On Equal Pay Day April 24, the Education and Labor Committee held hearings on the Paycheck Fairness Act.

In March U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, (D-Conn.) introduced the bill, which would tighten loopholes in existing pay equity law and reinstate the Equal Pay Initiative, proposed in 2000 to dedicate $27 million to teach employers and employees how to recognize and respond to wage discrimination.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would also allow those bringing gender discrimination lawsuits to receive compensatory and punitive damages and require employers to provide pay data broken out by race, sex and national origin.

April 24 symbolizes the number of days into a year women work before earning what men earned by December 31.

On that day Sen. Barney Frank, (D-Mass.), also introduced the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007, making it illegal to fire or fail to hire or promote an employee based on gender identity or sexual orientation. In 33 states, it is legal to fire someone for being gay or lesbian, the Associated Press reported April 24. The other 17 states have laws banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Under the law, churches and the military would be exempt. Rep. Frank said he thinks the House of Representatives will vote on it this year, but is not optimistic about overcoming a presidential veto.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s House Labor Committee began hearings April 24 on four bills to equalize pay between men and women, according to an April 24 Detroit Free Press article. One bill would allow employees to sue employers based on gender-based pay discrimination. Two bills would make pay discrimination a misdemeanor, including fines up top $50,000 for repeated violations. The last bill would create a commission to determine which jobs would fall under an umbrella requiring equal pay.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • Mexico City’s City Council voted to legalize abortion in a 46-19 vote April 24. Unsafe abortions are the third leading cause of maternal mortality in Mexico City, and the fifth leading cause in the nation. About 200,000 women seek treatment in hospitals after illegal abortions each year, according to an April 25 report in McClatchy Newspapers. The controversial bill, opposed by the Catholic Church, the country’s dominant religion, changes the law only in Mexico City. It legalizes abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Mexico only allows abortions in cases of rape, birth anomalies or if the woman’s life is at risk. Mayor Marcelo Ebrard is expected to sign the bill, which would then take effect in 60 days.
  • Morgan Stanley, the New York financial services giant, settled a sex discrimination lawsuit for $46 million and promised to implement new policies to help female financial advisers, Bloomberg News reported April 25. If the settlement is approved by the federal court, the world’s second-largest securities firm will have new training and development programs in the wealth management division. Six former female financial advisers filed a complaint last year saying the firm discriminated against them and 3,000 others since August 2003 by paying them less and offering fewer promotion opportunities. The settlement also raises salaries for female advisers by $16 million over the next five years. It is the ninth-largest settlement in a U.S. gender bias class-action case.
  • More women are entering the Saudi work force, the Christian Science Monitor reported April 24. Saudi women are now graduating from universities at a higher rate than men and have new work opportunities in the fields of education, banking and medicine. Male relatives remain the biggest obstacle to women’s advancement, according to the Monitor; many still restrain female family members from choosing their own jobs or husbands.

For more information:

“Women Pick Up Small Change on Wall Street”:

“New Museum Documents Lives of Japan’s ‘Comfort Women'”:

“Irani Women Protest in Shadow of Nuclear Face-off”:

“In Western States, 1 in 5 Women Have Been Raped”:

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U.S. authorities permitted the use of sex slaves during the U.S. occupation of Japan after World War II, the AP reported April 23. Japan set up a “comfort women” system for U.S. troops similar to the one it provided Japanese soldiers until Gen. Douglas MacArthur shut down the brothels in the spring of 1946. The brothels were established under the U.S. government’s Recreation and Amusement Association. Each woman “serviced” up to 60 clients a day, and at its peak, the association employed 70,000 Japanese women.

Most former sex slaves did not benefit from the Asian Women’s Fund established to aid them, the International Herald Tribune reported April 24. The fund closed last month after operating for 12 years, but was rejected by most of the women because it was funded by private citizens instead of the Japanese government. “Atonement” payments of about $4.8 million were distributed among 285 women along with a letter of apology from the Japanese prime minister.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently ignited controversy when he issued an official apology to the enslaved women, accompanied by statements there was no evidence of coercion on behalf of the government regarding the brothels. The BBC reported on April 23 that a Japanese lieutenant testified in January 1946 at an Allied Forces Netherlands tribunal that the Japanese army “forcibly recruited comfort women from occupied territories.”

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • Three women are raped each day in the Mt. Elgon district in war-torn western Kenya, the East African Standard reported April 24. The Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya reported that an average of three women visit mobile health clinics every day who say they have been raped by security forces in the area. Multiple closures of local health facilities have aggravated victims’ willingness and ability to report the rapes.
  • One in 3 Native American or Alaska Native women is raped but does not report it, Amnesty International reported April 24. The organization reports many indigenous women do not report rapes because they think they will be met with inaction or indifference. Amnesty International also asserts that authorities failed to respond to accusations by indigenous women and did not provide them the same protections available to other U.S. women. Federally recognized Indian tribes are sovereign under U.S. law, allowing them jurisdiction over their own tribes but with the federal government maintaining responsibility to protect the women. Amnesty International said this overlapping of jurisdictions, combined with lack of funding for tribal law enforcement, exacerbates the problem of rape.
  • In Iran, 278 women were arrested by police for not wearing appropriate attire, the AP reported April 23. Police took the women into custody for wearing coats that were too tight or veils that didn’t cover all of their hair. Authorities said that 231 women were released after signing papers saying they wouldn’t be “inadequately dressed in public” again. Another 3,548 people were provided “warnings and Islamic guidance” without being detained. The crackdown under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, concentrated in Iran’s major cities, is the toughest in two years. About a dozen men also were arrested for inappropriate dress.
  • Police stripped 18 women after arresting them for protesting power outages in Harare, Zimbabwe, Africa’s News24 Web site reported April 22. The women’s group Women of Zimbabwe Arise said that after an April 19 protest, 80 members were arrested and 18 were stripped and held undressed for the entire day in police station cells. Some women also were beaten, according to the group. Police said the protest was illegal.
  • Texas lawmakers voted April 25 to reject Gov. Rick Perry’s bill to require the anti-cancer human papillomavirus vaccine, sending him instead a bill that blocks state officials from requiring the shots for at least four years. The AP reported April 26 that the bill bars state officials from requiring the vaccine for school attendance. Perry has 10 days to sign or the veto the law before it becomes law without his signature. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that girls get the vaccine when they are ages 11 or 12.

In Memoriam:

Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald died April 21 of cancer at age 68. A Democrat, Millender-McDonald represented the 37th District in Southern California. She was the first African-American women to chair the Committee on House Administration, which oversees House and federal election operations. Her recent work included co-sponsoring the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act in 2006, which prohibited transactions with Sudan, bringing attention to the genocide in Darfur. In 1996, she took the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John M. Deutch, to address the public in Los Angeles after a newspaper reported domestic profits from cocaine were funneled to C.I.A.-backed contras in Nicaragua, which led Glamour magazine to call her one of “11 women who will change the world.” Millender-McDonald also recently co-chaired the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Millender-McDonald was “a problem-solver and a barrier-breaker who was always charging forward with a glint in her eye.”