What Indiana’s New Religious Freedom Restoration Act Means for Women 

Today, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allowing for individuals and companies with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to refuse service to individuals who do not align with their beliefs. Although the Governor and his Republican colleagues refute the claim that this bill legalizes religious discrimination, it clearly does.

For example, the law protects Christian bakers, florists, and photographers from punishment if they refuse to participate in a homosexual marriage. (Same-sex marriage was legalized in Indiana in October of 2014.) Now, that might sound seemingly harmless. After all, if same-sex partners are looking for wedding day caterers or other services, they could always choose another, more LGBT-friendly company. Unfortunately, that may be easier said than done when 80 percent of Indiana’s population follows the Christian faith. But that’s beside the point. The point is that they shouldn’t have to look elsewhere. (Before students staged the 1960 Nashville sit-ins at Woolworth’s lunch counter, the same argument was used to justify segregation in restaurants.)

I got married in 2013 and I know from experience that planning a wedding can be a time-consuming albeit exciting task. It’s a big day and a big celebration, and you and your partner both want it to be memorable and meaningful. If, for some people, memorable and meaningful means hiring the best photographers, the best caterers, so be it. They should not be limited to companies who are not anti-LGBT. And who knows, maybe no companies will be left that support same-sex marriage. Who will help those couples on their special day?

Although this law is aimed primarily towards the LGBT community, its consequences stretch much further.

Around the world, communities often use religion as the foundation of political and social norms. For women, this can mean discrimination and gender inequality.

In America, religious extremists often argue against women’s rights – particularly sexual and reproductive rights. In the 19th century, the Catholic church established that life begins at conception, creating the religious-based anti-abortion war that still rages to this day.

Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons
Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons

Many anti-abortion Catholics and evangelicals cite Psalm 139 in the Bible, which says “it was (the Lord) who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Another common religious argument against abortion is the story of Moses’ birth, whose mother defied Pharaoh’s order to kill all Hebrew boys and, instead, placed her infant son in a basket to float down the Nile, only later to be rescued, raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, and grow up to share God’s Ten Commandments.

Unfortunately for women in the United States, anti-abortion activists are gaining momentum and support. This past January, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant declared that his goal as governor was to “end abortion in Mississippi” and, a few weeks later, the state’s last remaining abortion clinic was severely vandalized.  Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who recently announced he’s running for president in the 2016 elections, once referred to birth control as abortion-inducing (which is just scientifically incorrect). When Republicans took control of the Congress in January, one of its first acts was to propose a 20-week abortion ban, a proposal that included efforts to require women to officially report having been raped in order to be qualified for an abortion.

Let’s be honest, the vast majority of women do not want to get an abortion. Getting an abortion is a serious, emotionally draining, and life-changing decision. Women have differing and equally valid reasons for seeking an abortion – whether it be they are not financially able to support a child; they were raped; the fetus, when born, will suffer from extreme disabilities; or otherwise.

However, the consequences of the religious argument against abortion do not limit themselves to just abortion. In Texas, a judge banned the use of federal funding for abortions and, as a result, Planned Parenthood, a leader in the pro-choice movement, lost millions in federal funding. To be clear, Planned Parenthood is not solely an abortion provider. In one year, over 110,000 lower-income women in Texas received preventative treatment for breast and cervical cancer treatments, 48,000 of whom were treated by Planned Parenthood. Additionally, Planned Parenthood enables women to access a variety of birth control methods including the pill, IUDs, menstrual cups, and more. (I, myself, can thank Planned Parenthood for inserting my IUD. Thanks Planned Parenthood!) Therefore, by eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, Texas effectively eliminated funding for women’s health.

When the United Nations calls access to safe, voluntary family planning a human right and “central to gender equality and women’s empowerment,” why are we using religion as an excuse to deny women their sexual and reproductive rights?

