Monthly Archives: June 2011

Racist Anti-Choice Billboard Campaigns Spreading Throughout US

The billboards in Los Angeles read, in both Spanish and English, “The Most Dangerous Place for a Latino is in the Womb.” Samhita at Feministing said that by targeting Latina women in this way, the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles (the group who took responsibility for the billboards) was “strategically playing on racist anxieties.” She stated that this kind of anti-choice campaign is “not effective in actually reducing how many women need abortions or access to forms of birth control, it just divides communities of color and shames women.”

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, along with Trust Black Women and California Latinas for Reproductive Justice condemned the campaign. The Institute “denounced the deeply offensive and racist billboard campaign.” The organization stated that “As the only national Latina reproductive health and justice organization, we are outraged by these condescending ad campaigns.  These offensive ads have no place in our communities.”

Veronica Bayetti at the Ms. Magazine blog points out that the billboards “attack all women and promote the notion that women cannot be trusted to make personal decisions about their own bodies and their families” without addressing the inequalities that cause the disproportionate number of unplanned pregnancies and abortion in women of color. Indeed,

Women of color are disproportionately barred from access to the most basic of reproductive health services, including birth control, and therefore have higher rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion. But instead of expanding the range of reproductive health care options available to women of color, the billboards focus on sensationalizing unintended pregnancy and abortion. They fail to acknowledge the structural inequities at play, such as the distressing fact that Latinas have the highest rates of uninsurance out of any other group of women… Immigration plays a role in that: Immigrant women are often ineligible for public programs, such as Medicaid, that could help them have access to comprehensive reproductive care–from pap smears to birth control./blockquote)

After an uproar by numerous groups who took offense at the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles use of racism to push their anti-choice agenda, the Los Angeles billboards were removed. Miriam at Feministing called the removal of the billboards “a win” for those campaigning against the billboards which she called “tantamount to hate speech.”

However, the fight to stop anti-choicers from putting up racist billboards is not over.  Targeting women of color in anti-choice campaigns began with an initiative in Atlanta  which claimed “black children are an endangered species,” referencing the fact a black woman in the US is four times more likely to have an abortion in her lifetime than a white woman.  However, like the racist signs targeting Latinas, an article for Colorlines points out that these billboards make no attempt to raise awareness about the fact that this disparity is caused by a relatively high rate of unplanned pregnancies among black women, an “imbalance that derives from larger health disparities: lack of access to health care, lower rates of contraceptive use, and higher rates of untreated STDs and of preventive disease overall.”

Unfortunately, despite protestations from advocacy groups, racist anti-choice signs are appearing in more and more cities. This month at least 25 billboards in Oakland, CA appeared emblazoned with the slogan “Black and Beautiful” with a link to an anti-choice website. The sign is similar to those that have already appeared in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The California NAACP stated that the Oakland billboards are racist “and urged groups to pressure any billboard company that decides to conduct business with the Radiance Foundation [the organization responsible for the signs] or any group affiliated with it.”

Racist anti-choice billboards targeting women of color are not only insulting, but neglect to address the injustices that cause the disproportionate rate of abortions in minority communities-namely, an increased rate of unplanned pregnancies cause by lack of access to adequate health care, birth control, and education about reproductive health. Though advocacy organizations have managed to get the Los Angeles billboards targeting Latinas taken down, more racist billboards are appearing all over the country. You can learn more about this disturbing trend in anti-choice campaigns by reading the entire Colorlines article here.

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Filed under Contraception, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights

New International Treaty Will Protect Domestic Workers

On June 16th The International Labor Organization (ILO) adopted the Convention on Domestic Workers, a treaty which will guarantee the labor rights of domestic workers around the globe. “Domestic workers” includes any workers who work in or for a household or households such as nannies, chauffeurs, and housekeepers. Human Rights Watch states that of the estimated 50 to 100 million domestic workers worldwide, “the vast majority are women and girls.” 7.5% of female employees worldwide work in the domestic sphere.

