Monthly Archives: March 2011

MIT Reform Brings Progress to Women in Academia, Highlights Societal Stereotypes

The New York Times recently published an article that raised the issue of women in academia, and how MIT has led the charge for increased female representation. The article highlights the progress, but it also calls attention to some unintended consequences that still negatively affect women.

But with the emphasis on eliminating bias, women now say the assumption when they win important prizes or positions is that they did so because of their gender. Professors say that female undergraduates ask them how to answer male classmates who tell them they got into M.I.T. only because of affirmative action.

Research conducted at MIT in the 1990s showed the extreme disparities between female and male professors teaching at the university, and illustrated need for change. Reforms were made, and the result was a dramatic increase in female opportunities at MIT.

More women are in critical decision-making positions at M.I.T. — there is a female president, and women who are deans and department heads. Inequities in salaries, resources, lab space and teaching loads have largely been eliminated.

With this dramatic growth in women’s representation came unintended consequences. Women are still called to panels to discuss work-life balance; something that is rarely asked of male colleagues. Also, women are faced with others believing that they were hired to promote gender diversity rather than on the basis of their work or accomplishments. But some at MIT dispute this:

“No one is getting tenure for diversity reasons, because the women themselves feel so strongly that the standards have to be maintained,” Professor Kastner said. Faculty members said that the perception otherwise would change as more women were hired and the quality of their achievement became obvious.

We admire MIT for leading the charge in promoting women in academia, especially in traditionally male-dominated fields, though it is unfortunate that this progress is overshadowed by pervasive stereotypes of professional women.

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Filed under Education, Employment, Equal pay, Equality

The Paradox of Eating Healthy

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, traditionally known as food stamps, have been providing low-income families with affordable grocery assistance for years. Recently, the Nation examined the difficult reality of trying to eat healthy when you’re on SNAP.

In 2009, the average SNAP recipient received $124.31 per month, which averaged out to less than two dollars per meal. Researchers have studied the link between obesity and food stamps, and in the summer of 2009, Ohio State University released a study showing “that the body mass index (BMI) of program participants is more than one point higher than nonparticipants at the same income level. The longer one is on food stamps, the higher the BMI rises.” People who receive SNAP benefits are conscious of unhealthy food choices they might be making, but they simply cannot afford to eat otherwise.

Farmers markets have taken the lead to combat this problem. Recently the Food and Nutrition service made it possible to use SNAP benefits at farmers markets. Markets accept the EBT card issued to SNAP recipients which functions like a debit card. An additional 30 cents is added to the recipient’s SNAP balance for every dollar spent on fruits and vegetables.

According to the Farmers Market Coalition, the new program has been extremely beneficial to vendors as well as recipients. Pennsylvania SNAP manager Susan Richards expects that the acceptance of these cards will boost sales at farmers markets, support local agriculture and encourage people to buy locally.

Overall the program has proved to be successful:

Over the past five years, the number of farmers markets increased 250 percent.  In 2009 alone, 949 farmers’ markets participated in SNAP and more SNAP benefits were redeemed at farmers’ markets in the fiscal year 2009 during October than any other month of the year…Currently, there are more than 1,100 farmers markets and farm stands across the country using EBT machines.  As of May 2, 2010, there were 1,156 authorized farmers’ markets enrolled in SNAP and of the 3,153 counties in the United States, 496 have at least one EBT-authorized market.

SNAP recipients and families living in poverty should not be shut out of eating healthy because fresh fruits and vegetables are too expensive. Accepting SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets and providing incentives for recipients to do so are great first steps in ensuring that all Americans have access to fresh, healthy, local foods.

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Filed under Pennsylvania

Critical Trans Politics and Transformative Social Change

Seattle University Assistant Professor of Law Dean Spade was interviewed in this month’s issue of Guernica.  Spade is the first openly transgendered tenure-track law professor in the U.S.  and the founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a non-profit agency which provides free legal services to low-income transgender and gender non-conforming people and advocates for policy reform to eliminate gender expression-based discrimination and violence.

The average life span of a transgendered person is 23 years, a shocking demographic that should make every LGBT advocate sit up and pay attention. Trans individuals face daily discrimination, threats of violence, homelessness, and poverty, and are disproportionately incarcerated.  They face anti-trans discrimination at school and in the workplace.

