Monthly Archives: September 2009

Women are Delaying Pregnancy and Limiting Number of Children in Recession

A new survey released by the Guttmacher Institute last week confirms that the recession is impacting women’s reproductive health choices. The survey, which looked at approximately 1,000 low- and middle-income sexually active women in the United States, found that 44% of women wanted to delay pregnancy or limit the number of children they have due to financial concerns.

However, although 64% of women agreed with the statement, “With the economy the way it is, I can’t afford to have a baby right now,” the survey also included statistics suggesting that financial problems are making it harder for women to use contraception effectively, or for some women, to use it at all:

  • Nearly one in four women reported having put off a gynecological or birth-control visit in the past year, to save money;
  • 23 percent reported having a harder time paying for birth control than in the past;
  • Among women using the birth-control pill, 18 percent reported inconsistent use as a way to save money.

Dr. Sharon Gamp, Guttmacher president and CEO, breaks down the conundrum that women are facing in today’s economy:

The recession has put many women—including middle-class women who are having trouble making ends meet—in an untenable situation. They want to avoid unintended pregnancy more than ever, but at the same time are having difficulty affording the out-of-pocket costs of prescription contraception. Unfortunately, while delaying a prescription refill or skipping pills may save women money in the short term, it increases their risk of an unintended pregnancy and results in greater costs related to abortion and unplanned birth later on.

In other words, some women who know that they cannot afford to raise a child also cannot afford birth control, a circumstance that may actually cause the number of unplanned pregnancies to rise in coming years. You can check out the entire report, “A Real-Time Look at the Impact of the Recession on Women’s Family Planning and Pregnancy Decisions,” here (PDF).

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Rep. Metcalfe Thinks Domestic Violence Awareness Month Has a “Homosexual Agenda”

File this one under “Huh?”: Pennsylvania Representative Darryl Metcalfe (R-12) blocked a resolution recognizing October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month because he said “it has a homosexual agenda.”

It’s difficult to find any “homosexual agenda” in the language of the resolution, which you can read here. Instead, it reads as sympathetic to all victims of domestic violence in the Commonwealth and makes no mention of any sexual orientation:

WHEREAS, Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior used to establish power and control over an intimate partner;

WHEREAS, Domestic violence often causes emotional harm to victims, their children, other family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers; and

WHEREAS, Domestic violence affects men and women in all racial, ethnic, religious, educational, social and economic backgrounds; and

WHEREAS, Domestic violence takes many forms, whereby victims are often subjected to abuse, harassment, threats, vandalism, trespassing, burglary, theft and stalking; and

WHEREAS, Domestic violence is often escalated, causing victims to suffer physical and emotional trauma, anxiety, stress, sleep deprivation, loss of confidence, fear and, in some cases, injury and death by suicide or homicide[…]

It’s difficult to imagine why any legislator would refuse to recognize the enormous problem of domestic violence, which surely affects his own constituents, to make a flimsy political statement against the LGBT community.

Rep. Siptroth (D-189), the prime sponsor of the resolution, said it best:

“Representative Metcalfe voted for my resolution the past two years. To block it this year to cause controversy and gain some media attention shows a marked lack of respect and understanding as to the impact domestic violence has on individuals.

“It is my hope that my colleague, who should know better, will stop this provocative nonsense and allow this resolution to be adopted unanimously so this very serious issue can be recognized by this chamber.”

If you’d like to let Rep. Metcalfe know what you think of his blocking this resolution, you can contact him here.

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Filed under Domestic violence, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania

Women are Key to Economic Recovery Plans

On the eve of the G20 summit, Heather Arnet of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania and Kavita Ramdas of the Global Fund for Women encourage the leaders attending the meeting to remember the importance of women in any economic recovery efforts.

First, they lay out the dismal situation for women:

A main reason women are central to the global economy is they make up 60 percent of the global work force. In ordinary times, women and girls are the majority of the world’s poor and illiterate, but during recessions, the disproportionate burden is placed on women who are more likely in vulnerable jobs, are underemployed, lack social protection and have less control over financial resources.

