Cheers and Jeers



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The House of Representatives passed two significant legislative acts on pay equity Jan. 9.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act addresses a 2007 Supreme Court decision that ruled against Lilly Ledbetter, a Goodyear Tire and Rubber employee, and said that employees had to file grievances within 180 days of the initial discrimination even if they did not know about it. The new bill extends that 180-day limitation to the final discriminatory act or paycheck rather than the first. The House also passed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which closes loopholes in the Equal Pay Act, and provides additional tools to prevent wage discrimination.

Both bills were passed by the House last year, but were stalled in the Senate. But supporters of the bills are more optimistic about the bills’ fate in the new Senate sworn in on Jan. 6.

"Especially in times of great economic instability, reforms like this can make the difference between families getting by or not getting by," said Jessica Arons of the Washington-based Center for American Progress in a press statement. Arons’ research into the gender wage gap in a December 2008 report concluded that women earn $434,000 less than men over the course of a 40-year working life. Overall, women earn 78 cents for every dollar a man earns.

More News to Cheer This Week:


  • President-elect Barack Obama nominated Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan for solicitor-general on Jan. 5, the Washington Post reported. If confirmed, Kagan will be the first woman to hold a position sometimes referred to as the "10th justice." Solicitors-general present the government’s views to the Supreme Court and manage federal litigation in appeals courts.


  • Mothers now have the right to breastfeed in public places in Massachusetts after Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law legalizing public nursing Jan. 9. Those who harass a nursing mother face a fine up to $500. Dr. Melissa Bartick, chair of the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition, called the law a "major step forward for public health."


  • In Nepal, former female indentured laborers marched in Katmandu Jan. 6 to demand rehabilitation and education, Reuters reported. About 400 balanced pitchers on their hands, wore traditional black-and-white dresses and carried placards during their protest. The indentured labor of children was banned in Nepal eight years ago and 5,000 have gained their freedom.


  • Utah legislators decided to delay a bill that would ban most abortions in the state on Jan. 7, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Legislators were concerned that the state could not afford to defend the measure in court, which could cost between $2 million and $7 million.


  • The city of San Francisco is challenging California state legislation that makes it legal for insurance companies to charge women more than men for health coverage, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Dec. 31. Insurance companies argue that women are more expensive to care for than men, even before maternity care is taken into consideration.


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The New York-based Sex Workers’ Project, an Urban Justice Center program that provides legal services and advocacy for sex workers, released a report Jan. 9 which concluded that federal anti-human trafficking raids actually end up violating the rights of trafficked victims. Law enforcement raids at suspected brothels routinely fail to locate, identity and refer large numbers of trafficked people to supportive services.

The report, timed to Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Jan. 11, notes that federal task forces have focused exclusively on prostitution and ignored other labor trafficking cases in the domestic, agriculture and service sectors. Task forces have also largely ignored the experiences of men held in captivity. Women "rescued" in anti-trafficking raids sometimes are held in immigration detention center for weeks. Many report emotional trauma from the raids that were meant to help trafficked individuals.

"The women interviewed described the raids as horrible and ugly," said report co-author Melissa Ditmore. "One federal agent I interviewed questioned the effectiveness of the raid. The agent emphasized that people did not have any reason to believe that law agents would try to help them."

More News to Jeer This Week:


  • Starting Jan. 15 girls in Pakistan’s Swat Valley will be prohibited from attending school after the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan militant group banned girls’ education, the Times of India reported Jan. 4. Shah Dauran, deputy leader of the Taliban insurgency group that controls the region, said that co-educational schools will be bombed and individuals who violate the ban will be killed. Girls also risk the threat of acid thrown in their faces if they attempt to attend class.


  • On Jan. 5, the Iranian government stepped up its harassment of Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel peace laureate, women’s rights activist, civil rights lawyer and a Women’s eNews Leader for the 21st Century. Five men came to her office to search her documents and computer for evidence of tax evasion. Although she was forced to yield to their search, she was concerned about the confidential files of her clients on her computer, the International Herald Tribune reported. In December, Iranian police raided Ebadi’s Center for the Defense of Human Rights. Some activists believe the center was shut down due to its work informing the United Nations about human rights abuses in Iran.


  • Twenty-six states reported significant increases in teen birth rates in 2006 data released Jan. 7 by the National Center for Health Statistics, USA Today reported. Births among women aged 15 to 19 dropped 34 percent between 1991 and 2005. But in 2006 the teen birth rate grew 3 percent across racial and ethnic lines. Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas reported the largest increases. A Johns Hopkins University study released in the January issue of Pediatrics found that teens who took virginity pledges during abstinence education courses were no more likely to abstain from sex that those with similar religious backgrounds who did not make a pledge. When those who made a virginity pledge did have sex, they were less likely to use a condom or birth control.


  • A woman accused of witchcraft in Papua New Guinea, in the Western Pacific, was stripped naked, gagged and set ablaze Jan. 6, CNN reported. Increasingly, both women and men in the country are being accused of sorcery, then tortured and killed. Sometimes the victims are scapegoats for unexplained deaths in their communities. More than 50 people were killed in the highland provinces last year for allegedly practicing sorcery.


  • Women have been barred from entering a Shia shrine in Baghdad, the BBC reported Jan. 6. Security officials fear that a female suicide bomber will be able to enter the shrine during the Ashura holy day ceremonies, but they lack female officers to search women who visit. Thirty-five people were killed at the shrine by a male suicide bomber on Jan. 4.


Two reproductive health studies focused on Latinas in different U.S. communities found do-it-yourself methods to privately end pregnancies are common among some women from cultural traditions generally opposed to abortion, the New York Times reported Jan. 5. These methods include using a prescription ulcer medication, misoprostol, which induces miscarriage; using homemade potions; or resorting to self-inflicted violence, such as throwing themselves down stairs. Mistrust of the health-care system, worry about deportation, cost and shame were among reasons cited by researchers that women avoid legal abortions.

Rebecca Harshbarger is a Women’s eNews reporter based in New York City.

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