While law reform may be a method to bring social awareness to an issue, Spade argues that it is merely a “tool to address certain needs for certain communities,” but is not the answer to solving all social issues.  He believes that changing the law does not always change  people’s lives because anti-discrimination laws are often not enforced or implemented and vulnerable populations may not see change. Sometimes vulnerable people may actually be marginalized further through law reform.  He provides an example:

Law reforms declaring race and disability discrimination illegal haven’t solved concentrated joblessness, poverty, homelessness, or criminalization of people with disabilities and people of color.

Spade goes on to discuss what he calls critical trans-politics.  He argues that while non-trans gay and lesbian individuals face marginalization and discrimination, there are specific issues that are unique to transgendered individuals.  For example, he says

Trans people have a huge set of legal issues around how various government agencies and other entities see our gender, and lots of gay and lesbian people haven’t experienced not having a gender that the government recognizes.

Critical trans-politics moves away from gay and lesbian politics and focuses on racial and economic justice analysis in conjunction with gender identity.  It calls for broad social movements led by people directly impacted by the issues, rather than legal reform for social change.  The movements, Spade argues, must focus on changing people’s lives by advocating for “good housing, healthcare, education, and all those things that you actually need to live well and thrive.”

His work does not merely focus on transgender rights but includes a collective approach geared towards economic, racial, and gender issues.  Spade’s interview focused on a lack of equality within the U.S. and the need for social transformation.

Help end this kind of discrimination by educating yourself and your community about racism, ableism, transphobia, and sexism. Learn more here about non-discrimination laws that include gender identity and expression.

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Filed under Equality, LGBT, Sexuality

The Price of Pregnancy Increases Drastically

The average cost of delivering a healthy baby in the United States is $6,378– $10,638 for a caesarian section. These numbers do not include the countless doctors’ visits and purchases the average woman makes during her pregnancy.

And now the cost of a popular drug that prevents preterm labor is increasing exponentially. The drug, 17P, currently costs $10-20 per dose and is covered by both of western Pennsylvania’s major health insurance providers. Now the drug’s exclusive rights have been acquired by KV Pharmaceuticals and 17P will be sold for $1,500 per dose under the new name Makena.

A preterm birth is defined as a “birth that happens too soon, before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy.” 17P is the hormone progesterone. Pregnant women receive the first dose of the drug in shot form between the first 16 and 20 weeks of pregnancy and can continue to receive injections through their 37th week of pregnancy. A full term pregnancy is 40 weeks.

Preterm labor is a major concern with any pregnancy. Once preterm labor starts it cannot be stopped and there is no clear reason why it occurs. There are many risks associated with preterm labor for the baby including low birth weight, breathing problems, underdeveloped organs, and potentially life threatening diseases. Children who are born premature also are at greater risk for learning, developmental, and behavioral disabilities. Mothers of prematurely born children sometimes have a high stress level related to the condition of their child.

Litigation and Trial recently wrote that the United States spends $25 billion per year caring for premature babies. The Examiner made an excellent point, stating the new cost of the drug would discourage insurance companies from covering it:

Now, at $1,500 per shot, many medical directors, Medicaid officials and insurance companies wonder how many mothers in need will go without the treatment. That would actually cause an increase in the number of premature births, exactly what the drug is supposed to prevent.

Overall, Makena will increase the price of pregnancy for those women who need the drug to around $30,000.

Recently, KV Pharmaceuticals issued a cease and desist letter to pharmacies that have continued to produce and provide the $10 per dose version of the drug, threatening that these pharmacies will have to face FDA enforcement.

This whole situation makes a person question, what is in a name?  KV Pharmaceuticals have made no efforts to make the drug affordable for low-income women, or to appeal to insurance companies to cover the drug. The major effect of dramatically increasing the cost of this drug will simply have the effect of increasing the premature birth rate in the United States.

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Filed under Childbirth, Health insurance, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Legislators Seek More Restrictions on Abortion Across the U.S.

A new wave of conservative legislators took office in November and since that time, have made many attempts to restrict abortion and impose further impediments on women seeking abortions.  Lawmakers across the United States have introduced bills and/or passed laws in what critics say is an attempt to not only test the waters, but to push limits.

