Tuesday, October 24, 2006

15 Years After Thomas Hearings, They Still Don’t Get it

By Ellen Bravo

It’s been 15 years since the Clarence Thomas hearings, and Congressional leaders still don’t get the issue of sexual harassment.

Just take a look at the Mark Foley Scandal.

Those in charge have been so busy pointing fingers, it’s no wonder their solution is an 800-hotline for pages to contact the FBI. Imagine the menu of options: "If you received an instant message, press one. For emails, hit two. Press three if the Congressman showed up drunk outside your residence." Note this is the same FBI that had notice of sexually suggestive emails last July and took no action.

Unfortunately, Hastert and company are not alone in their bungling.

* Suzanne Swift joined the armed forces, only to experience sexual harassment from three superior officers in Iraq. Swift reported an incident to an Equal Opportunity officer; nothing happened. The second was a squad leader, who Swift said had "singled me out as the person he would have sex with during deployment." Only 19, she "first fell for it," then broke it off – and suffered multiple forms of retaliation. After she reported the third officer, some action was taken – but she was accused of sleeping with the man, told to read the policy on honesty and attend role plays on preventing harassment. Once on leave, Swift found herself unable to return to Iraq. She faces court martial.

* An aide to a big city mayor called the personnel office to ask how to file a sexual harassment complaint against him. The personnel officer told her a form would be mailed -- then promptly called the mayor’s chief of staff, who alerted the entire staff. The aide claimed the mayor assaulted her nine times over five years. The mayor held a press conference to apologize for a "consensual affair," claiming it wasn’t harassment because the two were "equals." Besides, his supporters maintained, she was a smart woman who knew the law – why hadn’t she come forward earlier?

* Two women engineers at a well-respected company put up with nudie posters and crude talk as the only females among 50 males. Then one of the women was arranged for to accompany her boss on a long car ride to another state – something outside her job description. The manager engaged in a steady stream of sexual talk, including frequent requests to stop for wine and a hot tub. When the employee complained to the head of HR, she was told, "What happens off company property is outside our purview."

In each case, what’s lacking is an understanding of POWER. Whether for purposes of sexual gratification or the more common purpose of humiliation and degradation, sexual harassment is an abuse of power. That very imbalance makes it harder for those targeted by the behavior to take formal action or to make it stop. Fifteen years ago Senators expressed amazement that Anita Hill had sporadically stayed in touch with the man she said harassed her. They were clueless about the impact such a powerful man could have on one’s career even years later. Similarly, former pages have been quoted as saying they didn’t want to cause a rupture with a well-connected Congressman.

Many think the Thomas hearings spurred a major transformation in U.S. businesses and schools. Some employers and school districts did get the message and have taken significant steps to educate at every level and to establish meaningful channels for reporting and investigating a complaint. But many have taken no or only token action.

Those guilty in the Foley fiasco should face appropriate consequences. But leaders in Congress and elsewhere should take corrective steps, including the following:

* Ensure that every complaint will be taken seriously, while preserving due process for those accused. What first gets reported may well be the tip of the iceberg.

* Arrange meaningful training for anyone involved in handling complaints.

* Establish an outside, wholly independent investigation mechanism for complaints involving powerful, high-level people like elected officials or senior executives. Those affected should have direct access to the independent investigator to lodge the complaint, rather than having to rely on cronies whose own jobs may be in jeopardy depending on the outcome.

The media is focused on whether or not Congressman Foley broke any federal law. But every organization has a moral obligation as well as a legal one. In the final analysis, sexual harassment policy needs to be governed by one clear standard: treat everyone as if they were your son or daughter.
Bravo teaches a graduate class in sexual harassment at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is former director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, and co-author of The 9to5 Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment. Her most recent book, Taking on the Big Boys, or Why Feminism is Good for Families, Businesses and the Nation, is forthcoming from Feminist Press.

Choosing Lies and Deception: Crisis Pregnancy Centers in North Carolina

By Melissa Reed

Across the country, anti-choice activists are working to limit women’s reproductive health options by restricting access to abortion and birth control. In addition to legislative action, one branch of this movement is targeting pregnant women through crisis pregnancy centers (CPC).

These anti-choice organizations present themselves as a source of neutral information and advice. In fact the CPC movement uses lies and scare tactics to prevent women from making informed choices about abortion. In North Carolina there are at least 70 of these anti-choice "pregnancy centers."

During the summer of 2003, volunteers from NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina called and visited 10 crisis pregnancy centers in the Triangle, Charlotte, Triad and Wilmington areas as part of an investigation of the CPC’s tactics. They presented themselves as women who thought they might be pregnant and were considering abortion.