Indiana’s passing of RFRA fuels the fire behind the aforementioned religious-based arguments. We, as a society – no matter your race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, age, income – need to band together, raise our voices, and reject this law. If we don’t, we are looking at a world of consequences, for the LGBT community, for women, for everyone.

Sign the petition to recall Governor Mike Pence.

Cover photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

State of the Union Address: No real progress without equality for women & girls

Last night, President Obama gave his State of the Union Address – and the women of this country should be pleased. Actually, strike that – ALL the people in this country, women and men, should be pleased. A notable portion of the President’s address was directly focused on women’s issues, and most of it focused on issues relating to equality. Obama addressed topics such as paid maternity leave, universal child care, equal pay for men and women (which apparently isn’t that high on the Republican priority list), and even touched on the issue of women’s right to abortion and access to reproductive health care. While there is always room for improvement, Obama’s State of the Union brought considerable attention to women’s issues – possibly also paving the way for democrats to win the women’s vote in next year’s elections.

In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever. It’s not a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have. It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.

– President Obama, State of the Union Address 2015

There’s no doubt that the issues Obama raised are important – but the fact that such issues as equal pay for women and paid maternity leave still need to be debated, and still need to be justified, is simply depressing and appalling. How can a country, any country, claim any state of development when its citizens continue to be valued differently based on their gender? How can a government claim to work for the people, when half of the people still count for less than the other half – because of our chromosomes? In year 2015, women – not to mention other groups, such as sexual minorities, people of color and people with disabilities – still have to fight for their right to be seen as full, equal citizens. In America, the only people who really get to enjoy all of the country’s progress and benefits are white men. We, as the international community, have given milestones for developing countries to reach through the Millennium Development Goals, which are coming to an end this year – but while we expect progress from developing countries, shouldn’t we also hold our own societies to the same, if not higher, standards?

No country can move forward without women. No country has the right to call itself “developed”, when half of its people are continuously left behind. American women have a lot to demand – not only does the US remain as the only developed country with no legally mandated paid maternity leave, but its maternal mortality and infant mortality rates are some of the highest in the western world, and in 2013 women were still paid only 78% of what men are paid (and women of color even less than that). In some states, women have to drive hundreds of miles to access a reproductive health clinic, and women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services has taken a huge setback in the past couple of years, pushing American women back to the dark ages when it comes to their sexual and reproductive rights.

No president or party can run on a gender-agenda alone – but it’s time to understand, really understand, that these aren’t “women’s issues” or “gender issues” – protecting and realizing women’s basic fundamental human rights isn’t only morally and ethically right, but also common sense. Women aren’t charity cases – we are contributing, productive, intelligent, creative, resilient, smart, and necessary members or any society, and true sustainable progress will not happen without us.

I have always been passionate about these issues, but now I am looking at them from a whole new angle. First, I recently became a mother in America, which made the lack of paid maternity leave and other family benefits much bigger issues for me, in my personal life. Second, I am about to become an American citizen, making me a full, voting member of this society. I don’t vote with my vagina any more than I think with it – I vote with my brain, and I will give my vote to those who recognize me as a full, valuable member of this society. I truly hope that this State of the Union paves way for actual change, not just empty words. Things like maternity benefits, child care, equal pay and sexual and reproductive health should not be radical issues anymore, they should simply be basic building blocks of any decent society. Time to start using them to build a stronger, better America – for all of us.

Watch the full State of the Union Address:

Human Trafficking in America’s Backyard

Human trafficking occurs in every corner of the globe from the southernmost foothills of Patagonia to the northernmost region of Siberia. Human trafficking is an egregious violation of human rights – one that often strips its victims of self-worth only to refill them with fear, isolation and desperation.

In the United States, a country most may not immediately associate with human trafficking, the U.S. Department of Justice ranks human trafficking as the second fastest growing criminal industry, behind only drug trafficking, with between 14,500 and 17,500 new people trafficked into America each year.

Every hour, 34 people in America are forced into prostitution. 

