Calling All Moms (and Mom Supporters)! Join Us to Advocate for Workplace Equality in PA on May 22

In honor of Mother’s Day month, we are joining MomsRising and fellow advocates from across the state and heading to the Capitol to call on lawmakers to pass policies that will help lift Pennsylvania families by fighting discrimination in the workplace and promoting economic security.

Never been to the Pennsylvania Capitol? No problem. We will be there to help you. Have the kids that day? Please bring them! We love to show kids that it’s everyone’s right to speak up for what you believe in. You are welcome to bring parents, friends, and kids. We will discuss the issues, host a rally, and have policy fact sheets on hand and show you how to drop them off at legislator’s offices. We’ll even provide free lunch (as long as you register beforehand).

Here is the schedule:

11AM, Capitol Steps: We’re reading messages from parents across the Commonwealth
12PM, Main Rotunda: Rally and Press Conference
1PM: Dropping off materials and messages (on kites!) to Legislator offices

Specifically, we’re calling on Pennsylvania lawmakers to:

Raise Pennsylvania’s Minimum Wage 

At $7.25 per hour, Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is the lowest allowed by federal law, and not a living wage. Currently, the tipped wage in Pennsylvania is $2.83 per hour. Nearly three-quarters of Pennsylvania’s tipped workers are women and of those workers close to one in five live in poverty. That’s higher than the poverty rate for Pennsylvania men working for tips, and more than double the rate of working women overall. In addition, working for tips correlates with increased exposure to sexual harassment.

Pass Workplace Accommodations for Pregnant Workers

Did you know that in some parts of Pennsylvania, a pregnant worker can be fired simply for asking for an extra glass of water while at work? Despite repeatedly introducing the Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the Pennsylvania Legislature has refused to advance it—even though Pennsylvania is one of the 10 worst states in the country for pregnancy discrimination, and even though the majority of states have passed similar measures into law.

Pass Paid Leave

It’s 2018, and the United States remains the only developed nation to provide zero weeks of paid leave. Enough.

Pass Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Workers

Without guaranteed access to paid leave, pregnant Pennsylvanians may have to work until the last possible day of their pregnancy and then return to work within weeks of giving birth. Public health experts have called for laws to protect and promote breastfeeding in the workplace to reduce infant mortality, yet the Pennsylvania Legislature has repeatedly refused to advance this basic workplace protection that would give more babies access to mother’s milk and all the health benefits that go with it.

Promote Equal Pay

Pennsylvania’s equal pay law is one of the weakest in the country. As a result, Pennsylvania women face a wider pay gap than most women in the country. We know how to fix the law and close the loopholes, but the Legislature has so far failed to advance this legislation.

Implement Sexual Harassment Protections

Seven months into the #MeToo movement, Pennsylvania still hasn’t closed the loophole in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act so that all working women in Pennsylvania have the same basic protections against sexual harassment in the workplace.

Will you join us in Harrisburg on May 22?

Even if you have never done something like this before, this is the perfect opportunity to learn how to advocate for equality—and show the kids how to do it, too.

If you plan to attend, please RSVP with MomsRising here, and let us know that you are going too by emailing Tara Murtha at tmurtha@womenslawproject.org. Then invite friends on Facebook.

If you can’t attend but would like to send a supportive message, you can send us a message to be read on the steps of the Capitol, too.

This event is also co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

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Litigation Update: Briefs Filed in Case Re: If Prenatal Drug Use is Child Abuse Under Civil Law

We just filed our main brief in an important case that may have a profound influence on public health and the rights of pregnant people in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Can a woman’s behavior while pregnant be considered child abuse under civil law?

That’s the fundamental question in In re: L.J.B., a case co-counseled by attorney David S. Cohen, Professor of Law at the Thomas R. Kline School of Law at Drexel University and member of the WLP Board of Directors and WLP Executive Director Carol E. Tracy, along with Robert Lugg of Lugg & Lugg in Lock Haven.

You can read and download all case documents here.

Background

Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared opioid addiction a public health emergency. Millions of Americans are struggling with opioid addiction, and many of these people are women of childbearing age.

Like many people suffering from addiction, a pregnant Pennsylvania woman did not completely refrain from using opioids while in treatment for her addiction.

She gave birth to L.J.B. When L.J.B. was born, initial testing indicated that she was healthy. However, according to hospital records, she began to show signs of what the physician labeled “opioid withdrawal,” and L.J.B. was admitted to the hospital. She remained there for 19 days. There is no indication in the record of any further health problems for L.J.B.

