Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

Hey, women! You’re more than 50 percent of the population! Are you voting in this election as if your life depended upon it? Are you exercising the right that so many have fought for? Are you showing your power to change lives, to strengthen our country, to stand and be counted?

One of this year’s big political themes has been the “war on women.” As exciting as that sounds as a campaign or fundraising slogan, it really is nothing more than the same old thing, different day. The messages of politicians and pundits who are sounding off about sluts, rape, working women, and breast cancer are only louder and more public, more personal, and more easily spread by the quickness and availability of instant communication. But to act as if this is something new this year is absurd. Women have been facing inequality since way before we fought for the right to vote.

When women act, we change the world. Just ask the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which showed us earlier this year that playing politics was more important than fighting breast cancer. Or look at the response of Rush Limbaugh’s sponsors, whose mass exodus showed us that calling women sluts for expecting insurance coverage for birth control was unacceptable.

The congressmen who feel comfortable excluding women during congressional testimony about reproductive health must understand that this is also unacceptable. The candidates for public office who have made chilling references that attempt to delegitimize rape must not be allowed to represent us. We must push beyond those who do not believe that women deserve respect, equality, equal pay, and equal protection under the law.

We must continue to voice our displeasure by voting in elections and by carefully choosing how we spend our money. Women must speak up, speak out, and vote, vote, vote. We must engage in the political process as candidates, as donors, and as voters. We must honor our foremothers who suffered great indignity, danger, and injury while fighting for the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920. Not exercising that right is an affront to their struggle and to our history.

By being silent and failing to vote, we run the risk of being complicit in the politicization of access to health care, which is so much more than abortion; of a growing acceptance that rape is OK; of the idea that equality in pay should not be expected and that a woman who seeks parity is somehow less desirable as an employee or spouse/partner. Women and men must not allow equality to become a sound bite, an ideal that we hope for and dream about but continue to not attain. We must not continue to allow politicians and those who speak more loudly than us to interrupt our right to demand equality.

This year’s presidential campaign is of huge importance to women. Continued disinterest or lack of participation in the political process will only further embolden the agenda that does not include women as important members of our society. Vote as if your life and your rights depend upon it.

This post was written by Carlynne McDonnell, CEO of the nonprofit Change in Our Lifetime, a 501(c)(3) organization that is committed to reigniting the gender equity dialogue through action, activism, and leadership development.        

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I opened up my Facebook newsfeed last Thursday morning and found that an article about my alma mater, Amherst College, had been shared overnight an astounding 57 times. Two hours later, the article had been shared another 20 times. Three hours later, 40 more. As a recent Amherst graduate, I was stunned by the story, which has been featured on well-known blogs like Jezebel and the Huffington Post.

via Picasa user David Emmerman

On October 17, the student newspaper published a story about former Amherst student Angie Epifano, who described a harrowing experience of being raped in a campus dorm room on May 25, 2011, and what she says was the administration’s mishandling of her attempts to heal. The article has sparked a national dialogue on colleges’ sexual assault and harassment policies just weeks after a sexual assault Title IX lawsuit was filed at Wesleyan University and the report of a misogynistic T-shirt incident at Amherst.

Shortly after the article went viral, a friend invited me to a Facebook group created by alumni to begin a conversation on what the Amherst community can do in addition to sharing the article. Browsing the online group, I came across some of the most touching stories and insightful comments by students I used to sit next to in class and in the dining hall who revealed that they too are survivors. They, like Epifano, say they were hurt at Amherst and did not feel they received the help they needed. They too courageously spoke out about the administration’s reported push for struggling survivors to take time off while their attackers continued their educations without interruption, of the difficulty of disciplinary hearings, and of how easy it is to feel ashamed and alone on such a small campus. As I read these stories, I heard the suffocating silence shatter as students came forward with their unhappiness at a school that has improved the lives of many but may have paralyzed many others.

