Women's eNews Blog


Elimination Violence Against Women

One year after Secretary General Ban Ki Moon launched the “Say No to Violence Campaign,” the headlines are still grim.

In recent weeks, a Somali girl was stoned to death after seeking justice against her rapist. In Afghanistan, Taliban men threw acid at a group of young girls trying to attend school. And in the U.S., a man drove all the way from California to kill his wife in New Jersey at a house of worship. There is no shortage.

But the good news from UN headquarters in New York is that the political will to stop violence against women is strong. On Nov. 25, designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, UNIFEM goodwill ambassador Nicole Kidman presented over 5 million signatures supporting the “Say No to Violence Against Women” campaign.

The target was 1 million. That surplus of support comes as a sweet surprise when the bitter problem is 1 in 3 women may experience violence in their lifetime. Signatures were collected online in urban centers and spread out to the rural fringes on paper. Twenty-nine heads of state and representatives of 60 governments signed the campaign.

“We must use this momentum to implement laws and policies already in place,” said Ines Alberdi, executive director of UNIFEM.

Notably absent from government supporters was Congolese President Laurent Kabila. In South Kivu, alone, an average of 40 women are raped daily. But violence against women is a national problem, says Marie Nymobo Zaina, current coordinator of the National NGO Network for Women and Development in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Congolese women represent less than 10 percent of political decision-makers and less than 3 percent of income-generators.

“Our campaign,” Zaina told Women’s eNews, “ill have an impact when women are decision-makers.”

The number of male country delegates who attended International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women events at U.N. headquarters tripled since last year. While tempting to conclude that Ban’s top brass endorsement is snapping the male ranks to attention and awareness, a good number of delegates left as soon as the chief was out the door. A few kept their cell phone cameras firmly fixed on Kidman’s face.

UNIFEM, at least, has done a great job recognizing the forces on the ground that can push for change. The agency announced $19 million in grants for 23 projects in 29 countries to end violence against women. The largest corporate contributor to this grant is Avon.

One of the recipients is violence survivor Zaina. Her grant from UNIFEM, totaling $200,000, will support sexual violence survivors in Congo. Zaina hopes to reach out to the 21 armed factions in eastern Congo to identify and recover women living in sexual bondage.

Even though President Kabila did not sign on to the campaign, it is relieving to see at least some men, from police to pulpit, are supporting women’s efforts to end gender violence. One is Andrew Hughes, director of police division at the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, who highlighted the importance of including female peacekeepers to reduce sexual violence. Women peacekeepers, he said, have reduced rates in Sierra Leone, Timor de l’Este and Liberia.

Perhaps a few good women could be mobilized to DRC as well?

–Dominique Soguel
Posted on Nov. 26, 2008.

A New Commission for Women?

2008 was supposed to be the next ‘Year of the Woman,’ right?

Hillary Clinton started out the year as the frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, Sarah Palin became the first woman to run for vice president on the GOP’s ticket, and women all over the country were running strong campaigns for Congress.

Yet as the year draws to a close, there is no woman in the White House, and Gov. Sarah Palin never made it out of the governor’s mansion in Alaska. Women added only one more governor to their ranks, but made no new records there. And in Congress, women picked up only a handful of seats and now hold 17 percent. That’s just a 1 percentage-point gain in representation over the current congressional session and still far below the minimal 20-33 percent political observers say is necessary for a political minority to influence a majority.

So what to do about it? Advocates for women’s political equality want President-elect Barack Obama to create a special commission to speed up parity in government. And they want it now–or by the end of his first 100 days in office.

“With the unprecedented popular momentum towards bipartisanship, civic engagement and deep-seated political change, now is the time to move women from the ‘government in exile’ to the ‘government in power,'” writes Marie Wilson, head of the White House Project, a New York group that works for parity in government.

