Friday, September 19, 2014

What We've Been Reading- 9/19

MSNBC: Women in Politics: College Edition:
This is part of a new series “Women of 2014” from MSNBC that shines the spotlight on women in politics this year. This section of the series is particularly exciting because it focuses on what young women leaders are doing to improve their college communities. Read more here and think about nominating an exceptional woman you know! Massachusetts Primary Signals Women Gaining Clout:
This quick read detailed the victories for women in the Sept 9 primary in MA and the exciting progress those victories signal. Stephanie Schriock, President of Emily’s List is quoted saying ‘‘Momentum for women’s leadership has really been growing in Massachusetts in a state that had historically been tough for women candidates.” It’s exciting to see Massachusetts making strides towards equity in representation! Read more here:

The Guardian: Scottish independence debate: women hold the key far from Westminster:  
The piece, written before the results of the recent referendum in Scotland, commented on the key role women were set to play in determining the outcome. With both parties on both sides talking about their plans to address issues like affordable childcare this article says “Women are at the forefront of this campaign in a way that is currently inconceivable in British politics.” It will be interesting to look at analysis of exactly how women voted in the recent referendum, but one thing is for sure this is yet another example of the central role women can and should play in politics. Read more here:

Paycheck Fairness Act Struck Down Again
Irin Carmon of MSNBC wrote an article this Monday on yet another vote against the Paycheck Fairness Act. This week, Senate Republicans voted down the bill for a fourth time in two years. Claiming that the legislation will encourage frivolous lawsuits, opposers have called these votes a waste of time. Politico has also reported that Senate Republicans allowed debate of the bill in order to “eat up Senate floor time” that could have been devoted to votes on the minimum wage or a response to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby contraception decision.
“Senate Republicans had the opportunity to vote for equal pay legislation and affect real change for hardworking women, but they chose to…cling to their extreme agenda at the expense of millions of women and families,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List.

Maternity Leave Discrimination
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux of the Washington Post revealed the shocking story of a Virginia couple who were denied a loan. Though their mortgage application had been approved and the closing for their new home had been scheduled, FirstBank reversed its decision upon learning that the wife was on maternity leave. In fact, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has opened 15 maternity leave discrimination investigations just this year.

Why is this happening? The banks claim that maternity leaves result in the loss of income and the chance that the women may not return to work. “America is just waking up to the fact that moms are in the labor force and we are in the labor force to stay,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising. In fact, three-quarters of American mothers are in the workforce, and four in ten mothers are now the sole or primary breadwinners for their families.

Further, banks are requiring families to write “motivational letters” stating why they wanted a house and their family planning schedule. Linda Falcão, a civil rights attorney from Pennsylvania, was asked to write such a letter. “I felt genuinely humiliated and demeaned to have to discuss, with a total stranger, whether my husband and I were going to have more children or not,” said Falcão. “I didn’t then, and don’t now, think it’s any of their business.”

Women in Rwanda: Empowered And Motivated To Lead But Feeble To Forget|
In 1994, when President Bill Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that responded to the inequality encountered by women victims in state justice system, between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the genocide in Rwanda. As Rene Degni-Segui stated in his 1996 UN Special Rapporteur report, “rape was the rule and its absence the exception.” The Hutu majority, with its goal to destroy moderate Hutu and Tutsi, especially targeted women because they wanted to eradicate them and their potential descendants: Tutsi women were not supposed to have reproductive capabilities because future generations of the Tutsi population wanted to be prevented. In order to make their suffering even worse and their death slow, HIV-infected men were recruited to rape women in Rwanda.

Today, 20 years later, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women appointed to government in the world: 64% of women control and make decisions for Rwanda compared to 18% of women appointed to government in the United States that take an infamous 86th place (after Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan among the others). The post-genocide population was made up of about 70% of women who were left with low financial capabilities and more importantly with no reason to continue their lives. However, mutual strength and support empowered them and made them realize that it was their turn now to take care of their country.

