Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sexual Harassment in the Technology Era: “Apps Against Abuse”

Sexual Harassment in the Technology Era: “Apps Against Abuse”
Blogger: Soojin Ock, Political Planning and Action Intern

Angry Birds, Wikipedia, Fruit Ninja…other than having the amazing capability of entertaining us during our morning commutes, what do these things have in common? Well, if you haven't figured it out already they're all Smartphone apps. With the rise of Androids and iPhones and everything else in between, there seems to be an app for almost everything you could ever need. Recipes? Check. Directions? Check. Sexual harassment and assault prevention? Maybe?

According to various studies on sexual misconduct, the number of women being sexually harassed and assaulted is much higher than the number of reported cases. The American Association of University Women for example, in a current study states that almost half of middle and high school students faced sexual harassment in the last year with most of the cases going unreported. With fears of victim blame, judicial error and concern for privacy, there is no wonder why the reported numbers are so low. With a seemingly endless list of superfluous features offered by mobile companies these days, it seems that technology and social media may be able to help to some extent.

To combat sexual harassment, local and international organizations have launched new apps that allow victims and witnesses to safely and anonymously report them. When victims report details of incidences, a campaign, started by Hollaback Philly, maps out the location and time of assault as well as sends supportive emails to women to encourage reporting the incident. Whypoll, a women's nonprofit group based in India, is releasing a new app called Fight Back that allows women to send SOS messages to friends and the police. In addition, the app allows women to report the location of street harassment so that other women in Delhi can avoid these areas. Here in the US, the Department of Health and Human Services recently released a campaign highlighting “Apps Against Abuse.”

These new apps are targeted at preventing sexual assault and partner violence by allowing women to quickly get in touch with friends or emergency contacts when in trouble. The app, “Circle of Six”, allows women to call friends with pre-programmed texts while, “On Watch”, activates a GPS coordinate to a friend if a situation goes south. These apps no doubt can and will help a lot of women who find themselves in trouble. However, technology can only go so far in protecting the rights and safety of women.

For the most part, these apps are largely based on sexual harassment and assault that occur outside of the workplace. Though greatly supported by sexual assault groups, these apps can do little to change the work culture if the complaints are not brought forth to the proper authorities. Yes, reporting these incidences anonymously online may help other women; however, it is only a small fix rather than a greater systematic change. Smartphone apps may not be helpful in workplace or school situations but reporting sexual harassment and assault will. By reporting cases we are encouraging other women to do the same so that we can change the overall dialogue of sexual misconduct in any social situation.

While a systematic fix only temporarily manages a problem, a systematic change can permanently transform the rules and enforce the protections that Title VII guarantees. We need to empower ourselves, our friends and even strangers to report any misconduct that they may fall victim to either in the street, the workplace or classroom. Without accurate information, resources that could be used to combat harassment and assault will be diverted elsewhere while perpetrators continue to victimize others. While informally reporting grievances may prevent other women from being harmed, our society needs to encourage an atmosphere where no occurrence of sexual misconduct or violation goes unreported or uninvestigated.

As with any progressive social movement, this will undoubtedly be an uphill battle. While massive underreporting is a current problem, we need to also acknowledge that legislation and enforcement of the law are imperative to these measures. Without support from legislators and voters, over time sexual misconduct laws be degraded into nothing more than a joke. Without our votes and representatives, these laws and policies can lose the strength they had to protect against violations. It is imperative that we, from the unemployed to the employed, from the student to the teacher, vote for measures and legislators willing to fight on our behalf. In the age of wireless tablets, touch screen computers and talking phones, anything seems possible. If science can go this far, there is no reason that we cannot go further.

 This is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Welcome to the Jungle: Sexual Harassment in College

Welcome to the Jungle: Sexual Harassment in College
Blogger: Bettina Hager, NWPC Programs Director 

One commonly noted sign of progress in the gender equality battle is that women now make up the majority--yes that is more than 50%--of college students.  This is an enormous advance and reflects the hard work and dedication of generations of women:  Women who have fought to be heard and taken seriously in the education system.  From an educational standpoint women definitely stand out; unfortunately, the college experience is not just consigned to lectures, exams and textbooks. 

Sexual harassment is a paramount concern for young women in today’s social climate.  We prepare our youth with college entrance exams, AP courses and “Week-One” icebreakers, but there is no curriculum or learning curve that adequately prepares for the new freedom college life offers.  Maybe it’s a result of my own collegiate Biology major, but I can’t help but equate the social college experience to that of a wild animal jungle.  Life may rely on discipline within the classroom, but once outside of those doors there is no truly enforceable law and order.

