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Archive for the ‘Advocacy’ Category

AAUW rising largeAs Eve Ensler says, I’m “over it.”

I’m over the public safety warnings from my university alerting the community of another violent crime.

I’m over the headlines about another woman becoming the 1 in 3 worldwide to be raped or beaten in her lifetime.

I’m over the jokes, the slut-shaming, and the blaming.

I’m over Congress dragging its feet on passing a bill that would ensure protection for the 1 in 4 women who experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

I’m over violence against women.

Each day there are new stories of harassment, stalking, and violence, and with these stories emerge new victims who join the 1 billion other women who will be violated in their lifetimes.

Although Valentine’s Day is traditionally considered a day to celebrate love, today is also for remembering women who have suffered physical, emotional, and social pain due to violence. Rather than spending the day enjoying boxes of chocolates and card and flower deliveries, Ensler, author and playwright of The Vagina Monologues, invites women around the globe to walk, dance, rise, and demand an end to violence against women.

As part of her One Billion Rising campaign, Ensler aims to raise consciousness about the global problem of violence against women. By encouraging women and men to join in solidarity, Ensler hopes to change the cultural and political ways we address violence.

AAUW is risingWhile the dancing is slated for just one day, spreading awareness does not end today. One way to keep the movement going is to join AAUW in urging Congress to reauthorize the  Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). For me and millions of my college peers, reauthorization of VAWA is particularly important. One in 5 women will experience sexual assault while in college. Since policies from the Campus SaVE Act are included in the Senate-passed VAWA reauthorization, we could see better and stronger policies from colleges detailing their handling of claims of sexual assault and violence. We could also see prevention activities at every school and better reporting on more types of incidents on campuses. But that only happens if the House includes these provisions in their bill as well.

By dancing for One Billion Rising and supporting the reauthorization of VAWA, women can re-energize awareness about violence against women and ignite change. This Valentine’s Day, forget the chocolate and the roses. Get up and dance, or contact your representatives in Congress. Tell them you are over violence against women.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member and AAUW Public Policy Intern Bethany Imondi, whose SAC membership is sponsored by Dagmar E. McGill in memory of Happy Fernandez and Helen F. Faust.

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Taking Steps toward Fair Pay

Obama SOTU 2013AAUW completely agrees with President Obama’s remark last night — equal pay needs to happen now, not later. In 2012, AAUW found that college-educated women already earn 7 percent less than men just one year out of college — even when women have the same major and occupation as their male counterparts. It doesn’t have to be this way. In addition to Congress passing the Paycheck Fairness Act this year (take action to urge your representative to co-sponsor!), AAUW strongly believes there are concrete actions that the Obama administration can take that would enable women to bring home the pay they have rightfully earned. Here are some of our ideas:

  • Issue an executive order forbidding federal contractors from retaliating against employees who ask questions about compensation. With federal contractors and subcontractors making up nearly a quarter of the federal civilian workforce, this order would protect millions of workers seeking equal pay for equal work.
  • Replace the Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs’ (OFCCP) current guidelines for investigating wage discrimination. OFCCP ensures that federal contractors and subcontractors (which employ millions of workers) provide equal employment opportunity through affirmative action and nondiscrimination. In January 2011, the OFCCP proposed recalling and replacing the two guidelines that shape how it conducts these investigations. The current guidelines obligate the OFCCP to follow an identical procedure for all compensation discrimination investigations “regardless of the facts of a particular case.” AAUW called on the OFCCP to rescind these antiquated guidelines back in 2011.
  • OFCCP should implement a much-needed compensation database. AAUW has long supported OFCCP conducting a survey of contractor employment data to target enforcement efforts and better understand why women and people of color continue to be paid less relative to their counterparts. OFCCP should ensure that the data collected can be used to conduct in-depth analyses of pay practices in various industries to identify the most problematic fields and provide industrywide guidance where there are systemic problems.
  • Ask the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to develop regulations directing employers to collect wage data including the race, sex, and national origin of employees. This information is not currently collected, making it difficult for the EEOC to investigate discrimination allegations.
  • Ensure adequate enforcement of all civil rights laws through sufficient funding and staffing of the EEOC, OFCCP, and various civil rights divisions. AAUW is worried that ongoing budget pressures will lead to reduced funding for these agencies, leaving millions of Americans without access to civil rights law enforcement.

The Obama administration has a real opportunity to further equal pay for equal work despite congressional gridlock. These and other administrative actions are available to the administration right now. We know the president is committed to equal pay for women. Let’s not make women wait any longer. Help us spread the word: Share this blog with your friends and participate in AAUW’s tweetstorm from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern today. Tweet #TalkPay and this blog to encourage the administration to take action on equal pay.

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Last week, the Obama administration proposed new regulations for determining which religiously affiliated employers and nonprofit organizations would have to provide no-cost contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans. Under the adjusted policy, churches and other houses of worship are still exempt from having to provide this coverage, and other religious entities (such as charities or universities) would not have to issue plans that directly provide birth control coverage. Employees at those organizations would instead, as the Washington Post put it, receive a “stand-alone, private insurance policy that would provide contraceptive coverage at no cost.”

