful families return home without their newborn or without their wives or partners. “The highs are so high,” a colleague who is a practicing obstetrician once commented on pregnancy, “but the lows are so low.”

Pregnancy is sometimes described as a “window to future cardiovascular health.” During patient interviews with women in my cardiology practice, women often report that the first time they were told they had high blood pressure was during pregnancy. One of my patients who is being treated for heart failure had a scary and complicated pregnancy that required her baby to be delivered early because she had dangerously high blood pressure. Many of my patients are not even aware that adverse pregnancy outcomes are the reason they are in my office.

Although the dangerous and deadly post-partum outcomes that take shape immediately warrant attention, the lifetime risks to a woman’s health are equally important. The strength of evidence linking adverse pregnancy outcomes with heart disease is so overwhelming that the leading guideline-making bodies in the field of cardiology, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, strongly advocate screening for adverse pregnancy outcomes in their recently updated guidelines.

One recommendation they make for clinicians is to ask women for a detailed history of their pregnancies, because doing so can identify women at increased risk of developing heart disease in the future. Experts also outline that pregnancy should be considered a natural “stress test” for women; according to these bodies, those who experience adverse pregnancy outcomes should receive the same enhanced risk status as a woman whose traditional “stress test” raises alerts.

Ideally, with more physicians asking questions about adverse pregnancy outcomes, more women will be empowered to ask the right questions about treatment options and get the treatment that they need. But making women aware of their risks for future heart disease is only effective if it leads to heart healthy behavior changes—including maintaining a healthy weight; eating a nutritious diet; sleeping seven to nine hours each night; and tracking cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose for diabetes (the primary risk factors for heart disease).

As mothers who each returned to work shortly after we had our children, both of us understand how difficult it is to prioritize our health when the needs of young children are so pressing. We understand that heart disease seems like a distant health risk when we are in our thirties and forties. We also know how frustrating, frightening and devastating it is to experience adverse pregnancy outcomes—and to know that our future heart health has become compromised.

For mothers, caring for our heart health is one more way we can show love for our children. For those who have lived through adverse pregnancy outcomes, mindfully addressing heart health can produce the best results for many years to come.

Mercedes Carnethon, Ph.D., is the Mary Harris Thompson Professor of Preventive Medicine and Chief of the Division of Epidemiology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.

Sadiya Khan, MD MS, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) and Preventive Medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. 

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How Anti-Abortion Laws Hurt Pregnant Women

Two “gay” penguins recently “adopted” an egg and became “proud fathers” of a baby girl. How reporters covering the story determined that the penguins identified as gay is anyone’s guess—but nonetheless, it’s a feel-good story in a society that increasingly accepts and celebrates different types of families. Yet my excitement for the two penguin dads is clouded by the reproductive injustice faced by so many women in American society—especially those who are single, low-income and/or women of color.

Celebrating diverse families is important. Real reproductive justice, though, requires woman-centered reproductive health laws.

Anti-abortion laws that focus on creating rights for fetuses take rights from women—and put them in danger. (Larissa Puro / Creative Commons)

State legislatures have been passing laws to restrict abortion at breakneck speeds in the last decade—and their latest strategy is to do so by granting rights to fetuses. Several measures in last November’s midterm elections advanced that agenda, including Alabama’s Amendment 2, which makes it state policy “to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children;” and moves in Ohio and Oklahoma defining an “unborn human” as a legally protected person and abortion as homicide, which is punishable by death.

These laws take away pregnant women’s rights—whether those women intend to terminate their pregnancies or to give birth. In a recently overturned decision, a court in Arkansas convicted Anne Bynum of “concealing a birth” after she had a stillbirth at home in 2015 and took the fetal remains to a hospital. Law enforcement arrested her on suspicion that she had attempted to self-abort, and a jury convicted her. She was sentenced to six years in prison before the Arkansas Court of Appeals reversed the conviction in December 2018.