Based solely on the mother’s positive drug test and L.J.B.’s hospitalization for alleged withdrawal symptoms, Appellee Clinton County Children and Youth Services (CYS) claimed that L.J.B. is a victim of child abuse.

Nothing about the mother’s behavior subsequent to L.J.B.’s birth is part of the alleged basis for a child abuse finding. However, the court concluded that it was her drug use during pregnancy that caused or created a reasonable likelihood of causing bodily injury after birth and could be the basis of a finding of child abuse under the statute.

Case Update

In January, the Women’s Law Project, along with Lugg, asked the state Supreme Court to review a decision from the Superior Court that held that a woman can be charged with civil child abuse for using drugs when pregnant.

On April 3, the Supreme Court granted allocatur to review the Superior Court’s determination, overruling the trial court.

On May 3, WLP submitted its main brief to the Supreme Court. Four different amicus briefs supporting WLP’s position have also been filed. Amici are child welfare advocate-experts including the Support Center for Child Advocates and Juvenile Law Center; public health and maternal welfare experts including National Advocates for Pregnant Women and Community Legal Services; drug policy experts including the Drug Policy Alliance and Families for Sensible Drug Policies; and constitutional law experts including the Feminist Majority Foundation and the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

What’s at Stake?

In re: L.J.B. may have profound implications for public health. Every major private and public health organization recognizes that punishing pregnant women for prenatal drug use is counterproductive to public health goals.

“This misguided ruling could not have come at a more dangerous time,” says attorney David S. Cohen. “Our country is in the middle of an opioid epidemic. Public health experts are calling for more paths to recovery, not punishing pregnant women who seek treatment. Beyond exacerbating the public health crisis of opioid addiction, this attempt to label this woman a child abuser based on her actions while pregnant is wholly inconsistent with the purposes of the law in question.”

It also represents a slippery slope.

“Punishing pregnant women for drug use during pregnancy could open the door to punishing pregnant women for all sorts of other behaviors, including things like eating cold cuts, soft cheese, and sushi,” says WLP Executive Director Carol E. Tracy. “Drinking wine and coffee, taking prescription medicine, traveling to countries that potentially have Zika, being treated for cancer, traveling by plane late in the pregnancy, and being assaulted by an abusive partner, too.”

Indeed, the door could open to punishing all women of childbearing age for actions taken before getting pregnant.

Stay tuned for updates.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

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Action Alert: PA Lawmakers Just Introduced a 6-Week Abortion Ban

Have you been following the uproar over Iowa signing into law “one of the country’s most restrictive abortion laws?”

Pennsylvania lawmakers just introduced it here.

HB2315, introduced by Rep. Saccone, attempts to criminalize abortion at approximately six weeks, far before the legal threshold and even before most women know they are pregnant.

In 2016, a similar bill was vetoed by Ohio Governor John Kasich after women placed hangers outside the statehouse in Ohio as a reminder of what happens when abortion is criminalized.

This bill is just the latest in an onslaught of unconstitutional abortion restrictions in Pennsylvania. Here’s a brief overview of the lowlights of how the anti-choice radicals in the Pennsylvania Legislature have been using their time and taxpayer money:

  • This winter, Pennsylvania lawmakers passed Senate Bill 3 without public hearings and despite the opposition of medical experts. SB3 threatened Pennsylvania physicians with felony arrest unless they provide pregnant Pennsylvanians substandard medical care, per the orders of politicians who want to punish women for having an abortion. (SB3 was vetoed by Governor Wolf in January.)
  • Last month, the Pennsylvania House sent HB2050, a cynical, failed attempt to use rhetoric to divide the disability rights and reproductive rights advocates by exploiting the needs of people with disabilities, to the Senate with no public hearings and despite the opposition of medical experts. (It may still move in the Senate, stay tuned.)
  • Early this year, PA House leaders promoted anti-choice activist Rep. Kathy Rapp to Chair of the House Health Committee in order to use a committee established to improve public health to instead advance anti-science abortion restrictions targeting pregnant Pennsylvanians.
  • Last year, they promoted SB300, a bill with the goal of punishing women who rely on Planned Parenthood for reproductive healthcare by abruptly halting reimbursement payments for preventative healthcare services such as a pap smear (this bill is still sitting in committee in the Senate).
  • In 2014, they advanced HB1762, an “admitting privileges” bill, which is a typical bill known as a “TRAP” (targeted regulation of abortion providers) law because it targets abortion providers with medically unnecessary, arbitrary regulations that have no medical benefit.
  • That same year, they advanced a resolution honoring a radical anti-abortion protester known for harassing patients for his “contributions to the Commonwealth.” (The resolution died in Committee when people like you spoke out against it.)