When I went to click the Facebook “share” button to repost Epifano’s story on my timeline, I paused. I thought of what change sharing one person’s story could really make and quickly realized that it is the collective duty of the community to draw attention to this issue. Change begins with awareness, and social media empowers us all.

Now, my friends are sharing the story from my page. Though uncomfortable, this story must be told because too many like it go unheard. Clicking a button leads to talking about the issue, which leads to doing something about it.

I challenge you to help end dating violence and sexual assault in your community and across the United States. Use the resources out there, educate yourself and your peers, and wield AAUW’s Campus Sexual Assault Program in a Box to improve safety on your campus. Get to know your campus Title IX coordinator. If you don’t have one, ask your administration why, and report it. Advocate to get the Violence Against Women Act reauthorized — a Senate-passed version includes increased campus protections from the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act.

I stand by my alma mater’s efforts to right its wrongs. Soon after Epifano’s story broke, Amherst President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin and the college trustees released statements promising to enact stricter and more transparent college policies regarding sexual assault. Administrators then set up a website about sexual respect and Title IX so that students could access the school’s policies and understand campus support for the issue. The website also displays a checklist of the college’s planned and completed actionable steps, such as identifying campus space for a gender resource center, hiring an external consultant to review Title IX policies, and investigation into Epifano’s story. Ending sexual assault and gender-based violence is an important fight for our generation, and the ideas we share on Listservs, through social media, and in conversations with our friends and loved ones will move us forward.

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Amanda Villarreal.

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On October 9, I had the honor of hearing Lilly Ledbetter speak on my campus, St. Cloud State University. Ledbetter’s story is an inspiring one. After 19 years of working at Goodyear Tire and Rubber in Alabama as a production manager, a note was slipped into her mailbox revealing a startling pay gap between her and three male colleagues in the same position. Despite knowing that taking the corporation to court would be a long, uphill battle that would likely not lead to the compensation she was owed, she sued Goodyear. “It wasn’t about me anymore,” she said. “It was about my daughter, my granddaughter, and the women and families in this nation.” Her case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 2007, after nine years of fighting, she received the final verdict. She lost because of an unreasonably short statute of limitations that would have required her to file suit years before she even knew she was being paid unfairly.

But her story did not end there. Ledbetter became the namesake for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first bill signed into law by President Obama in 2009. The bill righted the wrong of the Supreme Court decision by allowing the statute of limitations to reset with every discriminatory paycheck.

As I sat in the audience listening to this strong woman share her story, two things happened to me. First, I was humbled by how much women in the past have achieved to guarantee me certain rights. Second, I was inspired to do the same for future generations of women. I think that my generation often does not take the time to learn about the influential women in our country’s history. I feel that young women believe the struggles of the past are over, when in fact they are far from complete. Even today, women’s median earnings are still only 77 percent of men’s, which accounts for huge losses in income, retirement savings, and Social Security benefits over a lifetime of work. But Ledbetter’s speech appeared to raise students’ awareness. Through the question-and-answer session following the speech, you could hear people expressing their outrage at what happened to her and their demand to change what is still occurring today.

St. Cloud State University has been making great strides to bring inspiring programming to young women. At the SCSU Women’s Center, where I work, we strive to empower women, increase awareness, and develop programming to support those principles on our campus. Our mission statement speaks to these ideals: “With passion and purpose to end sexist oppression, the Women’s Center promotes a safe, inclusive, and engaged community through advocacy, education, alliance-building, and women’s leadership.”

My hope is that by bringing speakers like Ledbetter to campus, our generation will have a greater appreciation for past struggles and those who fought them. I also hope that when someone from my generation is faced with a situation where she has to decide whether to stand up for herself, she will think like Ledbetter: “I knew that the only choice I had was to stand up for myself and do what was right. I understood the risk I was taking. It would surely be the hardest fight of my life, and there were no guarantees I’d win. … But as I ruminated, I realized I had no other choice.”