Worldwide, women make up about 70 percent of those living on less than a dollar a day; add children, who disproportionately depend on women for their care, and you have the majority of the world’s poor.

A new report by the international agency Plan International found that the global recession is hitting girls the hardest because they are the first in their families to go without food, to be pulled from school and to lose jobs. The report forecasts that 22 million women will become unemployed, driving more girls into the sex trade.

They discuss the situation of women in Pittsburgh, the G20 host city, as being pretty much up to speed in most areas with the rest of the world: the wage gap has women making less than 70 cents for every dollar a man makes and there is a startling absence of women on many corporate boards or publicly traded companies based here. And most of the money in the economic stimulus packages went to work in repairing the physical infrastructure of our society, which is dominated by male workers.

But the authors argue that we need to invest in the social infrastructure of our society as well, in the industries of education, public health and child care, where women are disproportionately employed.

The world leaders meeting this week should also not fall into the trap of thinking of women as helpless beings who need to be served by economic policy, but as able agents making those decisions themselves:

Women need to be considered, not just as those being served by development programs, but they need to be at the decision-making tables in increased numbers. Research has confirmed that women are better at mitigating risk, and a recent study showed that banks with at least 30 percent women in senior management positions were far less likely to have made risky and unsustainable loans.

One of the only two female finance ministers of the G-20, Sri Mulyani of Indonesia, is credited for her work in putting Jakarta’s financial house in order by dismantling the cronyism that plagued Indonesia’s financial architecture from the Suharto era. Indonesia now enjoys one of the most conservative balance sheets in the world and over 4 percent economic growth — and Ms. Mulyani is credited for her role as a tough regulator.

While we cannot add more female finance ministers to the G-20 table this year, we can demand that our world leaders begin to respond to the overwhelming amount of data that points to the immediate and long-term economic gains of investing in the development, education and economic security of 60 percent of the world’s work force.

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Filed under Employment, Equal pay, Equality, Pittsburgh

Woman Stars in (Referee) Stripes

With her blonde hair tucked into her black referee hat, it’s relatively easy to overlook Sarah Thomas and assume that she’s just another male college football referee—only she’s not. Thomas is major college football’s only female referee.

She started as many others did, officiating for youth leagues and studying for tests as she worked her way through middle school and junior varsity games. She reached the high school level in 1999, and worked the game clock while pregnant with her sons, Bridley, now 8, and Brady, 5.

The spouses of her crew even made her a maternity referee shirt so she could continue pursuing her passion during her pregnancy.

When asked whether the players are surprised by her presence on the side line, she told her interviewer that she blends easily into the sideline and is hardly noticed by coaches or players. “Most of the time they are so focused on what they are doing, they don’t notice me,” she said, “and that is what every other official strives for. Our best games are the ones that no one knows we’re there.”

While she may be successful in avoiding the attention of the players, this certainly does not mean that her hard work went unnoticed by everyone. The Times reports that in 2006, she came to the attention of Gerald Austin, an NFL official for more than 25 years.

An officiating scout, another former N.F.L. official, had been impressed by Thomas’s work in a high-pressure playoff game, and called Austin to tell him so. Austin invited Thomas to an officials’ camp in Reno, Nev. “She made one tough call after another and nailed every one of them,” Austin said. “There was no reason not to hire her.”

After two years of training and being eased into the rotation, Austin scheduled Thomas for a full schedule of games this fall. Although the NFL has yet to hire a female referee, Austin thinks that when it finally happens, Thomas would be first on the list, saying, “They have got to look at her,” and “She’s too good.”

Thomas’s success has inspired other women who love football but thought their participation in the sport was limited to screaming at the television to pursue positions as referees. Currently, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference has three women on its officiating crews. And this past weekend, the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s first female football official will work a game.

We wish Thomas good luck with her first season officiating at the top tier of college football, and hope that we’ll be hearing about her appointment as the first female referee in the NFL one of these days.