To comprehensively analyze the issue of sexual harassment would require hundreds of pages.  There is the fact that men, who throw the parties, inhabit the fraternities and dictate what makes their coed colleagues attractive, most often define social tiers and social order.  There are the issues of self-esteem, bullying and lack of sisterhood to be dealt within the women’s culture.  Worst of all there is the school administration that turns a blind eye--or worse blames victims--for fear of losing financial backing or support.

A few months ago I was visiting a friend in Brooklyn, and sincerely doing my best to leave work behind (there is no rest for the feminist), when I just couldn’t hold back.  Our barista was lamenting that her college just released a report that stated that there were no rapes on her campus and she “just knew that was not true!”  I admit it, I interjected.  I explained to her that more often than not the reports are sent to potential donors including well-heeled parents, alumni and federal agencies, who, as hoped for by the college, will bring in an important source of their revenue.  Federal law requires that colleges and universities, to retain federal student aid under Title IX, distribute these statistics annually.

I could tell that initially she wasn’t catching my gist.  I decided just to lay it out for her, “People don’t donate and are reluctant to apply to schools that report a lot of rape and sexual harassment.”  At first she didn’t want to believe that money beat out the safety of students, but after a short while it clicked.  I launched into my conviction that schools should hire women’s advocates to assign to all cases of rape and sexual harassment to ensure the victim is treated respectfully and the facts are collected without bias.  On my way out the door, she yelled out to me “this is why feminism can’t be dead.”  I told her I agreed.

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is not a phenomenon that just pops up when young adults unpack their belongings, dreams and expectations at their new college campus.  In fact, the American Association of University Women just published a new study Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School documenting the growing pervasiveness and dire consequences of harassment experienced by students in grades 7-12.   One approach that can help to combat this discouraging trend is to hold educational institutions to the level of accountability that is required to comply with Title IX to protect our youth.

Another important step is to protect the legislation under Title IX of the Education Amendments, prohibiting sex discrimination, including sexual harassment.  A combination of pressures and congressional opponents are threatening to weaken the enforcement of Title IX.  We can’t afford to let this important legislation, and legal resource, be taken away from our young women and children.  Until we can fix the system, it’s the only recourse we have.  Advocate with your voice, advocate with your vote.

“Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Thus, sexual harassment prohibited by Title IX can include conduct such as touching of a sexual nature; making sexual comments, jokes, or gestures; writing graffiti or displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, or written materials; calling students sexually charged names; spreading sexual rumors; rating students on sexual activity or performance; or circulating, showing, or creating e-mails or Web sites of a sexual nature.”

—U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights

·       U.S. Department of Education.  Office of Postsecondary Education.  The Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool. http://ope.ed.gov/security/, Accessed Nov 15, 2011.

This is a part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Initiative 26 and "Personhood": A Lesson in Deductive Reasoning

A Lesson in Deductive Reasoning
Brought to you by Politics 2011
Blogger: Bettina Hager, NWPC Programs Director


According to Justice Scalia in 2011: Women are not defined in the Constitution as “persons.”


As asserted by Mississippi’s Initiative 26: “Personhood” begins at the time of conception.  Heretofore, criminalizing abortion, miscarriage and birth control pills.

THEN: Only male life (as persons) begins at conception. Therefore, abortion, miscarriages and birth control that prohibits fertilization of female life is fully legal.

No, that just doesn’t seem right.  I guess two irrationalities really don’t make a logical point.

We seem to be at the dawn of a new political era.  A time when reason and logic are overruled by emotional reactionism, often at the result of a union of church and state.  A time when the simple muttering of “initiative” or “resolution” can send chills down a woman’s back.

On the ballot in the upcoming November 8th elections one can find a multitude of conservative measures.  Simply put, the aim is to take back the Civil Rights that have been so passionately fought for over recent, and many, decades.  One not so discreet example can be found in Mississippi, under the guise of “personhood” or Initiative 26.

Initiative 26 aims to assert that “personhood” begins at the moment of conception- when the sperm works its way into the egg.  As a result, any harm caused to this fertilized egg, embryo, fetus, or whatever term you prefer, would be criminal.  This technically would put not only the right to choice under assault, but also family planning via birth control and even miscarriage. 

One would hope that this knowledge would alarm women instantly of the possible harm and control the government would hold over them.  However, it’s polling rather well.

