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Archive for the ‘Women and Civil Rights’ Category

Protestors of the New Delhi gang rape gather on December 30 in Bangalore, India.

Less than a week after the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence Campaign — which included hundreds of events demonstrating the solidarity of women around the world — ended, an all too frequent event happened in India — a rape. I’ve blogged about rape before, but this attack captured the attention and outrage of the world.

For more than two weeks, thousands of citizens in India and around the world have protested the brutal gang rape and torture of a 23-year-old Indian woman (called “braveheart” in many news stories) while she and her male companion were riding a bus in New Delhi after leaving a movie theater. She ultimately died from injuries suffered during the brutal assault.

We’ve all heard the tragic story but are unable to comprehend the horrific details. And we can’t avoid the ugly truth — violence against women is a horrendous, appalling, and pervasive reality that has placed an indelible stain on the world. The crime sparked national and international outrage, vigils, and demands to end the culture of rape. It empowered people to stand up and demand action and change from the Indian government and police.

And now, weeks after the horrific event, the men accused of the gang rape have been formally charged with rape, murder, and kidnapping.

Unfortunately, rape is a systemic problem throughout India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in India, a woman is raped every 20 minutes, and in 2010, more than 24,000 rapes were reported. And there are undoubtedly many rapes that go unreported — mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, or friends who become the targets of violence that can end in murder or suicide.

Who can grasp the inexplicable violence directed at women and girls worldwide and the state- and government-sanctioned evasion of protection, responsibility, and justice? India, like many nations, has vowed to take action to make women safer and provide better protection against violence — a daunting challenge in a culture and world that do not value women.

In the United States, nearly 1 in 5 women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point. And survivors of violence need support. This year, one of AAUW’s Community Action Grantees is Safe Connections, which provides counseling and support services to women and teens in the St. Louis metropolitan area who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, or childhood sexual abuse. Another grantee, the African Services Committee’s Project Aimée, serves low-income African immigrant survivors of domestic and gender-based violence in New York City with a combination of legal services, education, and advocacy.

The need for these kinds of programs has grown as violence against women becomes more visible throughout the world. But the shocking tragedy in India could be a turning point. In order to stop this ever-increasing trend of violence, women need action, not empty promises.

We all need to keep the pressure on governments to put into action promises made to eliminate violence against women. Do it for yourself. Do it for a mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, or friend. You can make your voice heard on Capitol Hill by urging your legislators to support the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. It’s long overdue. But laws can’t change hearts or minds. That must come from within. What can you do in your community to stop violence against women?

Going to a movie and riding a bus should not cost a woman her life — a woman known as “braveheart.” May her death not be in vain.

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capitol dome

The 112th Congress officially adjourned Wednesday, ending what’s been described as the least productive Congress ever. For some context, just 219 bills passed by the 112th Congress have been signed into law. The Congress before that passed 383 bills, and the one before that saw 460 bills signed into law. Clearly, a lot of important work was left unfinished and will have to be taken up by the 113th.

For one thing, the 112th didn’t pass the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA), a much-needed update to the Equal Pay Act of 1963. AAUW is a strong supporter of this legislation and led efforts to bring it before both chambers for a vote. Unfortunately, the PFA didn’t get the required procedural votes, so it will have to be reintroduced in the 113th Congress.

Another item still on Congress’ to-do list is the passage of an inclusive Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization. The Senate passed an AAUW-supported, bipartisan, comprehensive VAWA in April 2012, while the House of Representatives passed a different, damaging bill the following month. Due to resistance in the House, the two bills were not reconciled, and the reauthorization was not passed.

In addition to PFA and VAWA, the 113th Congress will face many other items on its agenda:

  • The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which sets parameters for K–12 education and funding, is due for reauthorization. AAUW will be paying attention to many issues during this process, including
    • upholding Title IX protections,
    • opposing private school vouchers,
    • ensuring that charter schools are held to the same standards as other schools,
    • requiring that schools be held accountable for demonstrating that they are meeting educational goals for all students,
    • opposing single-sex education programs that don’t pay proper attention to civil rights protections, and
    • supporting requirements that schools collect comprehensive data on student achievement and graduation.
  • The Higher Education Act, which is the most significant federal law for American colleges and universities, is up for reauthorization. AAUW supports increasing access to higher education for traditional and nontraditional students.

We’re also keeping pressure on the Obama administration. AAUW believes President Obama should pay attention to women’s priorities, especially since women’s votes decided the 2012 election. See AAUW’s list of what Obama should do on day one of his new term.