Members of Women Count, an online group that advocates on behalf of women, hand-delivered to members of Congress petitions calling on the incoming administration to create the Presidential Commission on Women and Democracy, which would be modeled after a similar commission created in 1961 under President Kennedy. They are also lobbying members of the Obama administration and key female lawmakers, according to Women Count spokesperson Rosemary Camposano.

In Wilson’s view, the commission would explore ways to speed up gender equity in government such as electoral reforms that would result in more female candidates. Other strategies might include guaranteed loans to female candidates, educating children about women’s history and encouraging parties to recruit and fund female candidates.

“Many of the issues are systemic and will require looking at “women’s issues” with a broader scope and assuming that there are NO issues that are not women’s issues,” Camposano said.

–Allison StevensPosted on Nov. 19, 2008.

Reader Comment: ‘They Ignored Her’

I find it unsettling that there is so much confusion when it comes to the “language” of a law (“High Court Hears Gun Rights for Batterers Case”). Especially one this important. My aunt, Gail Pumphrey, and her three children, David, Megan and Brandon, were murdered by Gail’s ex-husband on Thanksgiving last year. My aunt fought hard for protection but the system and the “laws” failed her and her children miserably. My aunt pleaded with the judge on two separate occasions to take her ex-husband’s rifle away from him because she was afraid that he would kill her. They ignored her. Evidently, Maryland law states that the courts have the “option” to take away handguns when a protective order is in place, however, long barreled firearms are exempt. He shot and killed all four of them with the very rifle she was so afraid of.

My family has struggled to live through this tragedy. The pain today, even almost a year after, is still present and as strong as it was the day we lost them. Our lives will never be the same.

I am also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and I believe in the right to bear arms, however, I believe that only law-abiding citizens deserve that right. Sometimes I feel the system is more concerned with the batterers’ rights than they are the victims. When will our government wake up and realize that domestic violence is an issue that plagues our society and kills innocent men, women and children? How many more families have to endure the same pain as mine has?

I have lost all faith in our justice system. I just hope somehow, someday, I can have faith again.

–Diane Sollers
Posted on Nov. 13, 2008.

States Elect Record Numbers of Women

Women fared well in state legislative races last week, according to preliminary tallies from the National Conference of State Legislatures, a support organization for state lawmakers.

In Arkansas, for example, a record 32 women will sit in the Legislature, which could increase if by one more if Kelly Eichler wins a tight recount race in the House, according to the AP. Seven of the state Senate’s 35 members are female and 25 (without Eichler) women are in the 100-member House. That’s 20 percent representation in the House, and 35 percent in the Senate, putting Arkansas in the neighborhood of the “critical mass” that many political observers say is needed for women to enable significant legislative change as a caucus.

The Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, says even if final election tallies shift it’s still a record year for women in state offices. Among the 50 states 1,784 women will sit on legislatures in 2009, up from 1749 this year.

The center notes several other significant results this year:

  • South Carolina has the only legislature in the nation without any women.
  • Denise Juneau is the first Native American woman to be elected to a statewide office. She is Montana’s new superintendent of public instruction.
  • In North Carolina, 6 of 10 statewide elected positions–the Council of State–are now held by women, including Governor-elect Bev Perdue.
  • Alabama has three women to comprise its Public Service Commission.

–Jennifer Thurston
Posted on Nov. 11, 2008.

Parity in New Hampshire

Lost in all the hoopla over the presidential and congressional elections was a small–but important-victory for women on Election Night. For the first time in U.S. history, women won a majority of seats in a state legislative body. The body was the state Senate in New Hampshire, which will now be dominated by women. Of the 24 seats in the chamber, women will hold 13 seats: 9 Democratic and 2 Republican.

With a majority of women, the small chamber in northern New England will serve as a Petri dish for experimentation with legislation of particular concern to women. Will, as experts have long predicted, gender parity in the political arena yield to more bills that specifically target women, such as paid sick days, which would allow women, the nation’s primary caregivers, to take a certain amount of paid time off to care for themselves or their children if they fall ill? The answer could give women all the more incentive to push for equality in other states and in the U.S. Congress.