Women knew more about family life, health, education and other need of the community than men. Before the genocide men were making the decisions but just because women did not have means to do so: their obligations were based at home, not in the government. Starting from the local level, women established various councils such as a local women’s council rebuilding their faith in better tomorrow.

Unfortunately, these moments of suffering and pain cannot be simply faded into oblivion. According to the Sowetan’s article form today, “the country struggles with a legacy of traumatized women, unwanted children and high HIV rates.” Women’s groups put in a lot of effort to raise awareness and helped children who experienced trauma and mental health problems when they were told about their origins. However, it is hard to ease inner pain.

The transition of gender equality in Rwanda made a sincere precedent that all countries, developing and developed, democratic and autocratic, should follow. It is needless to say that it should not have happened as a consequence of a genocidal mass slaughter. However, it is pertinent to stand up when you fall down and continue walking with your head up. Many women and their children still suffer in Rwanda and it is most likely that their agony will be everlasting. They need support from the global society, which also has to make sure that the Rwandan genocide does not happen again.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bridging the Gap with GAPP (Girls About Political Participation)

Today the MWPC was proud to take part in an exciting event promoting women in public service. GAPP (Girls About Political Participation): Connecting Women Politicians with the Next Generation was sponsored by the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators (MCWL), the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus (MWPC), and Boston Girls Leading Organized Women (GLOW).

The event brought together 11 girls interested in public service and 13 women politicians at the Massachusetts Statehouse to discuss public service and share their personal stories. The politicians attending were:

  • Rep. Ruth Balser
  • Rep. Carolyn Dykema
  • Rep. Alice Peisch
  • Rep. Marjorie Decker
  • Rep. Rhonda Nyman
  • Rep. Cory Atkins
  • Diane Modica, Former Boston City Councilor
  • Dana Reberio, New Bedford City Councilor Ward four
  • Mardee Xifaras, Former Democratic National Committee Woman
  • Ann Bookman, Director Institute for Women in Politics University of  Massachusetts Boston
  • Thalia Tsongas Schlesinger, Delegate to National Political Conventions, strategist, and fundraiser

Each girl was paired with a politician whom they interviewed about their personal stories of getting involved in public service, strategies for getting women involved, and goals for the future.

The MWPC was excited to be involved in this exciting new project that aims to empower young women, inspire them to become involved in politics, and eventually run for public office!

Wins for Women in Sept. 9 Primary

This past Tuesday’s primary election was full of exciting wins for women candidates and the women of Massachusetts. Martha Coakley, Maura Healey, and Deb Goldberg were all successful in their respective primary bids for Governor, Attorney General, and Treasurer.
This means that two-thirds of Democratic ticket for statewide constitutional office are women. This is important because women are staggeringly underrepresented in politics. According to the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators, women hold 18.5 percent of Congressional seats and 23 percent of statewide positions across the country.
Martha Coakley, the current state Attorney General garnered 42 percent of the vote outpacing both current State Treasurer Steve Grossman’s 36 percent and Don Berwick’s 21 percent.
Senator Elizabeth Warren told the Boston Herald “….She has all the right basics and we know who Martha Coakley is — she was an outstanding attorney general who fought on behalf of the people of Massachusetts. She was out there day in and day out making it happen and now she is going to make it happen as a candidate for governor.”
Former Assistant Attorney General and political newcomer Maura Healey bested Warren Tolman with 62 percent of the vote compared to Tolman’s 38 percent.
Emily’s List President Stephanie Shriock commented on the importance of a win for Healey in November in her organization’s endorsement of Healey.“Maura Healey is a champion of equality with a proven record fighting for civil rights of Massachusetts families….” Schriock said.
Former Brookline Town Selectwoman Deb Goldberg won 43 percent of the vote compared to Andover State Senator Barry Finegold’s 32 percent and Wayland State Representative Tom Conroy’s 26 percent.
Donna Denoncourt & Nancy Rosenblum, Mass National Organization for Women PAC Co-Chairs, endorsed Goldberg saying “Mass. NOW is proud to endorse Deb Goldberg for State Treasurer. As an Overseer of Planned Parenthood and a Selectman in the Town of Brookline, she has been engaged in the challenges and issues facing women’s right to privacy, wage equality and choice….”