Meanwhile, according to the Center for American Progress, Pennsylvania stands out as one of the states that are among the worst in the nation for women. We’re in a crisis for access to reproductive healthcare, with only one OB-GYN for every 19,656 women in the state. We have the 12th highest infant mortality rate in the country. According to the EEOC, Pennsylvania is one of the 10 worst states for pregnancy discrimination.

Call your Representative and tell them we need healthcare in Pennsylvania, not more attempts to arrest physicians for providing legal, safe, compassionate abortion care.

We need workplace accommodations for pregnant workers so pregnant Pennsylvanians aren’t forced to choose between keeping a job and keeping a pregnancy. We need workplace accommodations for nursing mothers, so more new moms returning to work can continue breastfeeding, as public health experts recommend. We need equal pay. We need to improve sexual harassment protections. What we don’t need is another unconstitutional abortion restriction greased through the Legislature without public input and despite the opposition of medical experts.

Please contact your state Representative in any way you can and urge them to OPPOSE HB2315.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

 

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Split Ruling on Lawsuit to Block Philadelphia’s Equal Pay Ordinance 

This week, a U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued an order granting in part and denying in part a motion brought by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia on behalf of members such as Comcast Corporation, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Drexel University for a preliminary injunction seeking to block the City of Philadelphia’s wage equity ordinance.

The bad news: The judge granted the Chamber’s request for a preliminary injunction regarding a provision that would have prohibited employers from asking a prospective employee their salary history.

The good news: the judge also denied the Chamber’s request for a preliminary injunction regarding the second provision, which prohibits employers from relying on such information while setting salary offer.

“It’s unfortunate that the Chamber of Commerce and these Philadelphia businesses are fighting efforts to narrow the wage gap,” said Terry L. Fromson, managing attorney at the Women’s Law Project and Pennsylvania representative for the nationwide Equal Pay Today! Campaign. “We’re obviously disappointed with the ruling on the inquiry provision but glad the Court upheld the ban on reliance on prior pay.”

In August of 2016, Massachusetts became the first state to enact a law prohibiting employers from seeking or requiring a prospective employee’s wage history.

Philadelphia’s prior wage equal pay ordinance was unanimously passed by Philadelphia City Council in December 2016. It was scheduled to go into effect May 23, 2017, but was stalled when the Chamber filed a motion for preliminary injunction in April 2017 after not participating in public hearings. The Chamber’s initial Complaint was dismissed by the Court because the Chamber did not identify any of its member businesses alleging harm from its implementation.

The Women’s Law Project filed an amici brief in federal court on behalf of itself and 27 organizations supporting Philadelphia’s prior wage legislation.

In a statement to PhillyMag, spokesperson for the City of Philadelphia Mike Dunn said the city is evaluating options for response.

The Women’s Law Project will continue to support the City of Philadelphia and working Philadelphians in the fight for equal pay protections.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

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Why Raising the Minimum Wage is a Worker’s Issue AND a Woman’s Issue

Pennsylvania has become an island of poverty wages.

At $7.25 per hour, we have the lowest minimum wage allowed by federal law. A woman working full time for Pennsylvania’s minimum wage earns just $14,500 annually—
thousands of dollars below the poverty line for a mother supporting one or more children.

Our subminimum wage, sometimes called a tipped wage, is just $2.83 per hour. Nearly three-quarters of Pennsylvania’s tipped workers are women.

This week we once again called on the Pennsylvania Legislature to raise the wage. WLP’s Tara Murtha spoke at a press conference hosted by Raise the Wage PA and the Clear Coalition in front of the courthouse in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

Here are her remarks:

Minimum wage is a worker’s issue, but it is also a woman’s issue. Today, I am going to talk a bit about the subminimum wage, or tipped wage, which is $2.83 an hour.

Nearly three-quarters of Pennsylvania’s tipped workers are women.  Of those workers, close to one in five live in poverty. That’s higher than the poverty rate for Pennsylvania men working for tips, and more than double the rate of working women overall.

If that’s not a compelling enough reason to eliminate the tipped wage, here’s another one: Sexual harassment.

With the #MeToo movement, we’ve been talking sexual harassment in Hollywood, politics, like the Pennsylvania Legislature, and tech industries, but in fact more sexual harassment claims come from restaurant industry than anywhere else.