Most states require a woman seeking an abortion to wait 24 hours after the initial clinic visit to obtain an abortion; however, in South Dakota, Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a newly passed bill forcing women to face a 72-hour waiting period and counseling at a crisis pregnancy center before being able to obtain the procedure.  According to Sarah Stoesz of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, in a rural state like South Dakota, the 72-hour waiting period would force women to make several long trips to the clinic, which is often hours away. Stoesz regards the mandated counseling aspect as biased:

The mission of a crisis pregnancy center is to talk women out of having abortions.  That’s not the same thing as offering an opinion.

Twenty states have passed laws that require doctors to offer ultrasounds to women seeking abortions.  Seven states, including Ohio and Texas, are considering bills in which an ultrasound is mandated.  If the bill in Ohio is passed, abortions would be banned if a fetal heartbeat is detected.  In the Texas legislature, two versions of a bill requiring a sonogram for a woman seeking an abortion have been passed.  This bill also requires doctors to show the women the sonogram image, provide a detailed description, and allow women to hear a heartbeat (if audible).

The proposed and passed bills not only create more restrictions and impediments on women seeking abortions, but are insulting to women’s intelligence and autonomy, overly invasive and likely to face legal challenges.

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Filed under Abortion, Government, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

WLP Signs Onto Amicus Brief for Female Walmart Employees

The United States Supreme Court is set to hear a sex discrimination case brought against the largest private employer in the states. Although Walmart v. Dukes began with a small group of female workers, it has since grown into a class action including close to 1.5 million women who work or have worked at Walmart stores, making it the largest class action employment suit in United States history.

Without addressing the merits of the gender discrimination claim, Walmart is challenging the class action status itself. Walmart asserts that the plaintiffs are too diverse to qualify for class action status. If Walmart prevails in its argument, the female employees will have to file lawsuits individually. This would put women at greater risk for retaliation and make it less economically possible for women to pursue claims against Walmart.  Additionally, splitting the claims would potentially lead to many inconsistent rulings and increase judicial expenses, going against the spirit of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which sets no limit to the number of class action litigants and allows cases to be more efficiently litigated.

The Women’s Law Project has joined in an amicus brief asserting that workplace gender discrimination is properly addressed in this class action and that this class is unified since subjective decision making practices affected all women within the class. The brief highlights evidence of general beliefs that women should not be primary breadwinners and other assumptions of women’s availability and competency which caused women to be devalued in the workplace and restricted promotion opportunities. There was also evidence that the employers were purposely secretive about payment of male counterparts who earned more than the female employees. The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision on the case in June.

The National Women’s Law Center, which co-authored the brief with the ACLU, is collecting messages of support for the Walmart women. You can add yours here.

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Filed under Employment, Equal pay, Equality

Paid Sick-Leave Bill Approved by Philadelphia City Council Committee

We’ve all seen the T.V. commercial sponsored by the PA Department of Health which states “your job is to stay at home when you’re sick,” but for the 41% of workers in Philadelphia who have no access to earned sick days, staying home because of illness is easier said than done.  National studies have shown that 78% of workers who need family and medical leave do not take it because they cannot afford to miss a paycheck.

Because they are more likely to have care-taking responsibilities, working women (and low-income women in particular), are at a high risk of losing pay or losing their jobs in order to care for sick children, elderly relatives, or sick partners.

Earlier this month, the Philadelphia City Council Committee on Public Health passed the Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces Bill, which would give part-time and full-time workers in Philadelphia the opportunity to earn up to one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked in order to care for themselves or their family.

In addition to using paid sick days to care for ailing family members, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, a paid sick days standard would also

guarantee job-protected paid time off, or “paid safe days,” to victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault when they need it most: to leave a violent situation and access necessary recovery services without risking their jobs or their paycheck.

While the bill was approved by the City Council committee, it is still opposed by Mayor Nutter’s administration which argues that paid sick-leave would be a bad move for the city of Philadelphia because it would add to business costs. Philadelphia business owners are split on the debate.

Please tell the full Council you support earned sick days for Philadelphia workers by clicking here.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Employment, Government, Philadelphia, Philadelphia City Council, Women's health