In 2013, human trafficking made national headlines when Ariel Castro was arrested (and eventually convicted) for kidnapping, raping, and forcibly locking three girls in his basement for a period spanning over ten years. One victim, Amanda Berry, even bore his child, thereby increasing the victim count to four.

Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

As a result of the Castro case and several others like it, the movement to punish traffickers and to end human trafficking in the United States has been gaining speed.

Expanding on previous attempts to end human trafficking, on January 14th the United States government published its first ever Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States. The Action Plan aims to crack down on traffickers, develop a strategic action plan to strengthen victim services, and strengthen protections against human traffickers in federal contracts. Additionally, U.S. President Barack Obama proclaimed January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. However, the federal government is not the only government entity taking a strong stance against human trafficking.

In August, Polaris Project, an organization dedicated to ending human trafficking in the United States, released its 2013 state ratings on human trafficking laws. In 2013 alone, 39 states passed anti-trafficking laws and 32 ranked in Polaris Project’s top Tier 1 category* – up from 21 states last year.

Over the past year, the momentum among advocates, legislators, and state officials to pass robust laws combatting human trafficking has been inspiring. We’ve witnessed a historic turning point now that all fifty states have passed laws criminalizing human trafficking. However, criminals are trafficking women, men, and children from coast to coast at horrendous rates. In every state, we need to give prosecutors and law enforcement the right tools to stop traffickers, and state agencies must have the ability to protect survivors and help them reclaim their freedom.” – Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris Project.

Additionally, Polaris Project recently published the report, Human Trafficking Trends in the United States. In it, the organization reveals not only a rising number of human trafficking cases but also an increasing level of community awareness. For example, in the five-year period between 2008 and 2012, the National Trafficking Resource Center (NTRC) hotline received a 259%** increase in reports of human trafficking, a statistic undoubtedly due to the combined increase in cases as well as awareness.

Along with governing bodies and anti-trafficking organizations, the growing amount of national media attention also plays an important role in spreading awareness. For example, in August CNN profiled several victims to learn about their experiences in the sex trade; in December The Kansas City Star wrote a five-part series on human trafficking in America; and just a few days ago USA Today warned of high levels of sex trafficking during the Superbowl.

The Superbowl is the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.” –  Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

Even though human trafficking statistics in the United States remain at inexcusable levels, the good news is that awareness is on the rise – and awareness is always the first step.

If you are a victim or suspect a case of human trafficking, please call the NTRC at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733) for support.

For more information, please visit:

Girls’ Globe Posts on Human Trafficking

GEMS Girls

Not for Sale

UNICEF

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Human Trafficking Program

US Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign

*States in the top Tier 1 have passed “significant [anti-trafficking] laws” while states in the lowest tier, Tier 4, have made “minimal effort.”

**The NTRC hotline received 5,746 calls in 2008 and 20,650 in 2012.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Why do women still earn 77 cents for every dollar men do?

While women are making strides toward gender equality in the US and across the world, it is well documented that women still earn less than men for the same work, even when their educational backgrounds are comparable. Non-Hispanic white women in the US earn 77 cents for every dollar that white males earn, African American women earn 64 cents for every dollar, and Hispanic women 55 cents for every dollar.  This gap is not proving to narrow with time.

Not only do women make less than men in similar occupations, women are more often employed in low-income careers compared to men. Statistics show that women in the US tend to choose careers that are historically “female” – and coincidentally these positions tend to pay less too.

Image1WomenintheWorkForceA recent New York Times article indicated that this past December all employment gains in the US went to women, however, all of those jobs were “concentrated in low-wage sectors”.  This is due to various factors, but the following information may provide some insight.

An article published in the journal Organization Science explores whether women choose different careers than men and how their choices impact gender equality in the work force. The article suggests that differences in career choices for men and women can be “partly explained by women’s preferences for jobs with better anticipated work-life balance, lower identification with stereotypically masculine jobs, and lower expectations of job offer success in such stereotypically masculine jobs.”