These are some of our top priorities for the 113th Congress. What are yours?

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reshma_saujaniReshma Saujani was born in the United States to Ugandan refugee parents fleeing Idi Amin’s violent dictatorship. Her parents’ experiences in Uganda triggered a personal concern in Saujani for the welfare of Americans; she wanted to ensure that citizens had a political voice as well as economic opportunities. And that’s just what she did!

Saujani is a former deputy public advocate for New York City and the former executive director of the Fund for Public Advocacy. During her time in public office she promoted civic engagement and government accountability. By taking the lead on projects that aimed to increase citywide job and economic growth, engaging with immigrant communities, supporting small businesses, and improving education. Saujani made sure she could improve the quality of life for New Yorkers.

But Saujani also takes the time to empower girls through Girls Who Code, a nonprofit she founded with the mission to educate, inspire, and equip girls ages 13–18 with the skills and resources necessary to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Her organization works to fill the gender gap within the STEM fields and give girls the courage and support to take on these areas where they are often discouraged.

Saujani is a woman who cannot be stopped: a public servant, a leader, a role model, and an inspiration. She has given back to her community and leads with a vision that is bigger than herself. Her investment in bettering the lives of girls by encouraging them that they can do whatever they set their minds to pushes me to do more too. Saujani’s actions demonstrate what a leader should be. She leads for others. She leads selflessly and with passion.

With her upcoming book, Women Who Don’t Wait in Line, she advocates for women to support each other and step outside of boundaries that society has deemed normal for women. I am extremely excited to meet her at this year’s National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL). I look forward to listening to her empowering words and learning about her journey. I look up to Saujani, and she encourages me to move forward without fear of failure and to embrace and support other women around me. She is indeed a motivator.

Meet Saujani, a 2013 Woman of Distinction, at NCCWSL 2013! What will you be eager to ask her?

Editors’ note: In an earlier version, we erroneously stated that Saujani was herself a refugee from Uganda. In fact, she is the daughter of political refugees and was born in the United States.

This post was written by AAUW Leadership Programs Intern Nzinga Shury.

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’Tis the season of snow, champagne, and New Year’s resolutions! AAUW will formally submit a list of 2013 policy recommendations to Congress and the president, but we wanted to give our members and supporters a more informal look at some of our goals for this year — our advocacy resolutions, if you will.

Lisa Maatz, director of public policy and government relations: I resolve to recognize 2013 as the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act and call attention all year long for the need to update this important piece of legislation. The Equal Pay Act, originally signed into law on June 10, 1963, prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of sex. Although enforcement of the Equal Pay Act as well as other civil rights laws such as Title VII has helped to narrow the wage gap, significant disparities remain that need to be addressed. The Equal Pay Act is too limited in scope, and it has several loopholes that prevent us from further closing the wage gap. We’ve come a long way in the last 50 years, but we’ve got a ways to go — and I resolve to make sure everyone knows what we need to do to get there.

Erin Prangley, associate director of public policy and government relations: I resolve to make sure AAUW priority legislation — such as the Paycheck Fairness Act, Equal Employment Opportunity Restoration Act, Safe Schools Improvement Act, Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, High School Athletics Accountability Act, and Violence Against Women Act — is reintroduced in the 113th Congress. All bills that did not pass in the 112th Congress must be reintroduced to move forward, and I resolve that AAUW will continue to lead efforts to gain co-sponsors for our priority legislation.

Anne Hedgepeth, government relations manager: I resolve to meet with the new members of the 113th Congress to introduce them to AAUW and our priority issues. We can be a great asset as they develop policy and figure out what to support over the coming two years. Plus, many of them already know about us thanks to the amazing work our branch and state organizations do locally. You can help by scheduling in-district meetings with your representatives and senators as well. E-mail us at advocacy@aauw.org if you need help scheduling or preparing for a meeting!

Beth Scott, regulatory affairs manager: I resolve to hold the Obama administration accountable to women and families by monitoring new federal regulations and making sure they reflect AAUW’s public policy positions. For example, in 2013 there should be new rules to make sure women and girls are treated fairly by insurance companies and have access to the medical care they need and deserve, such as contraception. I’ll make sure AAUW reviews those rules and works with the federal agencies to draft the most inclusive and strongest possible laws to protect our rights.