This decision protects women’s ability to access contraception without co-pay. AAUW is pleased that the administration resisted efforts to exempt for-profit companies from providing this critical health insurance coverage. The decision will lead to real benefits, including fewer unintended pregnancies and a better quality of life for women. If you’d like to learn more about whether your insurance plan covers these services, a health advocacy group has prepared an easy-to-use tip sheet.

However, we are concerned that another regulation, also announced last week, could limit women’s ability to access this care. The proposal would exempt student health plans self-funded by colleges from benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

This proposal would affect only about 30 institutions — mostly major private and public research universities — that self-fund their student health insurance plans, but this loophole could inspire other schools to begin self-funding their plans to remove contraceptive coverage, which AAUW would strongly oppose. As one consumer group put it, “Without federal protections and only minimal state oversight, self-funded plans are free to discriminate based on preexisting conditions, offer limited coverage with low annual limits on benefits, and commit a number of consumer abuses that the ACA was designed to eliminate.”

Although these are modifications to existing policies, they’ll have a big impact on women across the country. Subscribe to AAUW’s Washington Update to keep up to date on these developments and what they mean for women and girls.

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“Women don’t negotiate because they’re not idiots.”

That’s the provocative title and main thrust of a recent Huffington Post piece in which Joan Williams argues that negotiating can leave women “worse off than if they’d kept their mouths shut.” Williams appropriately notes the 2006 Babcock study on the backlash directed at women who negotiate. The study demonstrates that there is sexism in the workplace. But does that surprise us? Does that mean that as women we should just sit back and accept that we have to ensure in every situation that we are “well-liked” rather than ask for what we deserve — to be paid fairly?

Williams questioned how $tart $mart salary negotiation workshops (co-run by AAUW and the WAGE Project and featured in a recent New York Times article) address any backlash that women may face in negotiation. What AAUW and $tart $mart make clear is that responsibility for the wage gap doesn’t lie solely with women as individuals. The workshops do demonstrate some of the key stereotypes that women face in the workplace. And AAUW’s own research on women’s earnings just one year out of college points to the variety of other factors related to the current gap.

I couldn’t agree more with Williams’ ask for a “new system for setting starting salaries.” She suggests that employers provide new hires with information about salary ranges and potential stereotypes about women in the workplace. This idea connects to recent research that shows that women are much more likely to negotiate if the position noted explicitly that the salary was “negotiable.” Plainly put, women seek permission for what men automatically assume they are entitled to.

There are many things we — policymakers, business owners, hiring managers, and individuals — can do to fight the wage gap. But, of all the things we can do, telling women to give in to the realities of sexism and give up negotiating shouldn’t be one of them.

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Between 1861 and 1865, the United States fought a brutal war that divided the nation. By the war’s conclusion, the Union had been preserved and slavery officially ended. Yet more than 150 years later, the nation is still fighting slavery, albeit in a different form: human trafficking. AAUW strongly supports efforts to combat trafficking, a position formally adopted as part of our public policy agenda by AAUW members in 2011.

Human trafficking, which President Obama said “must be called by its true name — modern slavery,” is a criminal activity that forces individuals into prostitution or involuntary labor. On Wednesday, government officials, academic and business leaders, and an Academy Award-winning actress came together to discuss the fight against modern-day slavery.

Hosted by Georgetown University and Deloitte Consulting LLP, the Anti-Human Trafficking Symposium: Transforming the Coalition included keynote addresses from Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton and actress Mira Sorvino, who is a U.N. goodwill ambassador.

Actress Mira Sorvino, photo by United Nations Photos, Flickr Creative Commons

“It’s fitting for us to meet during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month,” said Morton. “The grim reality is that human trafficking and sexual exploitation are a very real part of the modern world … To defeat human trafficking we must attack it relentlessly.”

According to a 2007 U.S. State Department report, 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls. Because the majority of victims are female, Morton stressed the need to educate girls about the dangers of trafficking. Education can help at-risk girls become less vulnerable to offenders.

Morton also discussed ICE’s victim-centered investigation approach. Based on gaining victims’ trust and reducing intimidation from their offenders, the approach considers recovering victims to be as important as prosecuting offenders.

Sorvino echoed the importance of helping victims. She told the true story of a young boy and girl from the Philippines who were lured to the United States by the promise of work. The woman who recruited the children told them to take taekwondo classes for a month before leaving home so that they could come into the country on athletic visas. After securing visas at the border with their transporter (the taekwondo trainer), the children began work at an assisted living facility in Long Beach, California. They worked nearly nonstop without pay until a neighbor tipped off the FBI, who ultimately rescued the children from the woman’s control. Saving these and other children from sex slavery and forced labor motivates Sorvino to lobby Congress and state legislatures to pass laws preventing human trafficking within our borders.