No one who has worked in the restaurant industry needs statistics to know this is true. I worked in restaurants in Philadelphia fresh out of school. I could tell you many stories, but the one that I think about is when a grown man who, as I leaned over the table, pretended we were engaged in a sex act. A dozen grown businessmen at the table laughed, and I was humiliated.

I knew it was wrong of course, but I thought it was just the kind of behavior I had put up so I could pay my rent and student loans.

That is far from the worst story. The reality is when working for $2.83 an hour, the amount of money you can earn is too often a question of the amount of harassment you can withstand.

The “dignity of work” is a phrase some Pennsylvania lawmakers like to use often, usually while trying to cut Medicaid. So let’s talk more about the dignity of working in Pennsylvania.

The same lawmakers who have refused to raise the minimum wage haven’t bothered to fix loopholes in sexual harassment laws, so that not all Pennsylvania workers are covered by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

They haven’t bothered to update the state’s equal pay law since 1967. As a result, Pennsylvania has one the weakest equal pay laws in the nation – while just across the bridge in NJ, they are celebrating passing one of the strongest.

Now let’s think about when a Pennsylvania worker decides to become pregnant, something the Legislature seems particularly invested in, if we go by how much time they spend advancing unconstitutional abortion bans like SB3 and HB2050.

The same lawmakers who talk about the “dignity of work” haven’t bothered to pass basic workplace protections for pregnant workers in Pennsylvania, even though we are one of the worst 10 states in the country for pregnancy discrimination.

Statistically unlikely to have access to even unpaid leave, pregnant Pennsylvanians may work until the last possible day, then often return to work within weeks of giving birth.

The same lawmakers who talk about the dignity of work and tell us they are so invested in promoting motherhood haven’t bothered to pass basic workplace protections for nursing mothers, even though Pennsylvania lags behind in breastfeeding goals set by public health experts, even though it would reduce infant mortality.

Of course, if she is a minimum wage worker, she is returning to work for what we know are poverty wages. And so the cycle continues.

It is time for our lawmakers to enable Pennsylvanians to actually find dignity in working in Pennsylvania, and not just talk about it.

It is time for one fair wage.

You can watch the entire press conference here.

Interested in advocating for raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania? You can download or read our fact sheet on minimum wage and working women in Pennsylvania here.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

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How to Improve Policy Re: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace in Pennsylvania

Today, WLP Managing Attorney Terry L. Fromson shared our recommendations for reforming laws regarding sexual harassment in the workplace in Pennsylvania while testifying at the Pennsylvania House Committee on Labor and Industry
public hearing on harassment and sexual misconduct in the workplace.

We have represented victims of sexual and domestic violence and advocated for the systemic improvement of societal response to sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace, in our schools, and in other venues. Having worked for decades to improve the status of women in the workplace and in society, we appreciate the courage of women coming forward to publicly share the behavior to which they have been subjected and the response of employers who have taken steps to eliminate harassment from the workplace.

Eighty-five percent of women report experiencing harassment. They report harassment by movie moguls, television personalities, journalists, and orchestra conductors, among others. The harassers are victimizing women in the entertainment industry, in the auto factories, and in restaurants and coffee shops where tips control their income and make them afraid to report for fear of losing their jobs. Where men are in charge, and where women are few, sexual harassment is more pervasive. And that includes, of course, in legislative bodies across the country such as ours, where the harassed include lobbyists as well as legislators and staff.

The opportunity for real change is upon us. In moving forward to make change we have, in concert with other lawyers and advocates, generated a list of recommendations to improve the law and make relief more readily available and appropriate to individuals subjected to sexual harassment.

Before listing the reforms that we recommend, we emphasize that legislative reform in this area should not be limited solely to sexual harassment. Harassment based on race, ethnicity, and other protected categories are equally harmful and malicious. One form of harassment should not be treated differently than other forms. In addition, in fashioning reform we need to remember that harassment is not limited to the workplace and changes in the law should not be limited to just employment. Sexual harassment occurs in other contexts.

It is also important to make reform victim-centered, meaning the complainants choose how to proceed and options are not chosen for them so as not to deprive a complainant of either autonomy or a remedy.

We recommend a number of reforms that can be taken now.