Many countries do not provide the protections to domestic workers that they afford those employed in other fields. For this reason, domestic workers face “a wide range of grave abuses and labor exploitation.” It is believed that in many countries these human rights violations are allowed to continue due to a lack of legal protections exacerbated by discrimination against women and girls.

“Discrimination against women and poor legal protections have allowed abuses against domestic workers to flourish in every corner of the world,” said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This new convention is a long overdue recognition of housekeepers, nannies, and caregivers as workers who deserve respect and equal treatment under the law.”

The new treaty demands that domestic workers have some of the basic labor rights that those who work in other spheres already enjoy. These rights include: “reasonable hours of work, weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours, a limit on in-kind payment, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, as well as respect for fundamental principles and rights at work including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.”

The treaty applies to all domestic workers, including migrant workers and child laborers who are especially vulnerable to labor rights abuses. Migrant workers, who compose a large proportion of those employed in the domestic sphere, “are often at heightened risk of exploitation due to national policies that link workers’ immigration status to individual employers as well as excessive recruitment fees, language barriers, and employers’ confiscation of passports.” The Convention on Domestic Workers demands that migrant workers receive a contract that is enforceable in the country in which they are employed and calls for national governments to strengthen international cooperation.

The Treaty also helps children, who make up nearly 30% of all domestic workers worldwide. Prior to the convention, many national governments excluded domestic work from child labor laws, meaning that some children worked long hours at young ages. The treaty sets a minimum age for domestic work and ensures that work does not interfere with the education of children above that age. 

The United States played a leading role in advocating for strong protections of domestic workers in the treaty and was one of the 396 out of 475 delegates who voted for the convention. However, it is unlikely that the U.S. will ratify the convention as labor laws are primarily regulated by states and this convention would require numerous federal regulations. This is unfortunate as currently New York is the only state which has enacted a domestic workers’ bill of rights.

But despite the fact that the convention is unlikely to change federal law in the U.S., the increased awareness that the treaty will bring could prove beneficial.

The importance of this convention is to bring the plight of domestic workers into the national spotlight, not necessarily changing U.S. laws, said Ana Avendano, the assistant to the president at the AFL-CIO, who also participated in the ILO conference. In many parts of the world, domestic workers are explicitly excluded from labor laws and standards, she said.

“What happens to many workers in most cases is already illegal,” Avendano said. “When these workers complain about their conditions, now people are going to listen”

The International Labor Organization’s Convention on Domestic Workers has the potential to give labor protections to millions of domestic workers around the world, the majority of which are women and girls. While the convention will not necessarily change U.S. law, it will likely increase awareness about the issue of labor exploitation and encourage people to respect and utilize existing laws which protect domestic workers. While the convention will not eradicate human rights violations of domestic workers, the international recognition of the need for domestic workers to be afforded the same rights as other workers is a step in the right direction. You can read more about the convention here.

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Filed under Employment, Uncategorized

AIDS Infection Risk for Women Lowered by Gel

Researchers found that after a woman has used a microbiocide gel containing 1% tenofovir 12 hours before sexual intercourse and up to 12 hours after sexual intercourse for a year, her risk of contracting HIV was half that of a woman who used a placebo gel. After two and half years of use,  the gel seems to become slightly less effective, with a woman who uses it being only 39% less likely than a woman using a placebo to contract HIV. However, the drop off in effectiveness is thought to be due to some women in the study “tending to use it inconsistently as time went on, not knowing whether it was in fact having any effect.”

The gel’s potential to decrease the rate of women who contract HIV could be a major breakthrough in slowing the spread of AIDS. Women are disproportionally affected by HIV/AIDS; 60% of new HIV/AIDS infections in Africa are among women. If the gel became widely available, women would have more control in avoiding contracting HIV/AIDS.

“Picture a young woman in a rural community in South Africa who walks through my clinic doors asking me what I have to protect her from getting infected,” said Dr Quarraisha Abdool Karim, one of the authors of the paper. “Her partner is a migrant worker and refuses to wear a condom and she is not sure of his faithfulness in this relationship. From being able to tell her for years that I have nothing, I can now offer her 1% tenofovir gel, which offers her 39% protection and, if she is highly attuned to this gel [uses it consistently], it offers her 54% protection.” 