During the course of the investigation, they discovered that CPCs provided false information about the medical consequences of abortion.

* One Raleigh CPC told an investigator that infertility was a common side effect of abortion. Studies show no increased risk of fertility problems or poor birth outcomes for women who have first-trimester abortions.

* A CPC in Asheboro told an investigator that having an abortion could increase the risk of breast cancer up to 800 percent. According to the National Cancer Institute, reliable scientific evidence shows no link between abortion and breast cancer.

The CPCs also misled women about birth control and emergency contraception.
* A Burlington CPC told an investigator that all condoms are defective and have slots and holes in them.

* Another Raleigh CPC told an investigator that emergency contraception "the morning-after pill" was not available in the United States.
CPCs attempted to discredit other, more reliable, sources of information about abortion as well.

* In Salisbury, a CPC told an investigator that she would give her "factual truths" about abortion that were concealed by "society" and the "news media."

* A CPC in Gaston County told an investigator that "doctors won’t tell you everything you need to know" about the side effects of abortion.

Most CPCs provide free pregnancy tests, and some centers also offer free ultrasounds. These services lend legitimacy to the centers, and may attract low-income women without access to medical care. However, the centers are not medically licensed. The pregnancy tests given by centers are usually over-the-counter tests, and results are interpreted by volunteer "counselors" with no formal medical training.

In some cases, investigators reported that CPC staff members deliberately manipulated the administration of the pregnancy test, withholding the results of the test in order to produce anxiety in the client. When investigators asked about other reproductive health services, such as sexually transmitted disease testing or birth control pills, the CPCs responded that they would not or could not provide information about these services.

Concerns over the "scientific accuracy of information" provided by these pregnancy centers have recently been raised in a national report prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA).
The false information given out by CPCs is especially damaging because the pregnancy centers advertise themselves as providing unbiased information to women in need of advice. Of the centers contacted during NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina’s investigation, only half identified themselves as anti-choice during phone conversations. Phone book listings separate CPCs from abortion providers by listing them under "Abortion Alternatives" with a header specifying that they counsel against abortion.

However, many CPCs are also listed under the more neutral-sounding "Pregnancy Counseling" listing, where they may be grouped with Planned Parenthood and other medically licensed facilities. Because there are so many more CPCs than abortion providers in North Carolina (over 70 CPCs versus only 16 abortion providers), in some areas these fake clinics may be the only local option for women seeking information.

In addition to concerns about the services and counseling provided, the funding of CPCs is also problematic. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, in 2004, over $82,000 in taxpayer money from a discretionary fund was funneled to Hope Pregnancy Care Center, a CPC in Stokes County to pay off its mortgage.

Some crisis pregnancy centers provide an honest and supportive setting for pregnant women to discuss reproductive options. However, many do not. The staff entice women to the center under the pretense of providing information, then use anti-abortion propaganda, misinformation and intimidation to pressure women to carry pregnancies to term.

By making women aware of the deception practiced by the fake clinic movement, they will be less likely to take false information at face value. The most direct way of counteracting the CPC's misinformation campaign is to educate women about their full-range of reproductive health care options, including abortion.
Reed is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.

Ohio Parents Continue to Struggle with Poverty

By Wendy Patton

How do Ohio families with young kids survive at the poverty level? The short answer is: not easily. Research shows that it takes twice the poverty line in rural parts of the state and up to three times the poverty line in Ohio cities to secure a safe and decent but modest standard of living. However, more than one in five Ohio families with young kids cannot reach this basic level.

Last year, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) looked at home economics in 439 communities across the nation. The bare-bones budgets for families with one or two parents and up to three small kids left no room for luxuries: housing was considered safe and sanitary but at HUD’s 40th percentile of local rents; the USDA low-cost food plan included no fast food or restaurant meals; and transportation mileage was solely for work, shopping and church. Health costs were based on the lowest insurance quotes, and tax calculations included any additional income provided by the Earned Income Tax Credit. They found that a one-parent, one-child family in rural Ohio needed $23,952 to make ends meet in 2004. By contrast, the poverty threshold for a family of this size was $13,020. A family with two small kids and two parents in Cleveland needed $45,972, which was 240 percent of the poverty line of $19,157.

Why is there such a wide difference between the poverty threshold and a bare-bones basic family budget? For one thing, they measure different things. Poverty thresholds are an absolute measure of income that does not reflect the varying prices faced by families across the nation. Family budgets measure the relative costs necessary to secure a safe and decent standard of living wherever a family may live.