It is a widely held belief that if women set higher expectations for their salaries or careers, the income gap between men and women would decrease.

So do we simply conclude that women are less driven than men? Is this what women want? OF COURSE NOT.

Image2WomenintheWorkForceAlthough women have been making advances in male-dominated occupations, women still typically choose careers that are “female oriented” such as healthcare, business services, and education. Why? It is a matter of historical and deeply rooted ideas about gender roles that also sustain the income gap. Women’s career choices stem from what society tells women they can or cannot do. An article from the Guardian (discussing the job market in England, but is reminiscent of what is happening in the US) explains, “The labor market has become a much harsher place for young people over the past 20 years, especially for young women. Women (are) trapped in low wage positions because they are still being channeled down traditional paths.”

Further, research shows that women actually do set lower salary expectations than men. A fascinating article from Forbes helped me understand the situation clearly. A study of about 66,000 college undergraduates projecting their salary for their first full-time job found that women expected to earn $49,248 annually while men’s expected earnings were $56,947. These projections are not based on the fact that women think they should earn less, expect less for their work, or are less driven than men. The figures the students projected were actually very closely aligned with what they would earn upon entering the workforce. Both male and female projections came from informed research, through speaking with someone in their chosen field, or using online resources.

Image3 WomenintheWorkForceAlthough it is important to negotiate higher salaries, Meghan Casserly of Forbes says it is not a feasible option for individuals seeking entry-level work in the current economy. Young people entering the work force today do not have much flexibility to bargain for higher salaries. Women are actually making appropriate decisions to ensure attaining a position in their career of choice.

The income gap is not something that is true only when discussing women who work in lower paying positions. Casserly mentions that life is not “much sweeter at the highest of highs.” Casserly writes, “A recent Bloomberg study of the compensation of the best-paid female leaders in the United States indicates an average take-home salary of $5.3 million dollars—roughly 18% less than their male peers.”

Of course, there is nothing wrong with choosing a traditionally “female” profession, but we should be reminded that we do not need to be confined in those sectors and jobs.

Casserly suggests two solutions to remove the disparity:

1. Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act which would make it illegal for men and women who perform equal work to receive different pay.

2. Instill “salary transparency” starting at the top which would set a “trickle-down precedent” and eventually affect women at all levels.

Some organizations that work toward  girls’ success in typically male-dominated fields include:

Girls Who Code

Black Girls Code

BBC Expert Women’s Days

STEM Education

EngineerGirl

Girl Develop It

Check out their websites to find out how to show your support!

US Government Shutdown: Food Assistance Shortage for Women & Children

When the U.S. Government shut down two weeks ago, I couldn’t believe it at first. When I finally accepted what had happened, I thought it would last for a day or two, at most. I thought there was no way such an asinine approach to hindering a constitutional law would actually work, and things would go back to normal when everyone realized how ridiculous it was. The duration of this shutdown and the childishness occurring in the US Government is really starting to make me mad. Every US citizen – and world citizen for that matter – can probably find at least one reason to take this situation personally by now. Fellow Girls’ Globe Blogger, Emma Saloranta, wrote an article about how the government shutdown is affecting women’s reproductive health and her own family planning. That article was published a few days after the shutdown. Now two weeks later, more problems are emerging and the same problems are becoming worse.

Featured Image WIC
Featured image:
© Alexandrabel | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

The WIC program provides “supplemental nutritious foods, nutrition education and counseling at WIC clinics, and screening and referrals to other health, welfare and social services” to low-income, nutritionally at-risk infants, children (up to age 5), and pregnant women.

WIC began in 1972 and was developed by physicians who were witnessing their patients, women and infants, suffering from illnesses caused by a lack of food and nutrients. After being provided healthy food, these women and children no longer needed medical treatment. (Coincidentally, WIC helps lower the cost of the overall US health care system, but that’s another story.) Learn more about the program through visiting the WIC website.

