Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

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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“Eighteen years ago today, the landmark Violence against Women Act was signed into law. It was founded on the basic premise that every woman deserves to be safe from violence, and since its passage, we have made tremendous strides towards achieving that goal. But we still have much work to do.”
— Vice President Joe Biden, who drafted the original Violence against Women Act, on September 13, 2012

“Every minute this house chooses to delay the reauthorization of VAWA is another minute these women are victimized.”
Sen. Patty Murray, September 13, 2012

“There is no good reason that we can’t work together and see that #VAWA, a life-saving law, is reauthorized immediately.”
— Sen. Patrick Leahy, September 13, 2012 (@SenatorLeahy)

AAUW couldn’t agree more. The Violence against Women Act is due for reauthorization this year, but political maneuvering has stalled the bill in Congress. AAUW has long supported “freedom from violence and fear of violence in homes, schools, workplaces, and communities.” Since its enactment in 1994, VAWA has saved lives and saved money. VAWA is credited with contributing to the dramatic increase in the reporting of domestic violence. The rate of homicide by an intimate partner has decreased by 65 percent for women and almost 50 percent for men since the statute was enacted.

AAUW is a strong supporter of the bipartisan VAWA reauthorization bill passed by the Senate. The bill takes steps to make college campuses safer for women. When campus environments are hostile because of sexual harassment, assault, or violence, students cannot learn, and they miss out on true educational opportunities. AAUW’s own research revealed that two-thirds of college students experience sexual harassment. In addition, a 2007 campus sexual assault study [BH2] by the U.S. Department of Justice found that around 28 percent of women are targets of attempted or completed sexual assault while they are college students.

While AAUW supported the Senate’s VAWA reauthorization bill, we opposed the House’s bill because it did not contain necessary provisions to improve the safety of college campuses. Additionally, the House bill expressly rejects protections for men and women who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, making it difficult for them to find services in their communities. The House bill also eliminates strong protections for women and children who are beaten or abused on tribal lands by perpetrators who are not members of a particular tribe, and it removes a key requirement that would more easily allow victims to move from one subsidized housing program to another in order to avoid an abuser.

The Violence against Women Act should not be a political pawn in election-year gamesmanship. We urge the House to follow the bipartisan lead of the Senate and AAUW’s membership: Put aside the rhetoric, move quickly to pass the Senate version, and once again do the right thing for all victims of violence.

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Sylvia Mendez and June Hernandez may have never met, but they had many things in common. Both were Mexican American girls who were just trying to attend school in Southern California. Instead of being allowed to go to the well-funded white schools in Orange County, they were sent to Mexican American public schools even when doing so required the girls to bus across the city or county. There were no laws in place that required school districts to segregate Mexican American children from white children — it was just the result of a shamefully ignorant community.

While many associate school desegregation with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case in Topeka, Kansas, few remember or are aware of the 1946 Orange County case Mendez v. Westminster School District. At age 9, Mendez became a part of a movement that was started by outraged families who were tired of the substandard education provided to Mexican American children. At the time, the Garden Grove Unified School District Superintendent James Kent testified that Mexican children were inferior in terms of hygiene, ability, and economic outlook. The Mendez case set a crucial precedent — that segregating schools by race was unconstitutional. Although the case only encompassed the school districts in that community, it would later serve as a precedent for other cases in California and for Brown v. Board of Education. Earl Warren, governor of California when Mendez v. Westminster was being argued, later became the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The language he used in Brown v. Board of Education resembled the language used in the ruling of Mendez v. Westminster.

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we must also use this time to reflect on the barriers that have existed and continue to exist in our communities. My grandmother, June Hernandez, was just a few years younger than Mendez and lived through the early desegregation of the same California school district. Although my grandmother was integrated into better-funded schools before high school, she still faced barriers. Despite her academic ability and willingness to learn, she was labeled by her teachers as lesser. White children refused to talk to her or the other Mexican American children. As a result of her experiences in school, we, her grandchildren, were not allowed to learn or speak Spanish at home.