In a moment of liberal compassion, a group of young feminists and I tried to understand the logic behind the minds who put forth such legislation.  After a minute or two we stopped.  We realized it didn’t matter and truthfully we didn’t care- it had little effect on our lives.  Their thoughts, their actions, their choices, that is.  The legislation, well, that truly can affect us- our thoughts, our actions, our choices.  It seemed unfair, oppressive, and yes, very illogical.

One may wonder why a single initiative in a single state is such a big deal.  Well, it goes back to that domino analogy.  Once you figure out the perfect angle to knock down the first piece in the set, the rest fall easily into place.  We must use our hands, voices and votes to block this initial play.  If we let even one state fall, we may not be able to stop the rest from following. 

This post is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

“Care,” the New Four-Letter Word

 Blogger: Bettina Hager, NWPC Programs Director

Thank you Affordable Care Act.  In the current political climate it is rare to hear praise for this important legislation that the last Congress fought so hard to pass.  Healthcare Reform has become a dirty term and the efforts to undo it are an unfortunate distraction from the problems our country truly need fixed.  I feel the need to point out; however, that the only four-letter word in the legislation is “Care.”

We must look past the political rhetoric and evaluate the gains Healthcare Reform has provided to understand what is at risk if we do not fight to protect this legislation. 

The list of benefits obtained through the PPACA is remarkable.  Wellness exams, mammograms, domestic violence screenings and colonoscopies will all be available without co-pay.  Children cannot be discriminated against due to pre-existing conditions and are able to stay on their parent’s healthcare until 26 years of age.  These services have already been implemented and more will be added by the year 2014.

The 2012 elections are important to protect those benefits we currently enjoy.  They are also important as we protect those benefits that we have yet to see realized.  In 2014, Americans will witness the end to the day that pre-existing conditions serve as a barrier to adequate healthcare.  If the administration that takes office in 2012, however, does not want to uphold the current legislation we will never see these benefits realized.

As a young, and extremely fit, woman most would assume that healthcare is the least of my concerns.  I’ve been told that I can for sure have adequate care for $50 a month- easy!  What is not always easily seen or known is that even young people can have chronic health problems- well controlled petit mal epilepsy in this case-that either leave them with extraordinary fees or no “care” at all.

My current solution is COBRA, but that runs out eventually- luckily not before 2014.  For me, keeping the Affordable Care Act safe is not just theoretically nice, it is personal.  The results of the 2012 election will directly affect the following four years of legislation, but could have drastic impacts on our lives for decades. 

We often forget just how important our votes are and the fight that women suffered in order to gain them.  We truly stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.  Let’s make them proud.  I can’t wait to see you on the way to the ballot box next November.  I’ll be voting for my Health and Economic Rights, and yours too.

This post is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

#HERvotes Blog Carnival v.2: Jobs & Economy

Rebounding from a “Mancession,” Remembering the Ladies
Guest blogger: Bettina Hager, NWPC Programs Director

President Obama recently laid out his new “American Jobs Act” before Congress in the hope of revitalizing our economy, putting the willing to work and finally ending one of the Nation’s longest and worst recessions.  With unemployment at a startling high--and making only marginal, if any, improvements monthly--the country has one thing on its mind…JOBS.

The White House put much time and effort into outlining the effects of the Jobs Act for all demographics, including a fact sheet devoted exclusively to the effect on women and the economy.  Still it is hard not to wonder if, during this hoped for recovery from what is widely coined the “mancession,” we will again need to remind the Nation to “remember the ladies.”

The fact is that men did see a greater overall job loss and increase in unemployment rate during the recession.  However, the jobs that are being created are largely going to men.  While the meager return of 27% of men’s jobs deserves little celebration, it looks healthy compared to the 9% return rate seen for women.[i]  

One must also question whether the "mancession" was an economic phenomenon that unfairly hit men or if it was in part due to the fact that women were the ones more willing to take the jobs men viewed as beneath their station or steps down the ladder.  When it comes to mouths to feed and doctors’ bills to pay, most women quickly get over such objections.  It takes blind faith to believe that as higher paying jobs are created, companies will reward these women’s efforts with promotions from within.  As the nation rebuilds, we must make sure that women are at the decision-making table and voting their interests. 

When Abigail Adams beseeched her husband, John Adams, during the writing of the Constitution to advocate for women’s legal rights, famously to “remember the ladies,” it was out of necessity.  She knew that women did not have the right to vote, let alone a dream of serving in Congress or higher office.  It is now our prerogative, nay, our responsibility to make sure no one forgets the ladies.  We have the vote, we have the voice, let’s make sure we’re heard.