“WIC serves 53 percent of all infants born in the US!”

Due to the shutdown, the program is running out of resources, and in some states not providing new vouchers.

Among the numerous services cut off to the people of the US right now, I find it sickening that women with INFANTS and young CHILDREN are being cut off as well.

It’s time to get personal! WIC is not only crucial for the MILLIONS of women, infants and children that are supported by the program in this country, but it played an important role in my own family. When I was five years old my parents became the foster parents of my 2-month-old cousin. Having two brothers, I was ecstatic to gain a baby sister. Little did I know the sacrifices my parents made to make sure my cousin would not be taken to an unknown foster family. Without the WIC program and government support she may have not grown up as my sister. At that time my mother was in law school and my father was an editor for a local newspaper. My mother is now an attorney and works for the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch and my father works in the Connecticut public school system. 

Not only were our lives made a little bit easier and our stomachs more nourished through the WIC program, I was also able to learn a little bit about nutrition at age five. I knew that Cheerios were healthy and that Fruit Loops were not even an option. I could find my way through the grocery store, picking out the WIC approved items on my own: formula, two percent milk, eggs, orange juice, etc. As my dad’s grocery partner, I never felt ashamed to stand by his side when he pulled out the WIC vouchers (of course I was 5, and didn’t know the what that type of social humiliation felt like). However, I think my parents’ demeanor while grocery shopping helped me feel comfortable. Even today, I will put up a fight when people shun those on government food assistance. Maybe we could have raised my sister without WIC, but we would have been a lot more stressed out and a lot more strapped for cash than we already were. 

I learned a lot from the WIC program, but most importantly it taught me that people are supposed to help each other when times get hard. This has been a guiding force in my life and has directed both my educational and career endeavors. I know that everyone is not as lucky as me to have such empathetic parents, but let’s use some common sense here. Open the U.S. government, get the WIC program back underway, and allow our fellow citizens more access to health care!

How has WIC helped you? If you have a personal story to share, I would love to hear it! You can post a comment here, tweet @LizAFort, Email me directly at liz.fortier@gmail.com, or send a message to the Girls’ Globe contact page. Don’t forget to check out our guidelines for commenting first!

I know I am not the only one who has a personal account of WIC. Feminist Hulk , fellow WIC recipient and online feminist superhero agrees. Follow her on Twitter and look to her website to find resources for women with children while WIC services are cut off during the government shut down. You can also read about a recent NPR interview with Feminist Hulk here!

Let's Change Our Perspective

Among many undertakings, Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services (CONNSACS) periodically trains volunteers to operate a sexual assault crisis hotline that is available 24 hours to victims of sexual assault in Connecticut. Volunteers are trained to understand the historical context of feminism, the intricacies and psychology of sexual assault, and basic counseling skills to assist callers in returning to a “pre-crisis” state. In addition to answering calls made to the hotline, volunteers may be required to meet victims at hospitals or police stations to provide support. The CONNSACS sexual assault crisis volunteers empower victims and provide information regarding short-term and long-term resources. CONNSACS consists of a coalition of various sexual assault crisis agencies located throughout Connecticut, whose mission is to “end sexual violence and ensure high quality, comprehensive, and culturally competent sexual assault victim services”(CONNSACS). Through community education such as primary prevention efforts, workshops and trainings, and victim assistance, and policy advocacy such as research, publications, and lobbying, CONNSACS works to ameliorate and end sexual violence (CONNSACS). CONNSACS’ overarching technique for preventing sexual violence is empowering victims. CONNSACS and its supporting agencies do not make decisions for victims, whose decision making power has been removed by their abusers. CONNSACS agencies validate victims, explore options, create safety plans for victims and their families, and provide counseling, resources, and information to assist in healing.