My grandmother pushed me to try harder in school and to focus on my homework, and she was one of the first in my family to celebrate my decision to go on to graduate school. She reminded me of the opportunities that I was fortunate enough to have in my generation. Yes, I was a first-generation college student, and I could believe in the possibility of education past high school.

The school district that James Kent led in the 1940s? That was my school district in the 1990s and early 2000s. At the very least, my schools didn’t have administrators who said the same kinds of hateful things that people said when my grandparents were in school.

My grandmother’s courage and determination to finish school, even during times of change and ignorance, directly affected her children and grandchildren. We are who are today because of who she was and continued to be. Our access to education stems from the desire of young women and men who just wanted to go to school and who fought for equal opportunity.

And while the rhetoric on educational access has shifted, I know from personal experience that we never benefit from closing schoolhouse doors.

This post was written by AAUW College/University Relationships Manager Christine Hernandez.

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The AAUW Action Fund’s It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard voter education and turnout campaign represents an unprecedented investment in making women’s voices heard in the 2012 election. Follow us on Twitter and on Tumblr for the latest updates, and check out our biweekly Campaign Update for news, resources, and ideas.

A young woman walks into her polling place to vote — only she’s missing her identification card. She might not be allowed to cast her ballot.

But the poll worker gives her a pass. He remembers her from the primary election, when so few young people showed up to vote.

Sandra Fluke tells this true and personal story in her pep talk for the AAUW Action Fund’s It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard campaign. Her tale rings especially true this election, a time when young women need to raise their voices and vote. Fluke also reminds us to research the voter-ID requirements before showing up to the polls this November 6 — a sentiment echoed by AAUW Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Lisa Maatz, who gave voters her own pep talk last week.


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In August 1940, AAUW Atlanta (GA) Branch member Margot Gayle visited Washington, D.C. It was not your typical summer tourist trip. Gayle was determined to meet with members of Congress. Her goal? To provide them with The Statement of 100 Southern Women, a document signed by women from eight Southern states that called for the abolishment of the poll tax requirement for voting. Many of the signers were AAUW members. And not coincidentally, Gayle arrived in D.C. on the 20th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

Gayle recognized that the poll tax was not merely a local or Southern issue but one that had “effects far beyond the borders of the eight Southern states which retain it tied to the vote.” She accepted that the tax was often viewed as a “sectional problem dealing with local election laws” but was adamant that it actually “denies to the country a truly representative form of government.”

While in Washington, Gayle also spoke with Francis Valiant Speek of the AAUW Committee on Economic and Legal Status of Women. Gayle inquired whether the AAUW national office was studying the poll tax, which disproportionately affected women. Speek replied that AAUW had already begun surveying Southern branches and had thrown its support behind federal legislation that would outlaw the tax. The two AAUW forces, one local and one national, joined together.

Two years later, AAUW sponsored The Poll Tax, a report written by lawyer Eleanor Bontecou that studied the tax and its effects on voter turnout in the eight Southern states. Bontecou was dedicated to the cause — she was working with the Southern Conference for Human Welfare to study the tax and with well-known political scientist Ralph Johnson Bunche on issues relating to Southern suffrage. In fact, Bontecou used the proceeds from her previous earnings to fund the research and writing of The Poll Tax for AAUW. Bontecou’s insightful study outlined the history of the relationship between voting rights and property, the racist motives for the poll tax, and the momentous effect that the practice had on voter turnout.

The report was published right before Senate hearings on the Geyer-Pepper Bill, the federal anti-poll tax legislation that was filibustered by Southern states and never passed. Although many states subsequently removed the poll tax requirement without federal mandate, it wasn’t until the ratification of the 24th Amendment in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the poll tax was officially prohibited.

Today, Americans don’t have to open their wallets to vote — at least not to get out cash — but many still encounter barriers like voter-identification requirements. As the 2012 elections draw closer, AAUW can say with pride that we are continuing our long-standing tradition of protecting enfranchisement by opposing any form of voter suppression. Read more about voter-ID laws in the Fall issue of Outlook magazine, and read the full 1942 poll tax report for yourself at the AAUW Online Museum.

This post was written by AAUW Archivist and Records Manager Suzanne Gould.