The poverty threshold, developed in the 1960s, is based on the annual minimum cost of food for a person or family, multiplied times three. It reflects family size and is updated for inflation, but does not reflect additional costs borne by families in which two parents work. EPI found that for families with young children in Ohio, transportation and child care alone may take more than 40 percent of the family budget. A two-parent, two-child family in Steubenville, for example, needs a monthly income of $3,419 to make ends meet. About a third of this budget ($1,111) is needed for good child care. Another 11 percent ($375) is needed for transportation. Many low-wage jobs do not provide the income to cover these two basic budget items.

An Ohio parent earning $7.25 per hour brings home $1,257 per month, and if both parents earn that rate of pay, the monthly family income is $2,513. If they have two young children in child care, they are making less than they need for a safe and decent standard of living anywhere in the state. Like many working families, they are forced to make hard choices about where to save. They may not be living in poverty, but they face a kind of economic hardship that makes it hard to stabilize income in the face of common mishaps: the car that breaks down, the pink slip, or the child care arrangement that falls through, incurring the need for a steep down-payment to a new sitter or center.

Even in the best of times, many parents in low-wage jobs will not earn enough market-based income to meet their family's basic needs. When work income is not enough, publicly provided work supports such as child care subsidies are needed to assist families making hard choices. The basic family budget study highlights that such work supports are crucial to narrowing the gap between earnings and needs. It also demonstrates that the poverty threshold, which sets the bar for such subsidies, must be updated to better reflect the real costs faced by low income workers and their families.

Multiple other solutions could be implemented to assist hardworking families struggling to get by, from an increased minimum wage, to adoption of a state Earned Income Credit, to more public investments in early childhood education. We should consider any or all of these options to create an Ohio that works better for all.
Patton is a policy liaison for Policy Matters Ohio.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Preserve Access to the Courts
By Amber Sexton

When I was 15-years-old, I became paralyzed from the waist down. I was a rear passenger in my mother’s car, when it was involved in a frontal collision. I was wearing a lap-only seatbelt, the only restraining device available to me, when the crash forced my body forward and the burden of the lap belt nearly cut my body in half. What we later learned was that since 1966, auto companies knew that rear lap belts were unsafe yet continued to put them in cars, like my mother’s.

I am now in a wheelchair. In order for me to rebuild my life, my family went to court and I received compensation for my injury that provided me the opportunity to live in an accessible home, pay for uninsured medical expenses, and go to college. I was able to complete college and find gainful employment. And I am now proud to say that this spring, I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Illinois, a feat I never could have accomplished without our court case, which helped me recover and set me on a new road in life.

This month, I will go to Little Rock to compete in a pageant to become Ms. Wheelchair America. At Little Rock, I will stress the importance of providing injured people with the resources needed to improve their quality of life.

It is disheartening, however, to know that there are forces in Illinois that are working against this goal. Large corporations are funding billboards and newspaper advertisements attacking those who use the court system. These special interests are pushing for laws that would make it more difficult for sick and injured people to obtain just compensation.

Making it harder to bring legitimate lawsuits like mine would not only be devastating to those who need fair compensation to rebuild their lives after a catastrophic injury, it would also limit accountability for those responsible for causing damage and harm.

Take my case, for instance. The automobile industry has been aware that lap belts may result in abdominal injuries since the 1960s. For that reason, most cars are equipped with three-point seatbelts that include shoulder straps, which are more effective in preventing injuries. The manufacturer ignored these basic safety precautions in order to save $12 per car.
Today, three-point belts are required in all rear seating positions. The change was made partly because of lawsuits like mine.

Over the last several years, we have witnessed a disgraceful effort to subvert Illinois’ civil justice system with misleading rhetoric about "out of control" judges and juries, resulting in cruel proposals that would cheat the sick and injured. They would also allow corporations to escape financial responsibility for causing injuries and death.

The civil justice system gave me an opportunity to succeed in life. It is a system that empowered me to help others with disabilities and put me on a path to becoming the next Ms. Wheelchair America. Access to this system should be preserved and expanded so that corporations that commit wrongdoing pay for the harm and damage they cause.
Sexton, age 26, is Ms. Wheelchair Illinois.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

‘Right of Refusal’ Policy Hurts Women, Pharmacists Alike
By Teresa D. Avery, RPh.