–Allison Stevens
Posted Nov. 11, 2008.

Transition Forum

Editor in Chief Rita Henley Jensen was asked to participate in a Transition Forum about what’s at stake for women put together by the National Council for Research on Women. Her piece is cross-posted here.

As The Memo: A Status Report on U.S. Women produced this summer by Women’s eNews reporters, we’ve seen a decline in U.S. women’s wellbeing during the last decade: Our labor force participation is down; the wage gap is persistent, women’s health indicators are falling, violence against women is likely to increase during the recession; and lesbian or suspected lesbians who are in the military are most likely to be discharged under the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Bias against women is systematic and needs to be addressed in a systematic way.

To move women and the issues women care about most from the margins to the center in this new administration, President Obama should hold a joint monthly meeting with the women’s caucuses of the House and Senate. He should also consider the suggestions outlined below.

New Appointments, Task Forces and Advisory Positions:
I have two strong candidates for the Secretary of Treasury Post and both are brilliant and neither has made public statements insulting women’s abilities in math and science, as has Lawrence Summers, who is currently under consideration. They are:

  1. Brooksley E. Born is now chair of the board of the National Women’s Law Center. From 1996 to 1999 she was chair of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the federal government agency that oversees the futures and commodity option markets and futures professionals. While at the CFTC, Born served as a member of the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets and the Technical Committee of the International Organization of Securities Commissions. She was fired from her post because she dared to urge tighter regulation of trading in derivatives. She was given her pink slip by none other than, yes indeed, Mr. Shortlist for Treasury Secretary himself, best known for challenging the existence of gender bias and for his statement that “innate differences” between men and women might explain why fewer women succeed in math and science careers.
  2. FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair, who has proposed a bailout that actually focuses avoiding foreclosures–one that could help banks AND homeowners. Bair told the Senate Banking Committee that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is working with the Treasury to establish standards for modifying loans and providing guarantees for loans that meet the standards. For more on Bair, click here.

President-elect Barack Obama should immediately set up a cabinet-level Office of Maternal Health. Within that office should be a special focus on improving the maternal health of African American women and an office focused on ending the homicide of pregnant women. Both could dramatically improve the health of all pregnant women in the United States. At this writing, the United States is ranked 41st internationally in maternal mortality, with African American women dying three to five times as often (depending where they live within the United States) as white women. In addition, homicide is a leading cause of death of U.S. pregnant women. Maternal health includes access to contraception, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and availability of abortion, as well as pre-natal and post-natal care.

President-elect Obama should also appoint a Title IX Task Force within the Department of Justice focused on enforcement, civil litigation and auditing of compliance with the law that requires equal opportunity across the board at all colleges and universities that receive federal funds, not just in athletics. Part of the task force’s work should also include developing strategies for compliance in primary and secondary schools.

President-elect Obama also should appoint a special advisor on judiciary appointments. President Bush has appointed one-third of all sitting federal judges, a job that is a lifetime appointment. President-elect Obama should take steps now to ensure he has a deep reservoir of excellent candidates ready to fill any open positions and the staff to move the nomination smoothly through the Senate.

Finally, President Obama should focus on women’s poverty and reassess the 1996 welfare law that drastically limited single parents and grandparents access to federal assistance. Before the law was passed, 20 percent of custodial single parents (85 percent of whom are women) did not receive federal assistance and did not have a job. Recent data indicate the percentage has grown to 30 percent—and this was before the recession officially began.

–Posted on Nov. 7, 2008.

Reader Comment: Dole Is Not a Loss

Please note that the “loss” in the North Carolina Senate race was actually a stunning victory for women. . . if, by that, we mean election of a woman (Kay Hagan) who actually supports women’s human rights over a woman (Elizabeth Dole) who does not.