Photo Credit: GEMS

During my Certified Sexual Assault Crisis Counselor training at Women & Families Center (WFC), a CONNSACS community-based agency located in Meriden, CT, I viewed a documentary entitled, Very Young Girls, that depicts the incredible work of Rachel Lloyd, a survivor of forced prostitution. GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services), located in New York City and founded by Rachel Lloyd, assists girls and women in removing themselves from forced prostitution. Very Young Girls is an account of sexual exploitation in the United States, the work of GEMS, and the stories of multiple girls who were forced into prostitution in New York City. As an individual who is passionate about creating global gender equity, the documentary stood out because it reminded me that, sadly, sexual exploitation and gender inequity still hold a place in the U.S., when many of us chose to believe that it is a thing of the past. Although all of the material from the CONNSACS training is crucial to the success of working the hotline, the information gained from Very Young Girls could be used by anyone to join in the fight for gender equity.Very Young Girls helped myself and the CONNSACS volunteers understand society’s perspective on sexual assault and prostitution, and how we should look at things differently. The news, TV, Facebook, movies, and literature, too often, depict women as vulnerable, acting out for attention, crying rape, and symbolizing lust. It is usually the women’s fault. She asked for it. She’s lying. According to The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, only 2-8% of rape accusations in the U.S. are false. The CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, estimated that 1.3 million women were raped in 2009, and the U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey found that the average annual number of rapes that were not reported to the police from 2006-2010 was 211,200. Additionally, Very Young Girls tells us that, at-risk young girls (average age 13) in the United States become victims of forced prostitution more than we think. According to the FBI, an estimated 293,000 youths in the United States were at-risk of commercial sexual exploitation in 2011. Let’s change our perspective. Let’s change society’s perspective.

Photo Credit: Joel Rogers Photography-Northwest Worldwide

In Very Young Girls, two young pimps videotape the abductions and abuse of girls in New York City, hoping to air their footage as a reality TV show. As a result of their poor decision-making, viewers get a real depiction of the characteristic procedure for exploiting and pimping young girls. Typically, the men begin by locating at-risk girls and treating them as their girlfriends. In some cases the girls are as young as 11 years old, and many have run away from home often fleeing other types of abuse. After a dominant abusive relationship is established, in which the girls completely rely on the men for food, clothing, and shelter, the men successfully force the girls to become prostitutes as a way to display their love and make money for the “couple”. The pimps control the mind, body, and income of the girls. The emotional abuse and psychological damage in the victims is clear through the documentary’s heart-wrenching interviews. (Eventually, the two men were arrested and the tapes were used as evidence against them in their trial.) On a more positive note, GEMS works to eradicate this abuse in New York City. Employing the underlying value of empowerment, similarly to CONSACCS, GEMS provides resources and opportunity for girls to escape imprisonment from their pimps. Please visit the GEMS website for more information.

Photo Credit: GEMS

The documentary highlights two important and coexisting themes from the CONNSACS training: the importance of empowering women without judgment and the very real tragedy of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the United States. My CONNSACS training and the documentary, Very Young Girls, helped instill within me the following ideas that we should all keep in mind: think twice before judging someone, they might need your help; human trafficking and violence against women is STILL REAL in the United States, not only in far away places; we don’t need to let the status quo of gender inequity remain, not even in our colloquial language and jokes; and resources are readily at our disposal to prevent and curb the effects of sexual violence. CONNSACS and the numerous other sexual assault crisis centers across the United States provide us with signs of hope and social change amidst these tragedies. According to Arte Sana, an internationally recognized sexual assault victim advocacy organization based in Austin Texas, there are active sexual assault crisis centers in all 50 states! Even if we are not CONNSACS employees, hotline volunteers, or Rachel Lloyd, we need to remember that small contributions such as simply changing our perspective and reminding others to do so, too, is a big part of ending gender inequity across the world and in the U.S., where this epidemic still lives.

Please visit the CONNSACS, GEMS, Arte Sana, and Women & Families Center websites for further information and ways to show your support! A schedule of television airings for the documentary Very Young Girls can be found via the GEMS website.