In other cases, feticide laws have been used to prosecute pregnant women for having accidents or mental health problems. In January 2010, Christine Taylor was arrested and charged with attempted feticide after she fell down a flight of stairs while pregnant. Taylor told a nurse in the Emergency Department that she had considered abortion earlier in the pregnancy because she had separated from her husband. The nurse subsequently reported Taylor to law enforcement, and she spent two days in jail before they dropped the charges. In December 2010, Bei Bei Shuai, an immigrant who suffered from severe depression, attempted to commit suicide when she was 32 weeks pregnant. She survived, but her fetus did not. Instead of offering her treatment, an Indiana court charged her with murder and attempted feticide. After spending over a year in jail, she pleaded guilty to “criminal recklessness.”

Other states take punitive actions against pregnant women who use drugs or alcohol; the worst violations of pregnant women’s rights under these laws have targeted low-income women of color. Rennie Gibbs, an African American teenager, had a stillbirth in Mississippi in 2006 after her umbilical cord wrapped around her baby’s neck. She was sentenced to life in prison by a Mississippi court for murder when an autopsy found a cocaine byproduct in her stillborn daughter’s blood. In a more recent case, Kelli Leever-Driskel was charged with feticide, manslaughter and possession of methamphetamine after giving birth to a stillborn baby boy in February 2018.

Laws that prioritize fetal rights over women’s rights also make it more likely that pregnant patients will experience disrespectful care, including violations of their right to informed consent and bodily integrity. Court-ordered cesareans are a prime example. At least a dozen states have obtained court-orders to force unwilling pregnant women to undergo cesarean deliveries, even though it is not legal to force a woman to undergo surgery. These cases are rare, but they highlight the ways that a focus on fetal rights can be used to deny pregnant women fundamental rights. In my own research, I also found that pregnant women are less likely to receive evidence-based care or to have a vaginal birth after cesarean in states that restrict contraception and abortion than in states that protect women’s reproductive rights.

More than abortion is at stake when laws deny pregnant women the rights to make decisions about their pregnancies. Those who oppose abortion might do well to note that states with more abortion restrictions have worse maternal and infant health outcomes, including higher rates of maternal and infant mortality.

Many Americans value the life of an unborn fetus—but the life and well-being of pregnant women is essential to those who love them. Moral objections to abortion cannot be solved by prioritizing fetuses over women’s lives. Instead, we should empower women to make the right decisions for themselves, their children and their families—and find ways to guarantee that all women are able to plan their families on their terms and, if they so choose, to parent with dignity.

Dr. Louise Marie Roth is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project. She teaches medical sociology and sociology of gender, and is writing a book about maternity care in the United States.

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In the Wake of #NunsToo, It’s Time for Repentance and Conversion

It didn’t take long for #ChurchToo to follow #MeToo as survivors came forward to name the harassment, abuse, and assault they had experienced at the hands of clergy. Now we’ve added #NunsToo to the list, as the Pope has at last publicly acknowledged priests’ abuse and sexual assault of nuns. All this, of course, follows on the scandal—still not fully exposed—of widespread sexual abuse of children by priests.

It’s all so terribly mortifying—and even worse, not at all surprising.

The sexual abuse of nuns is not the problem. It’s the symptom. The problem is patriarchy—and the church’s participation in, benefit from and maintenance of sexist structures of power.(Victoria Pickering / Creative Commons)

Feminist theologians have been pointing out the patriarchal underpinnings of the church for decades; when feminist philosopher Mary Daly realized she couldn’t separate Christianity from patriarchy, she abandoned it all. While most feminist theologians don’t go quite that far, we remain clear in our calls for change that transformation won’t be found in a few tweaks to church policy.

What the Church needs—both the Roman Catholic proper and the notion universal—is conversion. Rather than being a radical, counter-cultural force for love and justice in the world, the Christian church has instead mostly been an active participant in a status quo that devalues, exploits and violates women with impunity. The church has shown that at its core, it believes in, embodies and propagates patriarchy.

