Speaking of Women's Rights: 03/11

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Good Little Bill

If you ever watch the Washington State Legislature in session, you’re likely to hear the phrase “a good little bill” used a lot. Legislators often use the term to describe simple bills that fix small but important problems.

Yesterday, the Washington State Senate passed a classic example of a good little bill: HB 1649, a two-page measure that corrects a quirk in Washington’s domestic partnership law. The bill provides that when same-sex couples who are validly married in another state or country travel to Washington, they will have the same rights and responsibilities as registered domestic partners in our state.

Currently, Washington recognizes the legal rights of same-sex couples who enter domestic partnerships or civil unions in other states, but provides no recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married in other jurisdictions. For example, if a lesbian couple registers as domestic partners in Oregon, they don’t lose their legal rights as a couple when they cross the border to Washington. But if a lesbian couple marries in Massachusetts or another jurisdiction that permits same-sex marriage, their relationship is not legally recognized in any way while they are in Washington. HB 1649 plugs that hole in the law.

The bill doesn’t overturn Washington’s unfair ban on same-sex marriages; that’s a fight for another day. But it does ensure that same-sex couples who are legally married in other jurisdictions will at least be treated the same as registered domestic partners while they are in Washington.

In past legislative sessions, the mere mention of the word “marriage” in connection with LGBT couples was sure to kick up a long and fierce debate in Olympia. But this year, HB 1649 passed with very little vocal opposition and by solid margins in both houses (58-39 in the House, 28-19 in the Senate).

Legal Voice was proud to testify and lobby in favor of bill with our allies from Equal Rights Washington. But the most powerful testimony in favor of the bill undoubtedly came from Janice Langbehn. In 2007, Janice and her partner Lisa travelled from Washington to Florida to take a cruise with their children. Lisa collapsed before the cruise departed and was rushed to the hospital. Hospital staff prevented Janice and the children from seeing Lisa for hours, saying that they were in an anti-gay city and state. Lisa died in the hospital without Janice or her children by her side. HB 1649 will help prevent other couples from facing the discrimination that Janice and her family endured.

The bill was sponsored by State Representative Laurie Jinkins, a newly-elected legislator from Tacoma and a strong new voice for equality in Olympia. Representative Jinkins is the first open lesbian to serve in the Washington Legislature, and HB 1649 should become her first bill to be signed into law.

Of course, HB 1649 is only a small step forward. Washington and 44 other states still deny marriage equality to LGBT couples, and the Defense of Marriage Act continues to prevent federal recognition of same-sex marriages (despite President Obama’s recent decision to stop defending the law in court). But every victory matters, and it’s a thrill to see this good little bill by a great new legislator headed to the Governor’s desk.

by David Ward

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

If I Wrote the News

Given my obsessions about grammar, vocabulary, and stereotypes, it’s probably no surprise that I scrutinize media reports looking for violators of all types. Sadly, I could make it nearly a full-time occupation. From the Seattle Times repeatedly referring to John T. Williams, the First Nations woodcarver who was shot by a Seattle police officer as a “chronic inebriate” (and that matters why, exactly?) all the way back to the incessant criticism of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s clothes, hair and personality, and continuing today with the unending and unnecessary inclusion of comments about women’s attire:

"Alternatively, history may choose to focus on the words of Conyers himself, who suspected foul play when Rep. Loretta Sanchez (Calif.), the Democrats' point woman on the contempt matter, discovered that her microphone wasn't working. "We'll have to have that investigated to see if it's pure accident," Conyers proposed to Sanchez, who, resplendent in a black outfit with silver sparkles, shifted to her neighbor's microphone."

Representative Sanchez was resplendent. Representative Conyers was just there.

So I started thinking about that old saying, “turnabout is fair play.” And here goes:

Washington D.C. . . . Senate leaders of both major political parties held a press conference today to tout their new efforts to rein in corporate over-reaching. “We’re taking a stand for ordinary people,” said Sen. Mike McMonahan, a tall white man who owns three homes. “It’s a new day in Washington,” chimed in Sen. Jennifer Bartlett, millionaire from Arkansas.

Chicago, IL . . . Advocates for low-income housing took to the streets to protest planned cuts to the city’s budget, in one of the largest gatherings in recent years. Frank Roberts, who is not a member of any minority group, addressed the approximately 10,000 people massed in Lincoln Park. “We won’t stand for this,” Roberts shouted. “Our political leaders need to know that we stand together for those less fortunate than ourselves.” The reaction from City Hall was swift: “We understand the frustration,” said staffer Ben Hanson, who owns a home. “But these are hard times and we all have to share in them.”

Boise, ID . . . The Idaho Legislature today passed a bill that restricts the rights of everyone who is not a natural-born, white, straight male citizen. Despite protests from women, people of color, sexual minorities and Henry Kissinger, an immigrant from Germany, Governor Fred Sutton defended the bill and plans to sign it. Attired in an outdated pin-striped suit that was unflattering to his coloring, Governor Sutton announced his support for the bill backed by his all-male, all-white, all-straight, all natural-born citizen staff. Staff members sported suits both pin-striped and not, accented by red (for red state, not communism) and yellow ties.

Seattle, WA . . . Two telecommunications giants joined forces today, as Mega-Tel Corporation acquired U-Talk in a $42 billion deal. Mega-Tel CEO James Dash, who refuses to disclose her/his gender identity, and U-Talk CFO Dana Simpson, a taller-than-average woman, met with reporters at U-Talk’s dreary headquarters in Kirkland. “We see this as the next logical step in establishing a monopoly,” Simpson crowed. “Through this deal we will be able to confuse consumers and impose new fees while providing no more service than before. Consumer advocates were outraged, but not surprised. “It’s just more of the same,” said a frustrated Peter Galvin, a short man. “We’re getting used to it.”