The mission of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus is to help recruit, train and elect more qualified, pro-choice women to public office. It was a truly rewarding experience for the staff and volunteers of the MWPC to have supported the winning candidates as well as our other endorsed candidates that were not successful in the primary election, but showed a tremendous amount of bravery by running for public office. It was a very exciting primary night, but there is still more work to be done to ensure that the general election in November is a historic one for women!   

Paycheck Fairness Act Fails Yet Again.

Two days ago, the Paycheck Fairness Act failed to pass for the fourth time in the Senate. The last time (the 3rd time) it was brought to a vote was in April, earlier this year. The roll call vote, however, passed with a clear majority of 52-40.Unfortunately, it was 8 votes short of a majority of 60 percent, which is needed to pass in the Senate. The purpose of the bill is to narrow the earning gap between men and women. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, so far in 2014, women working full time have made 78 cents to every dollar than a man makes. This is up very slightly from 2013’s figure of women making 77 cents to the dollar that men make. Another provision of the act is prohibiting employers from disciplining employees who wish to share their income information with other employees. The Act would also work to increase the legal options for workers who want to fighting income inequalities.

The common theme of the commentary given by the many Republican Senators who voted the measure down was that this was a political stunt by Democrats to appeal to women voters.  It’s true that Congress will be recessing soon, and yes, many members will soon return to their home states for the campaign season. Even Senator Deb Fischer, one of the few female Republican Senators refused to vote the bill through because of this issue. Senator John McCain, in particular, saw it was a distraction from the recent international issues in the Middle East with ISIS, and the Defense Authorization Bill.

Understanding some of the concerns of the Senators who voted against the bill, I still believe that this level of income disparity needs more attention from our Congress. While women average 78 cents to a man dollar, that figure gets worse when you factor in an African American woman’s average of 64 cents to the dollar, or a Latina’s average of 54 cents to the dollar. While this bill won’t entirely solve the work inequality between the genders and even inequality as a whole, it might prove to be a very helpful step in that fight.

Here are the full articles on the topic:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lets keep dated and 'unbecoming' language out of Beacon Hill

Yesterday marked the 94th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment. Ninety-one years ago Democrat Susan Fitzgerald of Jamaica Plain and Republican Sylvia Donaldson of Brockton were the first women in history to be elected to the Massachusetts legislature. We’ve made some progress. Since 2008, Massachusetts has tripled the number of women we send to Congress (from zero to three!) and women serve around 24-percent of the seats in the Massachusetts Legislature. But still, we lag behind most of our neighboring states in New England at electing women to public office. We have to continue to look at the unique obstacles women encounter when they run for office. One of those unique obstacles? Weighted language and rhetoric that is used in the media, in debates, and out on the field that sets us back years. It is dividing statements that change the tone of debate and lead to the pervasiveness of sexism on Beacon Hill.

Just last night in a debate held by The Boston Globe we heard former State Senator and candidate for Attorney General Warren Tolman described his opponent, civil rights attorney and former leader in the Attorney General’s Office Maura Healey as “unbecoming.” Voting history, advertisements, and endorsements aside, the use of the word “unbecoming” has weighted meaning that dates back to before the elections of Susan Fitzgerald and Sylvia Donaldson. Just 12 years ago former Gov. Mitt Romney described his Democratic gubernatorial opponent and former state Treasurer Shannon O’Brien’s behavior as “unbecoming”. Yes, there are times when the word “unbecoming” is used to describe a man’s behavior, but overwhelmingly, it is a way to describe “aggressive” or “bossy” women. Maura Healey is a respected civil rights attorney, a former leader in the Attorney General’s office where she oversaw 250 lawyers and staff members, an advocate for reproductive health rights and consumer protection, a Harvard graduate, and a first-time political candidate who has enlivened voters across the Commonwealth. What she isn’t? Unbecoming.