Noting the ease with which the children in Sorvino’s story secured visas, the speakers also discussed the importance of comprehensive immigration reform. Morton said that current laws must be overhauled and rewritten to help protect illegal immigrants from exploitation. He and other symposium speakers agreed that in order to combat human trafficking, partnerships between federal and nongovernmental organizations, both in the United States and internationally, are vital.

“I think we will all agree that human trafficking provokes our justifiable and righteous anger,” said Morton. “Let’s bring our outrage to the offense.”

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Bethany Imondi.

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FMLA-01The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is a shining example of what AAUW lobbying efforts can help accomplish. Passed after seven years of hard work by AAUW staff and the AAUW Action Fund Capitol Hill Lobby Corps, the legislation continues to be held up 20 years later as a lobbying success story.

“Often when I am telling folks about Lobby Corps I use FMLA as an example of our tenacity,” said Lobby Corps member Kitty Richardson. “It was definitely a case of here today, here tomorrow. We’re not going away, and we are supporting [the legislation] for the long term.”

The act, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on February 5, 1993, allows qualified employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to care for a new baby or recently adopted child, tend to a seriously ill family member, or overcome their own serious health problems. About 62 percent of workers qualify for FMLA.

AAUW’s work on FMLA began in 1986 with an official endorsement of national family and medical leave legislation. AAUW delegates then adopted family and medical leave as an action priority at our 1987 National Convention. An AAUW brief from April 1998, Family Leave: A Solution to Work and Family Conflicts, told the story of a Delaware woman who lost her job because she needed time off to care for her ill son. The article said, “Women who have no parental leave face especially heavy income losses.”

In 1989, AAUW and other national women’s groups presented President George H.W. Bush and leaders of the 101st Congress with a “women’s agenda” focused on family, workplace, and health issues. The women’s agenda called for a family and medical leave act establishing a national policy of leave to enable working women and men to fulfill their family responsibilities without sacrificing job security.

AAUW Lobby Corps member Marcy Leverenz lobbied for AAUW on FMLA in the late 1980s. She said that when they started they had to make legislators understand the big picture — that people all over the United States needed the ability to take time off for caregiving.

“Through our lobbying efforts, this need became more of an empirical message rather than an anecdotal message,” Leverenz said. “It initially wasn’t looked on as a problem to be solved.”

Also in 1989, AAUW delegates again adopted family and medical leave as an action priority with thousands of AAUW members visiting the offices of nearly every senator and representative that June. And the results proved positive: The Outlook issue published after the lobby day said that the “coalition of national groups working for family leave … credited AAUW with greatly advancing the issue in Congress.”

The issue stayed at the top of AAUW’s policy agenda throughout the early 1990s. A February 1991 briefing said that AAUW “is fully committed to the establishment of a national family policy that helps American families balance work and family responsibilities.” When FMLA finally became law in 1993, Lobby Corps members said they reacted with joy — and relief.

“I really feel like without us out there nagging, it wouldn’t have gotten through,” said Lobby Corps member Nancy MacKenzie.

Part of the reason Lobby Corps had success was because they could provide personal stories to get legislators on board.

“We are effective because we aren’t paid to lobby,” MacKenzie said. “Therefore we only lobby on things that we personally believe in. It’s not a job to us. It’s something we care about.”

Since FMLA passed in 1993, AAUW has worked to expand the legislation to cover more of the nation’s workforce. Although those lobbying efforts have been unsuccessful overall, some Lobby Corps members have had the thrill of seeing their own families benefit from FMLA. “One thing that touched me was that at the time we started lobbying this bill, my son was rather young,” MacKenzie said. “In the meantime, he got married and had children and made use of FMLA when his wife was pregnant. And I thought, you know, I’m one of the ones who got it passed. And I let him know it, too.”

This post was written by AAUW Political Media Coordinator Elizabeth Owens.

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Laissez les bons temps rouler: Let the good times roll.

As we prepare to descend upon New Orleans for the AAUW National Convention in June, I hope we all take that Mardi Gras motto to heart. I know I certainly will. As the new associate director of field operations here at AAUW, I couldn’t be more excited about bringing the “public policy good times” to the Big Easy.

Yes, you read that right — public policy good times. From a panel on pay equity to workshops that explore advocacy techniques and insider intel on how Washington, D.C., really works, “good times” is definitely the best description for what the Public Policy and Government Relations Department will offer at the AAUW National Convention.

Throughout my first couple of weeks here, I have heard nothing but amazing things about you — our thousands of AAUW members and supporters. And I’m looking forward to the opportunity to meet you when we descend on New Orleans for this exciting convention. And besides the local cuisine, I’m looking forward even more to delivering to you some public policy good times.

Want to influence key decision makers in new and better ways? Interested in moving along fair pay legislation in your state legislature? Looking to increase the number of members taking action on issues you’re working on? That is exactly how the AAUW policy team plans on letting the good times roll.

Will you join us in New Orleans? Here’s hoping I get to share some good times with you!

This post was written by AAUW Associate Director of Field Operations Samantha Galing.

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