What’s your story? And while you’re writing it, please pause to consider whether those “fun” and “descriptive” and “illuminating” adjectives and modifiers are truly necessary.

(All names and most of the stories are imaginary.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Creating Change Together

Women have been taking the fall a lot lately: We’re to blame for putting ourselves in dangerous situations, dressing in a way that “invites rape”, and even adding to the deficit - or so it would seem from the way congress is slashing programs that benefit the female gender (the Program for Women, Infants and Children, for instance - which serves 9.6 million low-income women, new mothers, and infants each month). It’s safe to assume that we’ll also be blamed for unwanted pregnancies after cuts to Title X funding for family planning.

It’s easy to feel weighed down by the blatant disregard we’re seeing for women right now, in congress, in Egypt, in the blogosphere, and elsewhere. I realized the other day, while listening to Lynn Paltrow talk about fighting for reproductive justice, that what’s been keeping me afloat are the amazing women and men organizing around these issues, and doing some really incredible work to create change.

As part of Women’s History Month, the Daily Beast has compiled a list of “150 Women Who Shake The World.” You can explore the list here by nation or by name and remind yourself that the world is chock-full of compassionate, intelligent, kick-ass women who are hell bent on changing the status quo and making things better. Here is just a sampling of the amazing feats women are accomplishing across the globe (paraphrased from the Daily Beast’s descriptions).

Farida Azizi

In 2000, after five years of running a humanitarian-aid program for women under Taliban rule, threats against Farida Azizi's life forced her and her family to leave Afghanistan and seek asylum in the U.S. As a peace activist, Azizi has continued to promote the human rights of Afghan women through international advocacy. She was one of the founding members of the Cooperation for Peace and Unity, a network committed to developing peace capacities at the grassroots level.

Somaly Mam

By the age of 18, Somaly Mam had lived through horrors more extreme than most people can possibly imagine. Mam escaped to Paris and then returned to her home in Cambodia, where she pretended to be a nurse so she could hand out condoms to sex workers. She later founded Safe Havens for Victims of Trafficking and is credited with saving more than 4,000 women from sex slavery.

Hawa Abdi

In May 2010, when a hardline Somali militia tried to seize Dr. Hawa Abdi's clinic turned hospital turned refugee camp, she refused to back down, eventually getting the militia to apologize. Since 1983, Abdi’s once one-room operation has grown enormously, serving more than 90,000 people throughout the years. Not only did she create an oasis of order in a place decimated by hunger and violence, she also started literacy classes and programs targeted at ending female genital mutilation.

Then there are those whose contributions are simple, yet powerful - like one blogger’s use of rudimentary drawings to illustrate what should already be so blatantly obvious: That it is never ok to blame victims of rape.

We’ve got a long way to go. But I think it’s important to take a moment and raise a glass to these 150 women and all those who are doing everything in their power to fight for justice in our neighborhoods, in our schools and workplaces, in the United States Congress, and worldwide. In coming together, we have the power to change the world.

Monday, March 7, 2011

History Repeating?

In case you haven’t heard, March is National Women’s History Month! To honor the occasion, the White House released a report called “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being.” The report contained some good news, particularly about how women are now outpacing men in terms of educational achievement. But the report also made it clear that economic inequality between women and men is far from being relegated to the history books.

Among other things, the report noted:

  • Women earned about 75% as much as their male counterparts in 2009.

  • Although women are now more likely than men to work in professional and related occupations, they are “more highly represented in the lower-paying jobs within this category,” such as education and health care.
  • Women are more likely than men to be in poverty, with especially high rates of poverty (nearly 40%) for single-parent families headed by women.

So despite outdoing men in educational achievement, women continue to lag far behind in economic status. And if some lawmakers have their way, this situation could get even worse.

Let’s take what’s happening in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker is trying to strip collective bargaining rights for most public employees. It’s no secret that collective bargaining usually results in better wages and benefits for workers. As a result, Governor Walker’s proposal is a direct attack on the economic status of most public workers in his state.

Note that I said the Governor is attacking “most” public workers. Significantly, the Governor’s proposal would not eliminate collective bargaining rights for police officers, state troopers, and firefighters. As a few other bloggers have noted, Governor Walker is exempting professions that continue to be overwhelmingly male. Instead, he is limiting his attack to the bargaining rights of other public sector workers, such as teachers, nurses, and administrative workers – professions that continue to be predominantly female.

Whether consciously or not, Governor Walker is making a policy statement that traditionally male occupations are more valuable and deserving of respect than traditionally female occupations. If he is successful, other states are likely to follow Wisconsin’s lead. And women will suffer the most.

Unfortunately, this is the second time in recent history that a Wisconsin governor has tried to lead the way on policies that harm women. In the 1990s, then-Governor Tommy Thompson made a national name for himself by enacting a series of punitive welfare “reform” measures aimed at single mothers with children. Those policies led to similar laws at the federal and state levels, ostensibly designed to move single women with children out of poverty. And the result? The poverty rate for single women with children in 2009 was 38.5% - the highest rate since 1998, when many welfare “reform” policies were beginning to be implemented.

So this Women’s History Month, let’s hope that history doesn’t repeat itself in Wisconsin. Women can’t afford it, their families can’t afford it, and the rest of the country can’t afford it.

By David Ward

Photo Credit: National Women's History Month