Liz Owens, political media coordinator: I resolve to make an AAUW priority issue “trend” (be one of the most popular topics) nationwide on Twitter this year and to help brand AAUW as a leading voice on our priority issues. That means engaging with top influencers, activists, journalists, and you to spread the word about our work. Get us started by following @AAUWPolicy on Twitter! And help brand topics such as #fairpay, #highered, #STEM, #TitleIX, #VAWA, #pellgrants, and #reprorights as our priority issues by adding @AAUW to your tweets.

Kimberly Fountain, state grassroots advocacy manager: I resolve to show off the public policy accomplishments of AAUW state organizations and branches. As we saw in the It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard campaign, our state organizations and branches are full of innovative ideas, from AAUW of Colorado creating temporary tattoos for millennials to the AAUW Omaha (NE) Branch registering voters at a Zumba class. I want to share these and more exciting accomplishments through social media, our website, e-mails to AAUW members and supporters, Outlook magazine, and other outlets. You can help us by sending media coverage, photos, and stories of your branch’s events to advocacy@aauw.org.

And finally, my resolution as grassroots advocacy coordinator is to grow the AAUW Action Network by 50 percent in 2013 so that we can make our voices in Washington, D.C., even louder. AAUW Action Network, the cornerstone of AAUW’s e-advocacy efforts, e-mails notices about the latest legislation and urges subscribers to contact their members of Congress. You can help me fulfill this resolution right now by subscribing to the AAUW Action Network! Already a subscriber? Share this image with three friends, and encourage them to join you!

What’s your advocacy resolution? How will you help fulfill AAUW’s mission of advancing equity for women and girls through advocacy? Please share in the comments!

Action Network New Years

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Piggy Bank with back to school messageIn this installment of our ongoing Budget 101 blog series, we’re exploring what was in the “fiscal cliff” package passed by Congress over the New Year’s holiday. Late last night, the House of Representatives passed the Senate bill to pull us back from the fiscal cliff — the combination of tax and spending changes that were set to go into effect today and could have sent the U.S. economy back into a recession. But the deal, which President Obama is expected to sign, dealt only with the tax changes and merely delayed the spending cuts known as sequestration.

AAUW commends lawmakers from both parties for coming together to reach a true compromise (look up how your senators and representative voted). Like any compromise, the deal is far from perfect, but it includes several AAUW-supported provisions that will help women and their families, such as

  • Returning to the Clinton-era tax rates for high-income earners while continuing the current rates for individuals earning less than $400,000 and families earning less than $450,000
  • Extending the American Opportunity Tax Credit, an AAUW-supported $2,500 tax credit to help college students and their families pay for tuition and related expenses
  • Ending the payroll tax holiday and returning to the previous rate of withholding, therefore protecting Social Security’s long-term solvency
  • Extending federal unemployment insurance for another year, benefiting those unemployed for longer than 26 weeks
  • Delaying the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts for two months, giving Congress more time to find a way to protect key programs like K–12 funding, Pell Grants, and family planning from sequestration

Although the automatic spending cuts have been delayed, they are still dangerous. In the next two months, Congress will need to find a solution to avoid deep cuts to important investments such as education, funding for civil rights enforcement, women’s health programs, and workforce training programs.

obama fiscal cliffThe 113th Congress, which begins on January 3, is in for a bumpy next few months. The sequestration delay is projected to end at roughly the same time the United States hits its newly set debt limit (early March), setting the scene for a pitched political fight. This will likely be followed by another battle when the current appropriations bill that is funding the government expires in late March.

AAUW is a nonpartisan organization, but we’re also multi-partisan, representing a variety of political affiliations and viewpoints. Despite our differences, AAUW members come together to get things done and serve our communities. Congress should do the same. AAUW members will continue to press Congress to support budget policies that further the principles of fairness and fiscal responsibility and protect women and their families.

Make your voice heard! Sign up for AAUW’s Action Network and speak up for women and families.

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For as long as Dahlia Eissa can remember, she has been a feminist. Growing up in Australia with Egyptian immigrant parents, she was never afraid to ruffle feathers. She began her activism leading Know Your Rights workshops for Muslim women with the Islamic Women’s Association of Queensland. Early on, Eissa knew she wanted to work with women in immigrant communities, and she saw law as the natural career choice for her passions. Following 9/11, she established the Arab American Justice Project, a network of pro bono attorneys who advocate for Arab Americans facing discrimination, harassment, and deportation.