Researchers found that the gel had very few side effects, “which is extremely important because it will be used by women who are healthy.” Additionally, in a previous study involving a gel that proved unsuccessful in lowering the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, women cited increased sexual pleasure as a positive effect of gel use. Wits professor Helen Rees, of the university’s reproductive health and HIV institute said that the majority of feedback from participants citing increased sexual pleasure with gel use came from women in menopause. If the gel continues to prove successful, the “sexual pleasure factor could be a potential marketing option.”

While preliminary research showing tenofovir gel to be successful in reducing the contraction of HIV/AIDS in women is exciting, there is still work to be done before it can become widely available. The results must be confirmed by the Follow-on African Consortium for Tenofovir Studies (Facts) study whose results are not expected to be released until 2013 and then the gel must go through a licensing process before it could be manufactured and marketed.

If further research confirms the success of the gel, then Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) has committed WHO to use its resources to distribute the gel to women as quickly as possible. To find more detailed information on the preliminary study showing tenofovir gel to be effective, click here.

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Filed under HIV/AIDS, Sexuality, Women's health

NY Act Would Help Jailed Domestic Violence Survivors

The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA) proposed by New York State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, if passed, would “allow [New York] courts to take DV into consideration when determining sentencing; authorize judges to sentence survivors to shorter prison terms and alternative-to-incarceration programs, and permit currently incarcerated survivors to apply for resentencing.” The bill is supported in the recommendations of a  report by the Avon Global Center which examined the “barriers to justice faced by women survivor-defendants in New York State.”

The Report revealed

an estimated nine out of ten women in New York prisons are survivors of physical and sexual abuse.  Many of these women are survivors of domestic abuse, and the crimes for which they have been sentenced are often directly related to their abuse.   In many cases, the police failed to investigate and enforce laws against domestic abuse, the attorneys failed to raise the issue during the trial, and the judges failed to consider past victimization and institutional failures during the sentencing phase.  Often, these women receive and serve the maximum sentences in prison for their crimes, with no regard for their prior abuse or the failures of the justice system to first protect them as victims of criminal violence.

Among other recommendations, the Report proposes DVSJA as a step towards helping survivors of abuse obtain justice.  A major way the act will help domestic violence survivors is by allowing “judges discretion to cut a sentence for first-degree manslaughter, for example, from five to 25 years to one to five years, or to probation with alternative programs.” “Alternative programs” could include counseling programs which have been proven to reduce recidivism rates. Indeed, according to the Survivors of Abuse in Prison Fact Sheet the utilization of counseling programs would reduce the already very low recidivism rates for women who commit violent felonies (PDF). Of the women who were incarcerated for a violent felony offense in 1980, “only about 9% were convicted of another violent felony after their release.”

It is incredibly important that domestic violence survivors who committed violent crimes in order to defend themselves from their abusers see justice. According to the Survivors of Abuse in Prison Fact Sheet, a 1996 a government study found that 93% of women convicted of killing intimate partners had been abused by the partner. Another 1996 study showed that the majority of women jailed in the New York City prison system “reported engaging in illegal activity in response to experiences of abuse, the threat of violence, or coercion by their male partners.” In 2005, nearly 25% of women who were incarcerated for homicide in New York prisons reported abuse by the victim of their crime.

If passed, DVSJA would be the first law of its kind in the nation. Under the act, survivors of abuse could have their circumstances taken into consideration when being sentenced for crimes often committed only in an effort to protect themselves from their abuser. To learn more about the barriers to justice faced by jailed survivors of abuse, watch the short documentary by The Women in Prison Project.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Women in prisons

What We’re Reading: Marriage Equality

WLP staffers have noticed many recent news stories covering the fight for marriage equality in the US and around the globe. Due to the volume of news on this topic, it is impossible for us to write a blog post on all newsworthy stories. Instead, a compilation of links to the stories that have piqued our interest this week can be found below.

Have we missed something? Please share more news related to the fight for marriage equality in comments.