Christian theology begins with misogynistic views of women’s responsibility for the Fall, women’s weaker nature, women’s greater distance from God-likeness, God’s inherent maleness, women’s exclusion from ordained ministry and male authority. Priests have a lifetime of being told that men are more like God than women, that women are subordinate to men, that women are temptresses responsible for men’s desire. Within the Church, they’re told they’ve been called by God—that they, and only they, have the power to administer the sacraments; that they act on behalf of God and in God’s stead.

In this context, how could anyone surprised that priests abuse nuns? 

Allowing priests to marry is not the answer for this problem—though that’s an important, separate question that the Church should address. Priests don’t rape nuns because they want to have sex. Priests rape nuns because they want to exert power. Allowing priests to marry won’t change that. (One needs to look no further than the number of married men who the world over commit sexual abuse and assault for proof.)

This is not a case of a few bad apples. Christian misogyny is institutionalized in the structures of the Church and the church, and these structures exist mostly to benefit men—particularly the men who receive the most power from them as priests and pastors. In the Church’s hierarchy, nuns answer to the authority of men. When men have unconstrained authority over women, abuse inevitably follows.

The proof is in what we are witnessing. The Church is still unable to come to a full accounting of its abuse of children; it still hedges, deflects and denies. The Church also knew about the abuse of nuns, long before the Pope’s acknowledgement—and in light of its excruciatingly slow response to child abuse by priests, the Pope’s promise to do something about the abuse of nuns doesn’t provide much comfort.

Exactly how much is the Pope willing to do anyway, if he still clings to the notion that women belong under the authority of men in God’s house? This Pope may be a kinder, gentler patriarch, but he is still a patriarch. He may be moving the Church forward on some issues, but he still reinforces women’s subordination. (This dichotomy alone reminds us how critical an intersectional analysis of power remains in communities of faith.) Radical reform of priests’ treatment of women will not come as long as the Church continues to teach that women are secondary—that women cannot represent Christ to the congregation and are somehow still just a little less like God than men.

The sexual abuse of nuns is not the problem. It’s the symptom. The problem is patriarchy—and the church’s participation in, benefit from and maintenance of sexist structures of power.

The way forward lies, ironically enough, in the language of theology. Repentance involves a deep and thorough self-examination of wrong-doing, a full accounting of the harm done and a sincere commitment to restitution and reparation. Conversion means making a 180: repenting and making right the wrongs done to women as well as transforming every inch of the life of the church from its center to ensure welcome, respect, equity and justice for them, across their differences and in every facet of life.

It’s time for the church to renounce its misogyny. It’s time for the church to refuse patriarchy. It’s time for us to construct a new beloved community—a true and inclusive kin-dom of God.

Susan M. Shaw, Ph.D., is a Professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University.

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The State of Paid Leave

It has been encouraging to see politicians on both sides of the aisle signal their support for a national paid parental leave plan in the days since President Trump’s State of the Union address. With any legislation, however, the devil is in the details—and the plan proposed by the administration to date is devilish indeed.

The plan proposed by the Trump administration thus far addresses leave only for parents of a new child, excluding the 75 percent of leave-takers who need time to care for their own serious illness or that of a loved one. It relies on funding through state unemployment insurance funds and offers amounts that are too small for most families, a formula that would result in cuts to those who get laid off.

The U.S. is an outlier when it comes to paid leave. As we work to catch up with the rest of the world, it’s important to ensure a decent floor that meets the “Triple A” test: accessible, affordable and adequate for all workers.

We need paid family and medical leave that values all care and every family, with a fair and sustainable funding method. We need solutions that eliminate, not exacerbate, existing disparities by income, race and gender.

Fortunately, we know what that looks like: the FAMILY Act, which will deliver a workable model and soon be proposed in the new session of Congress.

The FAMILY Act follows the lead of the states which have already successfully implemented paid leave programs that work for employees and business owners alike. It rests on a sustainable and cost-effective funding base—a social insurance model that pools small contributions from employees and employers so that workers can afford the time they need to heal or care for a loved one.

This week marks the 26th anniversary of the first and only family leave legislation in the U.S., the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). While a great first step, it leaves out 40 percent of the workforce; millions more who are covered by cannot afford the time, because it is unpaid.