It is important to all of us as we continue our efforts to get women elected to high office to remember that we are not just supporting candidates because they have ovaries. At the Center for Women Policy Studies we work with women elected officials in the 50 state legislatures in the USA and also with women members of parliament from around the world–to promote women’s human rights through enlightened public policy. So, I can tell you with certainty how important it is that the women candidates we support are women of every political party who will work to promote the women’s rights policy agenda that might gain equality and freedom for all women, not just a privileged few, in our lifetimes.

— Leslie R. Wolfe, Ph.D.
President, Center for Women Policy Studies
Posted on Nov. 7, 2008.

The Palin Factor Was More Like a Palin Misfire

Among Democratic and Republican women, Sarah Palin played an insignificant role in their choice for president. The GOP hedged many bets going into the election; one of its biggest wagers was that Sarah Palin would mobilize women and tilt the election in their favor. It didn’t happen. According to the most recent exit polls, 56 percent of female voters supported Barack Obama and among racial and ethnic minority women 96 percent of black women and 68 percent of Latina women voted Democratic.

The hope of capturing feminists and women who may have felt slighted by Hilary Clinton not winning the Democratic nomination did not materialize for Republicans either. A whopping 83 percent of people who supported Hilary Clinton’s nomination voted for Obama while McCain captured a narrow 16 percent of those voters. Unmarried and working women voted overwhelmingly Democratic as well, 58 percent and 60 percent respectively.

Women Gain Seats in Congress; Dole Loses

The truth of the matter is the Palin factor never really existed. While women across the country were eager to support a woman candidate, they were more interested in supporting the right woman candidate. After the smoke cleared following the announcement of Palin’s candidacy for vice president, it became clear that gender alone was not enough to pull women from one side of the fence to the other. Palin’s position on important issues such as the war, abortion, the economy and health care were also significant factors. She was also viewed by many women as divisive and not capable of holding the second highest post in the free world. This was not about internalized sexism, it was the truth.

As election day neared, many came to see Palin’s nomination more like a Disney movie: “Ms. Palin Goes to Washington” complete with folk talk, well-placed winks, pricey makeovers and over-the-top shopping sprees rather than as a viable choice for vice president. In short, she was not every woman’s woman; she did not resonate with the broad range of women from diverse backgrounds–unmarried, working, white, black, Latina and Asian–whom the GOP would have needed to capture in order to win the White House.

The narrow view of gender that the GOP tried to sell in this election cycle to not only women, but America, fell short. In the end, across differences, women voted the issues. I believe one day very soon we will see a woman elected to the office of the president, but to be sure she will be the right one. .

–C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D.
Nov. 5, 2008

C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D., is a political scientist and the executive director of the Women of Color Policy Network at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. She is also a senior research fellow at the National Council for Research on Women.

Reader Comment: Hearts Filled for Grandmothers

I read your comments on Obama’s visit to his grandmother and I also heard about it on the news as it happened. At that moment my respect for Obama rose above the line as well as my hope that he will win the upcoming election. That he would stop campaigning at such a crucial time lets me know his priorities are in the right place. He’s the type of person I wouldn’t mind leaving “to mind the grandkids.” It’s my hope that he will help in that respect.

My heart fills when I think of the countless grandmas out there who are raising their grandchildren and the majority that I come across each day are very poor. Yet despite the economic conditions, they have so much fight and determination for their young ones that they have become my heroes. I know of elderly grandparents who are raising five grandchildren whose mother has died due to complications of long-term drug and alcohol use. The grandmother is in a wheelchair and they definitely live below the poverty level. They want to try to keep the kids together.

Another elderly couple I know are raising eight grandchildren and they have legal custody of four of them. The grandpa says, “We could lose the other four at any time, so we try not to make the mother mad. She could take them, even though she doesn’t have a home to take them to.” He and his wife are totally dedicated to the children and speak of them as any proud parent would. They walk a fine line between taking care of the children and keeping peace with the mother who much of the time does things that they don’t approve of.