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Filed under Equality, Sports

The Relationship Between Oppressions: Silence Gives Consent

The unequal society that we live in runs on systems of prejudice against race, and gender; the systems are maintained and perpetuated by the domination and subordination of particular groups of people: males over females, whites over people of color.  When this way of life is challenged, conflicts are sure to occur, sometimes in the form of outright disrespect, which some believe has been exemplified in  South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson’s affront to President Obama.  The “You lie” outrage has led some, like former president Jimmy Carter, and New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, to argue that Wilson’s retort was painted all over with racist colors, while others such as David Brooks try to maneuver our focus away from race and claim that the conflict we see now is just an instance of the age-old struggle between the “progressive elite” and “rural white populists.”

Regardless, it is true that many in America still cannot accept the reality of being governed by a black president, and thus view the president very critically.  If he’s angry, he plays into racist stereotypes about black men.  If he’s too calm and collected, he’s labeled ineffective or a weak leader.  Uncannily, this treatment is akin to the oppression many women in the workplace, particularly those in high positions of power, experience as well.  Those who are assertive and aggressive are either classified as pushy, manipulative, power-hungry, or even trying to be like men; those who embrace “female attributes” are perceived as “too soft,” and unfit for management positions and high office.

No single human can be charged with the creation of oppressive systems that we live in today, because all these manifestations of oppression (as seen in racism and sexism) are products of socialization, meaning we have internalized all of these habits and thoughts that enforce the system of oppression since birth.  What we can do is build a “liberatory consciousness” which is actively alert and critical of prejudiced thinking and behavior.  As Maureen Dowd’s article quotes:

“A lot of these outbursts have to do with delegitimizing him as a president,” said Congressman Jim Clyburn, a senior member of the South Carolina delegation. Clyburn, the man who called out Bill Clinton on his racially tinged attacks on Obama in the primary, pushed Pelosi to pursue a formal resolution chastising Wilson.  “In South Carolina politics, I learned that the olive branch works very seldom,” he said. “You have to come at these things from a position of strength. My father used to say, ‘Son, always remember that silence gives consent.’”

“Silence gives consent.”  We shall not be silent against oppressive acts of prejudice, whether they spring from bigotry based on race, sex, age, sexual orientation, ability, or anything else.

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Filed under Equality, The New York Times

Violence is Never the Answer

James Pouillon, a 63-year-old man from Owosso County in Michigan, was shot and killed on Friday morning while protesting abortion across from a high school in Owosso. According to authorities, Pouillon was killed by Harlan Drake, 33, who drove up to him in a truck and opened fire. Drake is also accused of killing a local business owner earlier that day.

The shooting of James Pouillon is, as President Obama put it in a statement, “deplorable.” Although it is still unknown whether the shooting of Pouillon came about from his status as an anti-choice protester, the WLP would like to stress that we condemn all forms of violence, and that violence is never an acceptable response to philosophical or political disagreements.

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Third Circuit Rules in Favor of Wage Equity for Women in PA

Despite the influx of women into the workforce, gender inequality persists, as this report released by the The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reminds us. Men earn more than women in almost all occupations.  Moreover, women earn less than men both in the ten highest paying occupations for women and in the ten lowest paying occupations for women.

Mary Lou Mikula, employed to manage the police grants budget by Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, probably never anticipated that she would one day be at the center of the equal pay battle in the courts, but her situation required it:

She was paid several thousand dollars less than a male manager with whom she shared many responsibilities from her date of hire and continued to be paid less despite her repeated requests for a pay increase.  In an initial panel opinion, the Third Circuit held that her Title VII claim was not filed in a timely manner despite the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. [The National Women’s Law Center] filed a petition for rehearing in April, and the court’s decision today makes clear that each discriminatory paycheck renews the time period for filing a Title VII claim.

The ruling demonstrates the influence of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which fights pay discrimination and ensures fundamental fairness for American workers.  Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President of the National Women’s Law Center said that the “decision is a victory for Ms. Mikula and for all those who have been denied equal pay. The decision implements the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as Congress intended, restoring the ability of victims of wage discrimination to challenge this practice in court.”

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Filed under Allegheny County, Employment, Equal pay, Equality, Pennsylvania