We look forward to working with political leaders from both parties to pass the FAMILY Act. And as we work for meaningful paid leave, we will continue to call on this administration to stop hurting women and their families, who have been devastated by a host of this administration’s policies: the massive separation of families and daily terror and uncertainty for immigrant families, the attacks on women’s access to contraceptives and safe abortions, the tax cut that is adding to already grotesque inequities, the continuing assault on the social safety net and the onslaught against democracy.

WATCH: Family Values @ Work’s State of Paid Leave Address

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State of Paid Family and Medical Leave 2019

State of Paid Leave: Only 17 percent of U.S. workers have access to #PaidLeave via an employer. When people who deliver goods and services for us need to care for themselves or their kids, partners or parents, few can — and remain financially stable. Here's Family Values at Work's 2019 State of Paid Leave and how you can bring about change. #SOPL

Posted by Family Values at Work on Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Follow FV@W on Facebook to be notified next time they go live.

Ellen Bravo and Wendy Chun-Hoon are the co-directors of Family Values @ Work.

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The U.S. Has Never Needed Paid Family and Medical Leave More

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) turned 26 this week, just as President Trump was preparing to talk paid leave during his State of the Union address.

The Family Medical Leave Act was an important first step. Now it’s time to pass the FAMILY Act. (MomsRising)

As the most female Congress in history gets to work, lawmakers have an urgent imperative to adopt comprehensive paid family and medical leave that allows all workers to care for their families without risking their jobs or financial security. No issue is more important to moms across the country.

Moms need paid leave to care for new babies, for sure, but also to care for a spouse or sibling who is battling heart disease or a parent struggling with dementia, or to recover from illness or injury.

Not just any paid leave program will do: The U.S. needs a comprehensive, meaningful paid leave program that covers all workers, addresses the range of caregiving needs families face, expands the definition of family, provides wage replacement sufficient to allow workers with low wages to take leave and ensures that the same or comparable jobs will be there when workers return from their leave.

We expect that, as with last year’s State of the Union, Trump’s lip service to paid leave will be followed with sparse details. In the past, his paid leave proposals have fallen far short of what working families need—providing only parental leave, doing nothing for workers who need leave to care for a sick family member or to recover from illness—and the benefits they would offer would not be meaningful, and would be especially inadequate for workers with lower incomes and wages. Their eligibility rules may even exclude the new parents who need leave the most.

That is not what the country needs.

Similarly, some Republican lawmakers have offered proposals that are deeply, even fatally, flawed—because they would reinforce stereotypes about women, require workers to trade future Social Security benefits for paid leave and/or provide inadequate job protections.

That would not be what our country needs.

Twenty-six years ago, the FMLA required certain employers to provide workers with 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave to welcome a new child, care for an ill family member or recover from a serious illness. It was a vitally important starting point, but it does not meet the needs of working families or our economy today.

We need the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act to boost moms and families, strengthen our economy, improve our health and make our workplaces more equitable.

The FAMILY Act, which we expect will be introduced in both the House and Senate very soon, would create a social insurance fund with small contributions from employees and employers; provide all workers with a meaningful amount of leave to meet the full range of caregiving needs; and be affordable, cost-effective and sustainable for workers, employers and taxpayers.

We want to be clear: A paid leave program that provides only parental leave is a non-starter for the millions of MomsRising members across the country who see paid family and medical leave as top priority issue.

Congress must pass the FAMILY Act, and President Trump must sign it into law. It’s time for the U.S. to finally give moms, and all workers, access to paid family and medical leave.

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is the author of Keep Marching and Executive Director and CEO of MomsRising—an on-the-ground and online grassroots organization of more than a million people who are working to increase family economic security, decrease discrimination against women and moms and build a nation where businesses and families can thrive. 

Ruth Martin is the Vice President of Workplace Justice Campaigns at MomsRising.

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Stop Prosecuting Abortion!