As a pharmacist, I am deeply concerned by the Board of Pharmacy’s proposal to allow pharmacists to decline to sell prescriptions based on their personal beliefs. The proposal put forward by the Washington State Pharmacy Association and the Board of Pharmacy does not, in my opinion, represent the views of the majority of pharmacists who practice in our state. Fortunately, the board is now reconsidering the proposal, but advocates for women’s rights remain concerned about what the board may propose next.

Pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare professionals in the community, often giving free health counseling to anyone who approaches our counter. We have a long tradition of non-discriminatory practice and, I believe, that is why we rank among the nation’s most trusted professionals year after year. The public perception has always been that pharmacists have our patients’ health and welfare as our highest priority, even above our own personal beliefs.
However, a few in the profession are promoting a specific political agenda. They are attempting to politicize the profession, creating a culture of fear among pharmacists and patients alike and polarizing our religious communities. The issue of right of refusal is proving to be another area where those with specific and openly conservative views are attempting to change policy in our state.

Some argue that the proposed "right" of refusal is about a pharmacist’s individual moral or religious beliefs and the right to express them. Yet, the Board of Pharmacy’s own Mission Statement reads: "WSBP leads in creating a climate of patient focused practice of pharmacy." So whose rights are really the priority -- the patients’ rights or the few conservative pharmacists’ rights? Isn’t this proposal just a way of legitimizing social extremism by a few pharmacists while skirting the real issue at hand?

The bottom line is that this began as an issue pertaining to the reproductive rights of women, and it is coming to the forefront now because of the agenda promoted by a small and vocal group of people who purposely muddle faith and politics. It is another manifestation of the grassroots campaign that is being waged in cities and states all across the country, and it is a blatant attempt to limit access to legally available methods of birth control. However, all patients should consider that the Board’s proposal would allow pharmacists to refuse any prescription, for any personal reason. I do not believe that the religious beliefs of one person should trump the rights of another in this country.

I never dreamed that the principles of equal access to care for all that I learned at the University of Washington School of Pharmacy 16 years ago regarding the Pharmacist’s Code of Ethics would be so boldly threatened. I am deeply saddened that the progressive standards of pharmacy care in Washington are being challenged by this conservative agenda.
Despite the Board’s proposal and the Washington State Pharmacy Association’s present position, I believe that the majority of pharmacists in this state are fair minded and do not appreciate the profession being politicized in this manner. I believe that most of us are able to separate personal beliefs from professional obligations to our patients. Most of my colleagues understand and respect the long tradition pharmacists uphold. Being unbiased, non-judgmental and always respecting the fact that our patients are entitled to make choices that affect their lives even though others may not agree is the hallmark of our profession.

I strongly urge the Board to maintain the leadership role that Washington has always held in our profession by protecting the health and well-being of people, especially women, of our state; by ensuring that any patient can go into any pharmacy in Washington State and have his or her valid, legal prescription filled.
Avery is the manager of Cabrini Medical Tower Pharmacy in Seattle.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Economic Status Should Not Hinder Higher Education
By Sui Lang Panoke

Is access to graduate education exclusive to the upper class?

As a first-year graduate student struggling to make ends meet, I believe the answer to this question is yes. In my experience, searching for funding to pay the extensive costs of my higher education has been an upward climb leading only to dead ends.

I am a single mother who qualifies for the maximum amount in federal aid for graduate students. However, this amount barely covers my tuition, and the costs of housing, books, and living expenses are left entirely to me.

I have no college fund, trust, or inheritance. I don’t independently qualify for private student loans because I lack the substantial credit or the employment history that is required, and I do not have the luxury of having a willing and eligible co-signer. Furthermore, I can only work part-time jobs while in school in order to qualify for childcare assistance.

While I have applied for a few scholarships, I have yet to be awarded one, and I have found that they are an extremely limited and unreliable resource to use to fund graduate school. Scholarships represent less than four percent of the total aid available each year for college students and a merely a fraction of that for graduate students. Contrary to popular belief, there are not millions of scholarships out there that aren’t being used every year.

The majority of students in my situation seeking graduate degrees don’t have the means to just pick up and move to another city without some kind of government assistance. Yet, Federal Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants are only available to undergraduate students. There are very few alternative options for funding my graduate degree based on my economic status. What’s even more frustrating is that if I were seeking an undergraduate degree, being a single mother would qualify me to have most of my college expenses paid for.

Why aren’t these grants available to graduate students? Federal financial aid is only available for your college education to a certain extent. Once you aspire beyond a bachelor’s degree the door for you is closed unless you, or your family, have the economic ability to finance whatever costs are not covered by your guaranteed federal student loans.