This post was written by Bre Moulder, a St. Cloud State University sophomore majoring in political science and women’s studies. St. Cloud State University is an AAUW college/university partner member.

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AAUW is proud to support National Coming Out Day and environments in which everyone is free from discrimination.  Read more about our commitment to the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) folks.

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“If we unleash the potential of the world’s girls and young women, we will unleash a powerful force that will bring lasting change to all corners of the globe.”

—     Michelle Bachelet, undersecretary-general and executive director of U.N. Women

Thursday, October 11, marks the first-ever U.N. International Day of the Girl Child, a resolution adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on December 19, 2011. The day was established to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.

The resolution “recognizes girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.” It also promotes girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights. Many organizations and dedicated girl activists have engaged in a longstanding campaign to gain recognition and reserve a day for advocacy and action by and for girls. This declaration reinforces the United Nations’ pledge to end the discrimination, economic inequality, violence, and gender stereotypes that overwhelmingly affect girls. The focus for the inaugural day is on ending the devastating practice of child marriage.

Here are some sobering facts about girls around the world:

  • Every year, 10 million girls are forced or coerced into marriage.
  • Globally, 1 in 3 girls is denied a secondary education.
  • The leading cause of death for young women ages 15–19 in developing countries is pregnancy.
  • It is estimated that 150 million girls and 73 million boys under age 18 have experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence.

But there are many reasons to celebrate:

What can you do to celebrate the power of girls today and every day? Here are four ways to show your support, do something, and join the conversation:

  1. Show your solidarity with a Day of the Girl twibbon, and follow the hashtag #DayoftheGirl on Twitter.
  2. Check out the Day of the Girl virtual summit, and find an event in your area.
  3. Learn about these other campaigns to educate girls, end child marriage, and empower girls, such as Girls Not Brides, Because I Am a Girl, The Girl Effect, and CARE.
  4. Find out more about legislation in the U.S. Congress, such as the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act (H.R. 2103).

You can also learn about AAUW’s Community Action Grant projects that are connecting local and international advocacy.

Camp GirlForward
Camp GirlForward provides educational and leadership opportunities to adolescent refugee girls ages 14–19 who have been resettled in Chicago from Bhutan, Iraq, Burundi, Congo, Sudan, and Burma. Through a specialized academic curriculum and regular enrichment activities, girls develop the English, math, computer, and leadership skills necessary to achieve their educational goals.

GlobalGirl Media Chicago
GlobalGirl Media develops the authentic voice and self-expression of teenage girls in underserved communities by training them to become citizen journalists and to harness the power of new digital media to inspire self-esteem, community activism, and social change. GGM empowers girls to make media that matters, improves media literacy, and encourages the promotion of healthier media messages about girls and women.

Help make the International Day of the Girl more than just a day — make it an ongoing movement to activate progress for girls around the world!

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Warning: The content of this post may trigger unpleasant memories for anyone who has experienced domestic violence.

When I was 20 years old, I had an unpaid summer internship with a domestic violence organization in Washington, D.C., as an intake counselor at the D.C. Superior Court. All day, I helped survivors of domestic violence file for protective orders against their abusers. I asked them about and recorded their most recent incidents as well as their histories of abuse.

The stories I heard were sad, angering, horrific, and scary. The perpetrators of abuse were most often husbands, boyfriends, and fathers, but sometimes the abusers were adult children, adult siblings, wives, and girlfriends. I’ll never forget the soft-spoken man who came in with his 2-year-old daughter and, as she sat quietly on his lap, shared how his girlfriend physically abused him. Nor will I forget the many women whose husbands’ or boyfriends’ abuse was so extreme that they’d hidden in closets and under beds and run down the street trying to escape.

Their stories were heartbreaking. And they’re not unique. Each year, around 1.3 million women and 835,000 men in the United States are physically assaulted by an intimate partner.