It was no surprise when candidate Donald Trump mused about punishing women who have abortions. The logical consequence of abortion bans—and indeed, all false claims that equate abortion or birth control with murder—is sending women to jail.

This isn’t just theory or speculation. It’s already happening. 

According to a report by the SIA Legal Team, at least 21 people have been arrested in the U.S. for self-managing abortion since the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 in Roe v. Wade that abortion was legal. This number is a subset of more than 1,000 arrests, detentions and forced medical interventions that have faced pregnant women across the country—including arrests of women for taking abortion pills on their own, forced C-sections and states appointing legal representation for fetuses.

Some of those women hail from Virginia, where I live—and where, despite a governor and attorney general who are considered reproductive rights champions, this still happens. Michelle Roberts faced felony charges for self-managed abortion, which were dropped in October 2018. Katherine Dellis was convicted after having a miscarriage at home, and later pardoned by Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) in June last year. 

It is a national concern to stop prosecuting abortion. It’s not just bad laws and bad politicians that are being used to violate basic human rights for women and pregnant people—it’s bad prosecutors who think they know better, bad judges hungry to punish women and bad law enforcement officials and medical staff who call turning people in for suspected abortions “pro-life.”

The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t a future dystopia tale. For women across the country—most especially poor people, women of color and residents of states where politicians have purposefully made abortion extremely difficult to access—it hits eerily and scarily close to home.

A new effort led by Reproaction, an organization I co-founded, aims to change that. Our Stop Prosecuting Abortion campaign discusses the real-life consequences of punishing women for pregnancy outcomes, and backs it up with innovative actions to help this country change course.

The campaign launched with a press conference on the morning of the so-called “March for Life” at the National Press Club—including Eleanor Smeal, president of Feminist Majority Foundation; Indra Lusero, staff attorney at National Advocates for Pregnant Women; Jennifer Wang, deputy director of programs at National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum; Renee Bracey Sherman, Senior Public Affairs Manager at National Network of Abortion Funds; and myself. From there, Reproaction and allies, including Feminist Majority Foundation and the Women’s Information Network, led a counter-demonstration at the March for Life demanding accountability from protesters who are calling for an end to Roe.

FMF’s latest National Clinic Violence Survey spotlights the persistent threats facing providers nationwide. And in ReproAction’s first in a series of videos in which abortion opponents share a range of alarming views about punishing women who have abortions, we spotlight Operation Save America, an extreme national group that has met with government officials including Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R-KY).

This year marked the first Roe anniversary since abortion opponents secured a five-seat Supreme Court majority with power to overturn or gut Roe, and that’s why it was important for us to launch this campaign in time with the so-called “March for Life.” We wanted to express peaceful, proud support for abortion rights and represent the views of the nearly three in four Americans who say they don’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. 

And we will continue fighting on until women are free to make the choices they want to make—without fear of reprisal from the state.

Erin Matson is a feminist organizer and writer recognized for creativity, vision, breakthrough campaigns and fearless advocacy and storytelling. She is the co-founder and co-director of Reproaction, a new direct action group forming to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice, and also serves on the board of directors of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation. Previously, she served as editor at large for Rewire and as action vice president of the National Organization for Women.

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Helping Girls and Women Win

Earlier this month, Sarah Thomas made history when she became the first woman to referee an NFL playoff game, sparking news coverage of topics like the recent push for women officials in the NHL and the rarity of female officials in professional sports. What was often overlooked in these discussions was the incredible dearth of female referees at the grammar school level, and the impact it has on girls.

The absence of women leaders is a major part of a cyclical series of disparities for young women in sports. Having more women officials would help give young women athletes a wider understanding of their opportunities and what they can accomplish—not just in sports, but in all of life.

I’m a former basketball player and high school hall of famer, but I never wondered why the majority of coaches and referees were all men until my own daughters were playing the game. In my daughters’ school, for example, a new gym was opened after the eighth grade girls’ basketball season was completed but just in time for the start of the boys’ season. Similarly, girls had to wait until fifth grade to start competitive basketball—whereas boys got to begin in third grade.