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Have you seen the Twitter hashtag #freepussyriot? It refers to three members of a female punk band who were arrested in Russia in March for performing a punk-rock protest in a Russian Orthodox church in Moscow.

These three women are part of the music group Pussy Riot, a name that the members chose to draw attention. The band members wear knit caps over their heads and sing, twirling and kicking their heels, to express their feminist views and to protest Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was recently re-elected for a third term.

Denis Bochkarev

After their arrest, Pussy Riot’s first advocates were among the art and music crowd and then grew to include social media supporters and a global audience, many of whom have been flooding the Twitterverse with #freepussyriot. After the band was sentenced on Friday to two years in prison for “hooliganism driven by religious hatred,” the Twitter began running free with links to global media coverage. Outrage over the apparent lack of free speech has even spilled out into the streets.

Does this sound familiar? This particular band and protest might not, but what resonates is the fact that once again women are at the forefront of change in their countries. Remember the women of Iran protesting to get the vote and the women of Saudi Arabia fighting to get rights so universal to the rest of us — driving their own cars and traveling alone?

Well if you think about it, it wasn’t really that long ago that women in America were taking to the streets and even being jailed for fighting for the right to vote. In fact, we are still advocating for women to get to the polls! We’re also still fighting for women’s right to equal pay, sick leave, reproductive rights, Title IX compliance — the list goes on. We’re using Twitter for these issues too: #AAUW, #EqualPay, #TitleIX, and #ItsMyVote are just a few examples.

By the time you read this, there will be much more coverage of the Pussy Riot situation in the news. The noise may slow to start in their own country, but we know what kind of impact social media and global opinions can have. These three women, two of whom are mothers, are taking a stand. I admire such courage. I support spreading the word.


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“If women could bring life to this world, we could bring life to this fight!”
— Sheryl Lee Ralph, former star of the Broadway musical Dreamgirls

The impact of HIV and AIDS on women and girls — a serious yet often ignored issue — was a central focus of the 19th International AIDS Conference that was held in July in Washington, D.C. Speakers like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former first lady Laura Bush, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and actress Whoopi Goldberg demanded an increase in awareness, education, and care for women and girls living with the disease both domestically and abroad. The theme of the conference was an AIDS-free generation, and speakers argued that the health of a nation begins with the health of its mothers.

Sheryl Lee Ralph spoke at the 19th International AIDS conference.

When HIV was first discovered, many believed that it primarily affected men — especially gay men — and people who live outside the United States. However, the impact of HIV and AIDS on women in America and abroad is disturbingly and uniquely severe. On average, a U.S. woman tests positive for HIV every 47 minutes, and the disease disproportionately affects black and Latina women. Globally, HIV is the leading cause of death for women ages 15–49, and young women are twice as likely as men to contract the disease. At the conference, Clinton spoke about how gender inequalities work with the disease to greatly diminish women’s reproductive choices. She revealed that the United States will invest an additional $80 million in health care and reproductive care programs that help women who have tested positive for HIV.

Comprehensive sex education could help prevent the spread of this disease. Additionally, gender-based violence puts women at a higher risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases like HIV — victims of abuse and young women are less able and more afraid to demand safe-sex practices. To combat the spread of HIV domestically, we must work to spread awareness and education about the importance of prevention and testing. Comprehensive sex-education programs are vital to inform women and girls about prevention and protection from all sexually transmitted diseases. We must continue to strive for greater research and access to protective contraception like antiretroviral therapy technology, female condoms, and microbicide gels to prevent infection.

AAUW works diligently to protect every woman’s right to safe, accessible family planning and reproductive health services. As an organization that is dedicated to advancing equity through education, we fight for comprehensive education programs that recognize the needs and realities faced by young women. AAUW’s continued fight for these basic rights will help protect women’s physical and emotional well-being by destroying social barriers that put women at great risk for sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and AIDS. As Nobel laureate Françoise Barré-Sinoussi said at the AIDS conference, “Combating harmful social norms, promoting gender equality, and empowering women is essential to boost HIV response in women and girls.”

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Laura Dietrich.

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