“If particular care is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no representation.”- Abigail Adams, March 31, 1776.

You tell ‘em sister.  

[i]Quick Figures: Job Gap Between Women and Men Persists in August. September 2011. Institute for Women’s Policy Research. 13 September 2011. <http://content.govdelivery.com/attachments/USEOPWH/2011/09/08/file_attachments/56898/FACT_SHEET_WOMEN%20American_Jobs_Act.pdf>

This post is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Our Sister Organizations are posting Blogs all throughout the Cybersphere in honor of #HERvotes.  We heartily encourage you to read, share, re-post, tweet and Facebook about this important campaign.  #HERvotes #jobs

President’s Jobs Plan Benefits Women, by Ellie Smeal

The Care Crisis, by Premilla Nadasen

The Old Boys’ Club Still Meets on the Golf Course, by Holly Derrhttp://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/08/29/the-old-boys-club-still-meets-on-the-golf-course/

Women Must Speak Up for Their Jobs, Sherry Saunders

Women Must Be a Part of Our Recovery, by Linda D. Hallman

Where are the Jobs for Recent Graduates,by Kendra McCormick

"Do you mind taking a short detour so I can vote?," by Emily Alfano 


More Women Face Unemployment as Public Sector Jobs are Now Targeted

Where's the Women's Opportunity

A Recession for White Americans a Depression for Black and Latino Americans

Mancession Gives way to He-covery
Young People Hit by High Poverty and Unemployment

Friday, July 29, 2011

Interviewing Lois Frankel

By guest blogger Anna Tsiotsias, NWPC Intern

It was my second day at a new internship in Washington, DC and I walked into a room full of women representing organizations at the forefront of the women’s organizations in politics. It was a group meeting of Political Action Committees (PACs) and the subject of the day was congressional candidate Lois Frankel (FL-22). As a novice intern with little experience, I was intrigued, yet intimidated, by the women seated around me.

I did have one thing working in my favor—geography. My first exposure to the world of PAC operations hit close to home. As a South Florida native, I am well aware of the problems that Florida’s 22nd Congressional District faces - from budget cuts at the state level, to Medicare, to Choice, the issues are all too relevant to the women’s organizations represented at the meeting.

The women sitting at that long, oval table spanned generations and represented prominent figures in the feminist movement. We all waited excitedly for the candidate. When Ms. Frankel arrived, her confidence as a tried-and-true public servant matched the overwhelming enthusiasm in the room. The PAC representatives did not waste any time in getting down to work and began “grilling” Ms. Frankel, most respectfully, about her positions and previous record on women’s issues and other issues that would be relevant in her race. Ms. Frankel, with little hesitation, espoused her support of a woman’s right to make reproductive choices, protecting Medicare, and her plan to create jobs in her district.

While the issues and the campaign held a starring role in the conversation, what the experience uniquely provided was a glance of the woman behind the candidate. Ms. Frankel began with an anecdote about leading the effort to get the coat racks, which were tailored to a male stature, lowered when she was a student at Georgetown Law School. I, standing at an extremely intimidating 5’6”, was instantly impressed with Frankel’s early drive to improve conditions for women. Frankel has used her years in public service to make life better, not only for women, but for all the people that she has served.

Ms. Frankel, who most recently served as Mayor of West Palm Beach, revitalized the downtown area, built a state-of-the-art library, and reduced crime. Her record is impressive, and it needs to be. Ms. Frankel briefed the group on her incumbent opponent, Alan West.

Representative West, who currently serves District 22, is a Tea Party sweetheart who uses his voice amongst extremists to oppose women and women’s issues. He was most recently in the news for calling Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schulz, also from Florida, “vile and despicable” for opposing his opinions on Medicare on the floor of the House.

West infamously condemned progressive women’s groups for “neutering American men” and for exacerbating the budget deficit. It was hard to believe that these women­— PAC representatives, campaign staff, and Ms. Frankel — who sat to my left, right and directly across the table are engaging in the mass castration of American men. There was no sense of aggression, just overwhelming support for women and the issues that matter to them. Besides, the sole male in the room did not seem to fear for his manhood and, in fact, seemed to take on the role with a sense of pride.

Progressive women are sometimes accused of, as West said, “neutering American men” and weakening America. Pardon my use of the “F-word”, but all I have to say is “F-that.” That is, “Feminist-that.” Comments like the ones made by opponent Alan West make the work of the National Women’s Political Caucus and all other pro-women PACs even more relevant.

It was an eye opening and refreshing experience to be in a room of people so energized and passionate about a common goal: women's parity and equality.