Today’s job-market is increasingly becoming more and more competitive. Bachelor degrees don’t carry the weight that they used to. It is almost necessary to have a graduate, doctorate or law degree to compete with the current highly qualified pool of candidates.

Higher degrees mean high salaries. However, the disparity between those who have access to receiving a higher degree due to their economic resources, and those who have the desire to attend graduate school, but are hindered by financial road blocks, is increasing. It seems that graduate level education is only open to the select few that can afford it, which usually come from wealthy upper class families in the first place.

We are failing to redistribute the wealth in America and the wedge between the upper and lower classes is widening. The system does not allow for equal access to higher education. Graduate students are held to a significantly higher economic burden than undergraduates that comes along with very limited and significantly less support from the federal government.

As a graduate student struggling to expand my education to secure a decent job in order to support my family it is clear that a federal need-based grant program for graduate students must be created. This will help even the playing field by creating access to graduate programs to students based on merit and ambition rather than economic ability. Money invested in graduate education will only benefit the government by improving the quality of life for its citizens, and students who come from low socio-economic backgrounds will have a better shot at achieving the American dream.
Panoke is a first-year graduate student at American University. She is working towards a Master’s degree in Public Administration with a certificate in Women, Policy, and Political Leadership through the Women & Politics Institute.

Gender Disparities Among Higher Education Faculty Demand Attention
By Julie Saad

Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard University president who resigned earlier this year, gained notoriety for his controversial remarks on women in science. It was also publicized that the number of women faculty offered tenure had declined every year since Summers assumed the presidency in 2001. While the situation at Harvard received significant media attention, gender disparities among faculty are not unique to that institution. In fact, the trend is national.
Since 1974, the American Association of University Professors has collected data to measure trends in gender equity among full-time faculty members at public and private institutions of higher education. Historically, women have been underrepresented among the highest academic ranks and tenured positions, and have faced a significant salary gap. Despite minor improvements, inequities persist.

Today, female faculty members at all types of U.S. institutions continue to experience disparities with respect to academic rank, tenure, and salary. While women account for 38 percent of full-time faculty overall, they are disproportionately represented at lower ranks and least represented among full professors. The gap between men and women faculty becomes no less evident with respect to tenure. At all types of institutions, women (on average) are 10 to 15 percent less likely than their male counterparts to be in tenure-eligible positions. Consistently since the late 1970s, 47 percent of women on the full-time faculty have had tenure, compared to 70 percent of men. Further, among full-time faculty from all ranks and types of U.S. institutions combined, women earn 80 percent of what men earn. This earnings gap is largest at the highest academic rank (full professor) and smallest at the rank of instructor.

Why should we be concerned? Education has long been viewed as a valuable investment in society. Higher education in particular exists as the arena where research is conducted to shape and influence public policy. Most of this research is executed and analyzed by the dominant professors in the field. Considering the disparities mentioned above, women are less likely to be involved in this process, and as a result, their unique voices and perspectives are often underutilized or left out completely. Of all places, our colleges and universities – which typically promote diversity and provide a forum for open exchange of ideas – should not be sources of inequity. Further, the current higher education climate is not attractive for women to even want to be involved in it. Would you voluntarily subject yourself to a field of work in which you knew you would be paid less than your colleagues and over the course of 30 years, still have a significantly lower chance of achieving one of higher education’s most coveted ranks?

Because of these disparities, women faculty members are disadvantaged and face significant barriers to advancement. Some universities have recognized this situation and experimented with ways to correct it. Special women’s task forces, diversification committees, flexible tenure policies, mentorship programs between faculty in lower and senior ranks, well-defined grievance policies, and services aimed at supporting faculty members with children (i.e., on-site daycare, affordable housing, etc.) have been proposed at various institutions. While such mechanisms are beneficial, gender disparities among faculty have persisted even after implementation of these initiatives.

It is not enough for institutions to implement policies designed to alter this phenomenon. Additionally, they must create a culture that supports utilization of new policies and those already in place. This means formalizing policies to make the entitlements and addressing the climate issues that often discourage female faculty from taking advantage of policies designed to benefit them. It means ensuring support from those individuals at the highest levels of university leadership. It means creating a centralized system in which policies are uniform across entire campuses rather than individual colleges or departments. Though progress has been made, we still haven’t begun to witness the dissolution of gender disparities and barriers to advancement that female faculty members currently face.
Saad is a graduate student at American University, where she is working on her Master of Public Administration and Graduate Certificate in Women, Policy, and Political Leadership.