As a nurse and servant leader who is used to advocating for patients, I immediately went into action to make my voice heard and fix these gender-based inequities. The outcome: an eighth grade girls’ basketball tournament was held the year the gym opened, and now all girls now have the opportunity to compete in a girls’ basketball program in their own gym, just as the boys do.

But this goes beyond establishing better facilities and expanding opportunities for girls to get on the court. Young women athletes need to see women in roles of leadership as coaches and referees.

The number of women referees in professional sports is dismally low: 1.6 percent in the NBA; 0.8 percent in the NFL; and a whopping zero in the MLB and NHL. The number of female coaches is equally low. The problem is even more evident at the youth level—where girls’ participation numbers in sports are higher, but there’s an even lower amount of women in sports leadership.

Even the bright spots highlight the bigger problem. Earlier this summer, Hanah Shehaiber made history when she refereed for an Illinois High School Association soccer state championship game, because she was the first female in Illinois to serve as the center referee ever.

The participation of girls and women in sports decreases at the high school and professional levels.  Between 2009 through 2015, of those aged 15 and older who played basketball, only 10.5 percent were female. The lack of female sports leaders at the youth level is worth noting here—as is the urgency of the potential negative health and school performance implications for girls who choose not to participate in sports in high school.

Research shows that connections to female leaders provide girls with the confidence they need to become leaders themselves, and increasing female coaches, role models and media images of women playing sports is necessary to improve girls’ participation in sports.

That’s why we need to get a head start. The lack of female leadership in sports needs to be addressed early on, when girls are playing in grammar school. Female leaders like those found in the Girl Scouts of the USA provide examples of what girls can accomplish, and organizations like the Girl Scouts provide young women with the example of female leaders that empower them to be leaders. Youth sports needs to provide similar mentors to women referees to increase their visibility on all playing fields.

Women, especially those who participated in sports programs when they were younger, can also help close the cycle of gender inequity in sports by coaching and refereeing girls grammar school and high school athletic games. From my own experience, as a girls youth basketball coach for over 12 years and as a girls basketball youth referee when I was in high school, I know how rewarding it is to empower girls to be the best they can be in sports. If there are no female officials in sports programs in your community, the easiest way to rectify that is probably through completing the requirements to become one. (You will not only serve as a female role model, but also make some extra money for yourself!)

Although the need for referees at the youth level is high, women are rarely seen in part to feeling unwelcomed in the role. A 2014 study found that uncivil work environments—including lack of mutual respect from male officials, perceived inequality of policies, lack of role modeling and mentoring and even gendered abuse—pushed former female referees toward their eventual resignations, echoing the experiences of women who work in other male-dominated professions.

Marian Wright Edelman, an advocate for children’s rights has stated that “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Increasing the number of female officials in youth leagues will show girls participating in sports what they can accomplish when they are older, will eventually increase the number of female officials at all levels of sports, and allow females to be connected to a sport they once loved playing. That’s a scenario where everyone wins. 

Mary Heitschmidt, Ph.D, RN, is Director of Clinical Research, Co-Director of the Center for Clinical Research and Scholarship, Assistant Professor at Rush University Medical Center and a Public Voices fellow with the OpEd Project.

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Hillary Was Right: Real Talk About the Deplorables

A curious common wisdom seems to have taken hold of the Democratic Party which insists that the President’s base can—and must—be won back. Trump voters, folks insist, are not really racist, or sexist, but rather misunderstood and dislocated by “changes.” 

(Victoria Pickering / Creative Commons)

There are some notable exceptions, such as the veritable breaths of fresh air that are New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Boston’s own Ayanna Pressley, but even progressive stalwart and presidential hopeful Kamala Harris appears to have quaffed this particular Kool-Aid.

“Over the last 10 years in our country, at least, we’ve seen an incredible amount of change,” she said in an NPR interview after a query about Trump’s victory. “People are reading about ‘the browning of America,’ and ‘the immigrants are coming,’ and we had Barack Obama as president, and then we had a woman running as president, and we had a Jew running for president, and gay people can marry and ‘oh my God, oh my God.’” 