Dahlia Eissa

After finishing her undergraduate degree in Australia, Eissa wanted to pursue postgraduate studies in Islamic law and women’s rights. Finding the right program was a challenge. She wanted to study law as a feminist first and as a lawyer second. Her AAUW International Fellowship was the kick-start that made it possible for her to attend Harvard Law School. Without the award, she says, she would not have been able to come to the United States.

Today, Eissa uses her knowledge of law, women’s rights, and Islam to encourage women to broaden their perspectives of what is possible in their lives and identities. She insists that women do not need to be restricted to the binary of Western or Muslim worlds, but rather that women can be true to their Muslim identities and principles while embracing and being embraced by American society.

Eissa has been inspired by the women of the Arab Spring and the women of Egypt in particular. Her academic research has primarily focused on Islamic law and women in Egypt. So when the revolution began last year, Eissa strongly felt that she had to somehow support Egyptian women. She asked herself, How will this new wave of activism play out for women?

When we spoke last week, the first draft of the new Egyptian constitution was being voted on by the country’s Constituent Assembly. Sadly, the new constitution completely leaves out any provisions that guarantee the rights of women and girls. Eissa described the draft as absurd but predictable. As the world watches the women of Egypt, Eissa is focusing on how she can support them from the United States. Working with women activists on the ground, her strategy lies in mobilizing other women to minimize the negative impact of the legislation. The rejection of protections for women and girls could open the door to other dangerous allowances in the law, such as lowering the marriageable age for girls or blocking the recent U.N. resolution that calls for the end of female genital mutilation practices.

Eissa is deeply passionate about women’s rights and gender equality. Even as a teenager, she recognized inequalities between men and women that were supposedly justified on the basis of “biology.” Eissa rejected socially constructed distinctions based on sex and spoke her mind, even when fearful of the backlash that she could face. Being an outsider, she says, is worth the risk in order to pursue what you believe in because, in the end, you’ll find that you aren’t that much of an outsider after all. In a culture that “banks on women being submissive,” Eissa wants women to “be fearless.” Let’s follow Eissa’s powerful example and go out there and ruffle a few feathers.

Eissa’s International Fellowship was sponsored by the Margaret Bigelow Miller International Fellowship, established in 1986, and the Helen B. Taussig International Fellowship, established in 1974.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily McGranachan.

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Since 1987, Iowa has required that all state boards and commissions be gender-balanced: There must be an equal number of women and men on each board. In 2009, the state passed a new law requiring gender balance on all county and city boards and commissions established by the state’s Iowa Code. Boards were given until January 1, 2012, to begin implementation of the law. AAUW members in Iowa have been a part of this fight for women’s representation from the start. One branch in particular is taking exemplary steps to make it happen.

Photo credit Flickr Creative Commons

United States and Iowa State flags

The AAUW Clarion (IA) Branch recently formed the Wright County Women’s Coalition, led by Florine Swanson and Diane Edwards. The group was designed to encourage boards and activists in the community to work together for gender equity. The coalition, which includes a representative from every town in the county, works to raise awareness about the new law among women in the community and current board members. Last summer, the coalition joined with the Friends of the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women and the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politicsat Iowa State University to look into the actual enforcement of the law. The coalition funded an intern to research the status of the law at the county and state levels to see which areas were meeting the standards and which were not.

The coalition’s findings show that progress is being made, but there is still work to be done. Every county in Iowa has at least one board that’s balanced, and two counties are already 100 percent balanced. While the majority of boards continue to be dominated by men, some boards tend to be the opposite: Library boards, for example, are mostly made up of women.

Statewide, government-level gender balance might seem like a big endeavor to take on, but the amazing AAUW members in Iowa have some wisdom to share on their growing successes. Swanson recommends getting to know your boards and commissions. Building good relationships is invaluable — that way boards can be partners, not adversaries. It’s also helpful to put gender equity in perspective for them: If members think about how talented their own wives, daughters, and sisters are, promoting more women on boards seems natural. At the city level, the city manager is your best connection because she or he can make recommendations to the councils and keep you informed about what appointments are coming up. You can find more advice about working with local boards here.

The Wright County Women’s Coalition has worked to advocate for and implement the new law, with visible results. Last April, Des Moines City Councilman Skip Moore was inspired by AAUW’s efforts and proposed that all city boards and commissions be gender-balanced — even ones that aren’t required by the Iowa Code to be balanced.

AAUW members fight for these and other equity issues every day. Let us know in the comments what work your branch has been doing. Or e-mail us your story at advocacy@aauw.org.

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Dani Nispel.

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