Mandate adoption of employer policies and procedures for individuals with complaints of sexual harassment as well as training of employees and employers about their rights and obligations. In the workplace, employers are the first person to whom a person who was subjected to sexual harassment may report. Employers need to understand their obligations and make sure their employees are aware of procedures they can pursue and remedies available to them. Employers, public and private, can stop the harassment. This includes the Pennsylvania General Assembly and House Bill 1965 can achieve this outcome.

Expand access to the remedies offered by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. Administrative agencies are the next avenue an individual may go to for help. We have multiple layers of agencies who enforce federal, state and local anti-discrimination laws, all of which have different thresholds for the size of employers to which they apply and possibly different interpretations of the scope of their reach. Title VII applies to employers with 15 employees. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) only applies to employers with 4 or more employees. The local agency thresholds vary from 1 to 4 to more. This means some people have no statutory remedy for harassment because of geography and/or size of their employer. Why should an employer be allowed to harass an employee if it only has 3 employees? Or be relieved of the obligation to prevent and address harassment? As the state law that covers all Pennsylvanians, the PHRA’s employee threshold should be reduced to 1.

The PHRA also needs to be expanded to cover more than just employees, individuals who under the law are considered to be under the control of the employer. Independent contractors need to be protected beyond those who are subject to state licensing laws. Unpaid interns and volunteers are equally if not more vulnerable to sexual harassment and should be covered.

Exclusions long written into the law for agricultural and domestic workers should be removed. They are rooted in explicit racial discrimination and there is no logical basis for leaving these workers unprotected. Likewise, coverage of sexual harassment and discrimination based on gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation should be codified.

The time for filing complaints should be extended to afford individuals more time to consider their options. The trauma from the harassment and the concerns and fears that prevent victims from filing complaints right away need to be acknowledged in allowing more time to file.

Once filed, the complaints need to be promptly and timely addressed. The same trauma and fears that may prevent filing quickly may be heightened once a complainant has begun the process. Prompt resolution of the complaint is important to addressing the heightened stress. The PHRA has been understaffed a long time and the agency is delayed by many months in even determining whether the complaint is within its jurisdiction let alone resolving it. It is critical that this agency be given the resources it needs to function timely and optimally.

The PHRA should also be amended to allow for jury trials and compensatory and punitive damages. These remedies have been standard under Title VII since 1991. Such remedies will incentivize employers to prevent sexual harassment and provide greater relief to a complainant.

Transparency is another arena for reform. In response to public outcry that non-disclosure agreements hide serial predators, proposals are being made to ban non-disclosure agreements. We believe strongly that non-disclosure agreements on employees at the time of hire should be banned. Such agreements would prevent an employee from filing a complaint of sexual harassment with a public agency. They would prevent employees from informing their co-employees of serial harassers.

However, our perspective on non-disclosure in agreements in settlements – either before or after a lawsuit is filed – is more nuanced. Many of the settlements that include non-disclosure agreements are private and not under the administration of a court. Court approved settlements are less likely to be confidential as the court has the obligation to balance the public’s right to know against reasons for confidentiality. The impetus to prohibit nondisclosures in settlements of sexual harassment lawsuits has the objective of “outing” the harasser and thereby preventing this individual from harassing in the future. Sexual harassers are often serial harassers and we do not want serial harassers to remain hidden.

On the other hand, there are complainants who want privacy, not publicity. Particularly those who cannot afford legal proceedings and who want a prompt resolution so they can move on. They might want to leave the harassing environment and obtain financial resources for the resulting gap in their employment or need financial resources for therapeutic intervention resulting from the trauma caused by the harassment. Settlements allow for this. Not every person who has been sexually harassed in the workplace wants a public document that describes the offensive and disgusting behavior to which she or he was subjected or even the fact that a claim exists.

Terry L. Fromson’s testimony discusses our position on non-disclosure agreements in more detail. You can read or download the testimony here.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

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Urgent: Help Us Fight the Latest Attack on Reproductive Rights in Pennsylvania

HB2050 is yet another unconstitutional abortion restriction that anti-choice radicals in the Pennsylvania Legislature have been advancing despite no public debate and opposition of relevant medical professionals.

We expect a vote on final passage as early as today.

Contrary to the claims of its promoters, HB2050 does nothing to help people with disabilities or families taking care of a person with disability.

Read the perspective of a parent of a child with Down Syndrome who is opposed to this bill. Michael understands that every situation is different and that forcing women down a certain path does not make the world any better for individuals with Down Syndrome and their families.

Then call your Representative and urge them to oppose HB2050.

To learn more about this legislation, read letters of opposition from the National Women’s Law CenterCatholics for Choice, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

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