Domestic violence doesn’t just describe the abuse that happens between people who live together — it also includes dating violence among high school and college-age youth.

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 9.4 percent of high school students nationwide said that they had been hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriends or girlfriends in the 12 months before the survey.
  • A 2006 Bureau of Justice study found that women ages 20–24 are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.

But many women experience fatal violence.

On September 29, State University of New York, Brockport, freshman Alexandra Kogut was found dead in her dorm room. Her boyfriend reportedly admitted to police that he beat her to death. Details of the case are still unfolding.

Earlier in 2012, George Huguely was convicted of beating his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love, to death in her apartment near the University of Virginia, where they were both students. Love’s family and friends said Huguely had a history of violent outbursts leading up to the assault. He also reportedly had sent Love an e-mail saying he should have killed her.

After Love’s death, her family started a nonprofit organization called One Love Foundation and in September launched the Be 1 for Change dating violence campaign aimed at 16- to 24-year-olds. A public service announcement highlights the importance of recognizing signs of abuse in your own relationship and in those of your friends and details how to speak up.

It is important that we all speak out and take action when something doesn’t seem right, even if it’s by doing something as simple as ringing a doorbell or asking if everything is OK.

In October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, write to your representatives and urge them to support a strong Violence against Women Act reauthorization and the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act. The SaVE Act would require schools to implement recording processes for incidences of dating violence, create prevention plans, and educate survivors about their rights and resources.

You can also contact your local domestic violence shelter or organization to see if they are hosting events or initiatives this month. Get involved!

Love is not abuse, and everyone deserves a safe home, a safe campus, and a safe relationship.

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New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently spoke to American University students about the Half the Sky Movement. Based on his 2009 book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, the movement uses media and education tools to spread the message that empowering women is the key to alleviating global poverty.

Kristof told the overflowing room of attendees that gender inequity is the “cause of your times” — the “central moral challenge” faced not only by millennials but also the global population at large. The recent release of new U.S. Census Bureau poverty figures supports this claim — American women in 2011 experienced a poverty rate that was nearly notably higher than adult men, a trend that has occurred every year since official poverty measurement began in the 1960s. Globally, women make up 70 percent of the world’s poorest people.

“But what can I do?”

This was the resounding question posed by AU students following Kristof’s stories of the high rates of sexual violence, human trafficking, and gender discrimination experienced by women both in the United States and abroad. His response was straight and to the point — travel. “You can read about [poverty], but it only becomes real when you see it,” he said.

While this advice is great if you can afford it, many young people don’t have much disposable income. In July, the unemployment rate for Americans ages 16–24 stood at a whopping 17 percent, or nearly one in five. What’s more, the new census figures show that the number of Americans living in poverty remains at its highest level since 1993 with 15 percent of the population living under the poverty line in 2011. The rates for black and Hispanic Americans were nearly twice as high. And while the census regrettably does not track lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations, these rates could be equally dismal. The bottom line is that with the average cost of study abroad at an astounding $31,270 — which is over 60 percent of the median family income in 2011 — travelling the world isn’t economically viable for many millenials and their families.

Fortunately, Kristof had advice for the budget-conscious among us. He noted that travel close to home and even within one’s community might be enough to help young people “build new muscles” that they couldn’t get from a college classroom — at least for those lucky enough to afford access to a college classroom. Kristof suggested that students visit domestic prisons and disadvantaged schools to “get out of their comfort zones” and acquire the “sense of bewilderment” that spurs action.

In the meantime, AAUW will sponsor two more D.C., screenings of Kristof’s upcoming PBS Half the Sky documentary. For those of you on a recession-sized budget — the screenings are free! — you can learn more about the Half the Sky Movement at the D.C. Hill Center at 7 p.m. on Monday, September 17, or at Busboys and Poets at 5 p.m. on September 30.

This post was written by AAUW Media and Public Relations Intern Renee Davidson.

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