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Filed under Equality, LGBT, What We're Reading

Cyberstalking: A Growing Problem

We have written before about cyberstalking, the disturbing use of technology by stalkers. WeNews reports that “stories like these [involving cyberstalking] are becoming more common.” While cyberstalking affects both women and men, women are disproportionately targets. According to a National Violence Against Women Survey, 80% of targets of stalking of any kind are women and 60% of cyberstalking targets are women.

Cyberstalking can involve perceived threats, harassment, and worse. Karen Baker, director of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, defined cyberstalking to WeNews as “threatening behavior or unwanted advances that use computer communications.” Baker stated that 1 in 4 adults has been the target of a cyberstalker.

The utilization of technology allows stalkers to harass their target from oceans away. A teenage boy in Western Australia sent a girl in Wisconsin various “gifts,” including a Domino’s pizza. Worried, the girl blocked the boy on Facebook. After realizing that he had been blocked from the girl’s Facebook, the boy began to threaten her via e-mail and text. One text read, “If you thought ultimate love was bad, wait till you see ultimate hate. I’ll ruin your life. I know exactly where you live.”

Luckily, authorities were able to find the boy from his internet protocol (IP) address which he used when ordering the pizza online. The boy was arrested and “may face stalking, fraud and harassment charges, according to a police report.”

Some targets are not as lucky as the Wisconsin girl was. WeNews relates cases of cyberstalking that resulted in more violent consequences.

In Ohio, a high school student committed suicide after her ex-boyfriend sent nude photos of her to her classmates via text message from his cell phone.

In Florida, a female teen stabbed and killed a romantic rival after exchanging months of threats on the social networking sites MySpace and Facebook.

In Wyoming, a woman was raped by a stranger when her ex-boyfriend posted an ad on calling for a man to go to her house, pretend to attack her and act out a “rape fantasy.”

Legislators have taken notice of the growing instances of cyberstalking. The Rhode Island House passed a bill which would make cyberstalking by a relative or household member a crime listed under domestic violence offenses. While cyberstalking is already a crime in Rhode Island, making it a domestic violence offense would “automatically prohibit offenders from contacting victims, prompt tougher criminal penalties for repeat convictions and provide victims with advocacy services.” Congress is considering a bill that would extend the federal definition of stalking to cyberstalking.

To find out what cyberstalking laws your state has, click here.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Government, Stalking

What We’re Reading: Title IX

Title IX, a law which requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding passed 39 years ago. However its promise has not been completely  fulfilled, even four decades later.  Here are some of the stories we have been reading recently which got us thinking about how far we have come in achieving equality in education and how far we still have to go.

  • Parents of competitive cheerleaders at Lugoff-Elgin High School in Camden, South Carolina, are requesting a formal investigation of Title IX compliance after they say school administrators refused to pay for new uniforms.
  • Some universities (including Duke, Wake Forest, and Appalachian State) listed men who assist in practices of women’s teams as members of the teams in a federal study. It is probably not the case that any of these schools did this to better fulfill Title IX requirements since, according to the article, “counting the men as part of the women’s team didn’t significantly change any of the three schools’ Title IX numbers.” However, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a law professor at Florida Coastal and the senior director of advocacy at the Women’s Sports Foundation says that another school may use this loophole to give “‘the appearance of an untrained eye that the school would not have to add another women’s team (to be in compliance) with Title IX.’”
  • Kristine Newhall addresses critiques of Title IX which argue that it creates reverse discrimination: “It seems difficult to argue that Title IX is creating reverse discrimination when men have always had and continue to have more opportunities.”
  • The University of Montana, “in danger of falling out of compliance with Title IX,” started a softball program.
  • Sue Estler, an Associate Professor Emirita of higher education at the University of Maine who served 11 years as the Director of Equal Opportunity and Title Coordinator reflects  on the history of Title IX and the continuing struggle to ensure that schools are in compliance with it.
  • A federal appeals court will hear a case alleging that Indiana schools discriminated against girls’ basketball teams by scheduling girls’ games for weeknights and boys’ games for Friday and Saturday nights.

To find out about the Women’s Law Project’s Title IX-related advocacy, click here. Image via.

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Filed under Education, Equality, Sports, Title IX, What We're Reading