Others, such as perennial Presidential wannabe Joe Biden, have offered similar sentiments as they position themselves as having enough of the right stuff and the common touch to successfully challenge Trump in 2020. 

But is it “understandable” that people feel “displaced?” What makes them wonder about “where they fit in,” or about “their relevance?” What makes them ponder whether they are “obsolete?” Why are they “resentful of this change?” What does it say about a group of people if they are angered by inclusion and diversity, or by movements toward more racial justice? Why are those changes not greeted with celebration?

This is a convenient story. It allows us to pretend that all of this finger pointing and synagogue shooting and shouting— “build the wall, crime will fall!”—is just befuddlement. And it allows politicians to insist that deep and abiding racial and gender animus is not driving Trump and his supporters. (Research shows it is.) Trump supporters are not really hateful or discriminatory, this story tells us—and thus, they can and should be able to be brought back into an electoral fold by a leader who understands their angst. 

But this story is also both incorrect and dangerous. Unless we reckon with the depth and staying power of white supremacy and toxic masculinity, we will never be able to do anything more than defend what little inclusion and democracy we have. 

The ideologies of racial and gender superiority may now have chipped from decades of activism, education and legislation, but they are still alive and well in the hearts and minds of many of our neighbors. How else to honestly explain the precipitous rise in bias-related hate crimes now that bigotry has been legitimized from the highest office? How else to explain active and explicit efforts to disenfranchise voters of color? 

It may be troubling to imagine that a portion of our compatriots have beliefs and values so at odds with those supposedly at the heart of this nation—tolerance, inclusion, democracy and equality come to mind—but, in truth, this has always been the case, and that means we must learn how to acknowledge it. Vast numbers of Americans believed slavery a legitimate and necessary social institution. Women were deemed unable to even exercise the franchise of the vote, and they were beaten in the streets for demanding it. 

Hillary was pilloried for deeming a portion of Trump’s base “a basket of deplorables,” beyond the pale of civilized disagreement. But was she wrong? 

None of us are blank books in which history writes a story. The narrative of rapid change provoking innocent (white) bystanders to lash out blindly is simultaneously patronizing and illogical. It presumes those individuals experience these changes with no beliefs and values of their own, no way to make sense of them other than fear and hatred—yet not all of us react to change the same way. 

If we all really valued inclusion and equity, the election of an African-American President and the prospect of electing a female president would be greeted with celebration, not epithets. Instead, these occasions were met with anger and violence. These reactions are only possible if and when people believe that this is a zero-sum game; that those jobs or positions of power or rights were always only theirs to begin with; and, perhaps most dangerously, that those clamoring for equality and inclusion are less worthy, perhaps even less fully human, than they are. 

Biden even acknowledged as much in a September speech to the Human Rights Campaign, where he railed against the “virulent people” who “remain determined to undermine and roll back the progress.” Walking back from this accurate assessment may seem politically savvy, but it is ethically dangerous. Any glance at the horrors of our last century should give pause to indulging in fantasies where bigotry is understood as innocent dislocation.

To not reckon with the misogyny that propelled Trump and ratified Kavanaugh is to close our collective eyes to the persistent view of women as objects to be used, not equal subjects and citizens. When 60 percent of Trump supporters hope not to see a woman president in their lifetime, and an avowed white supremacist such as Iowa’s Steve King is handily reelected to Congress, there is only so much wool we can pull over our own eyes. When Bernie Sanders explains the defeat of black candidates Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams by referencing the “discomfort” of white voters—or, in later clarifications, the racism of their electoral opponents—he masks the reality of the deep and ongoing active racism of a small but significant portion of the American electorate.

Politicians and pundits routinely normalize and explain away resentment and anger at social change in the hopes of winning back seemingly wayward voters. But perhaps tying our future to those who espouse our values is a better way to ensure that we have one at all.

Opinions expressed here are the author’s own. Ms. is published by Feminist Majority Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, and does not endorse candidates.

Suzanna Danuta Walters is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Northeastern University and the Editor of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.

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