House Hikes Minimum Wage; Aussies Ban Plan B

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Under the new leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the House of Representatives voted 315 to 116 this week to raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour. The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 proposes to raise the minimum wage in three increments over the next two years.

“Today women and minority workers are overrepresented among minimum wage workers,” said Rep. Hilda L. Solis, D-Calif., in a press release. “Too many women struggle to make ends meet throughout their working life and retirement. The Fair Minimum Wage Act will give 1.4 million working mothers a pay raise.”

The Fair Minimum Wage Act also includes workers from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory that has historically been exempt from U.S. labor laws but one that has a garment industry that relies heavily on the cheap labor of women. The act proposes to raise the Mariana minimum wage from the current $3.05 per hour to meet the U.S. minimum wage in half-dollar increments every six months.

The White House issued a Jan. 10 statement opposing the measure and urged the Senate to add in tax breaks to small business to offset increased labor costs.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • California Congressman Joe Baca has introduced legislation to posthumously award a Congressional Gold Medal to suffragist Alice Paul. Paul was a leader in the movement to pass the 19th Amendment that enfranchised U.S. women and drafted the first Equal Rights Amendment in 1923. “Alice Paul was a remarkable person who made America more democratic by fighting for equal rights and creating opportunities for women to participate in politics. Her influence on our society and culture continues to be significant,” Baca said in a press statement.
  • Calling a new law unconstitutional and a violation of “fundamental rights and principles,” human rights activists in Nicaragua have asked its Supreme Court to block an anti-abortion act that makes it illegal for rape victims and women who risk dying in childbirth to obtain abortions, Reuters reported Jan. 10.
  • South Dakota and New Hampshire will provide Merck’s human papillomavirus vaccine, Gardasil, at no cost to girls and women ages 11 to 18, the Associated Press reported Jan. 10. In clinical trials, the vaccine is 100 percent effective in preventing HPV strains 16 and 18, which cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. The Texas Legislature is also considering two bills that will require girls to receive the vaccine before entering sixth grade.
  • Six Arab women will be invited by the New York-based Institute of International Education to give input on new technology training programs developed for women in the Middle East, the U.S. Department of State announced Jan. 10. The women–representing Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia–will speak on a panel about their experiences with the program and receive professional development training through funding by the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative.
  • Zimbabwe’s House of Assembly has passed the country’s first law to criminalize domestic violence, the news site reported Jan. 10. Sixty percent of all murder cases in Zimbabwe last year were linked to domestic violence, according to the gender and women’s affairs minister, and 1 in 4 Zimbabwean women are currently victims of domestic abuse.

For more information:

“Nicaragua’s Abortion Ban Faces Legal Blockade”:

“Some Hospitals Withhold Plan B After Rape”:

“Fashion World Says Too Thin Is Too Hazardous”:

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Catholic Health Australia, the health arm of the Catholic Church, has written an 80-page policy that prohibits Catholic hospitals from administering emergency contraception to women who have been sexually assaulted, the Daily Telegraph reported Jan. 11.

“If you’re going to be providing a service then, ethically not morally, you must provide the full range of services available within those parameters,” Karen Willis of the New South Wales Rape Crisis Center said. “It’s just another barrier and as far as I’m concerned it’s unethical.”

The policy also bans Catholic hospitals from referring rape victims to crisis centers that supply emergency contraceptives. Catholic Health Australia controls more than 680 hospitals, about 70 percent of the health facilities in the nation. The Australian Medical Association, an organization of doctors, said it would oppose state contracts paid with public tax funds to Catholic hospitals that refuse to provide full medical services, including abortion, rape counseling, sterilizations and fertility treatments.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • Fashion designers and agents are rejecting the recommendation of international physicians to require higher Body Mass Index numbers for its models, United Press International reported Jan. 9. The Academy for Eating Disorders, an international organization of physicians based in Northbrook, Ill., recommended an age minimum of 16 for models. It also urged a BMI greater than 17.4 for models under 18 years old and a BMI of 18.5 for models over 18. Designers and agents said the recommendations were too restrictive.
  • The Anglican Communion’s Panel of Reference has ruled that individual Episcopal dioceses of the Anglican Church are not obliged to accept female priests, the Christian Post reported Jan. 8. Women were first ordained in the church in 1997, but three dioceses continue to oppose them. The decision will allow the dissenting dioceses to elect bishops who disapprove of female ordination. The case was initiated before the selection of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to head the church in June 2006.
  • Hong Kong has doubled child delivery fees for non-residents who give birth in the city, Science News reported Dec. 21. Patients will now pay $5,000 for a three-day basic treatment. According to a Hong Kong hospital authority, the Relatively cheap, modern and professional birthing facilities contributed to the 30 percent of births to non-residents last year, mostly to parents from mainland China.
  • Afghan families are selling their young daughters for marriage to get food and warm clothes, the Guardian reported Jan. 7. The standard bride’s price is about $3,850 in U.S. currency. According to London-based charity Christian Aid, the girls who are sold for marriage often suffer from malnutrition, experience increased infant and maternal mortality rates and are often sent on three-hour journeys to collect water and firewood.
  • Gender inequity is responsible for the disproportionate number of women in Ethiopia who are affected by HIV-AIDS, the United Nations’ IRIN PlusNews reported Jan. 8. Women accounted for 55 percent of the 1.32 million people in Ethiopia living with HIV-AIDS in 2005 and for 53 percent of new infections, the government reports.

In Memoriam:

Judith P. Vladeck, 83, a prominent lawyer who was nationally known for her powerful defenses of women’s rights in labor law, died this week in Manhattan. During her 50-year legal career, Vladeck took on Wall Street investment firms, state universities and international corporations, and usually settled for millions. In a case filed against the City University of New York in 1973, Vladeck traced salary histories for more than 5,000 female faculty members, which led to a ruling that found the university guilty of discriminating against female professors for 15 years.

Toyin Adeyemi is an independent journalist based in New York City. Nouhad Moawad is Women’s eNews’ Arabic intern.

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