YWCA Alaska Takes on Equal Pay

By Hilary Morgan

CEO, YWCA Alaska

In an unprecedented move last May, YWCA Alaska’s Board of Directors resolved to eliminate the gender pay gap in Alaska by 2025. While this would not be an easy undertaking in any state, for Alaska this is an especially daunting task. In 2014, Alaskan women made just 67.8 cents for every dollar paid to men. At almost 10 cents behind the national average, Alaska is ranked 48th in the nation for the gender wage ratio.

In Alaska, the gender pay gap narrowed just 5 cents over the 20-year period prior to 2014 – 1 penny for every 4 years. At that rate, Alaskan women will not see pay equity until 2142. When YWCA Alaska staff realized this, they decided that enough was enough. Hilary Morgan, YWCA Alaska CEO, presented the information to the YWCA Alaska Board of Directors in May of 2014. By the end of the meeting, the Board had unanimously passed a resolution to eliminate Alaska’s gender pay gap by 2025 and an initiative was born.

But this is unlike any other initiative. YWCA Alaska’s unique approach to this age-old issue is impressive; not only in scope and breadth but in increased likelihood of success. There are three major components.

  • The Initiative’s focus is on the economic impact of the gap rather than the social injustice of unequal pay. Alaska, being relatively isolated from the rest of the United States, is facing such shortage of skilled workers that businesses in the state refer to the labor pool as a puddle. Forty-eight % of the Alaska labor pool are women. The fact that women in Alaska make less than men in every major industry does not attract female workers to a state where they are desperately needed. YWCA Alaska sees this situation as the perfect opportunity to work with businesses to transform Alaska’s workplaces into gender neutral environments that attract the best workers, both male and female.
  • YWCA Alaska intentionally chose to avoid legislative or political routes to this solution. Since 1963 with the passage of the Fair Pay Act it became illegal to pay women and men differently for the same job. Since then there have been scores of piecemeal legislation addressing women’s rights with regard to pay. These have not demonstratively changed the financial landscape for women. Additionally, there have been several efforts that amass the top community thinkers to form a task force lead by a Mayor or Governor. As soon as that political official is not re-elected, the effort dies. For these reason, YWCA Alaska sought a different approach.
  • The YWCA Alaska Gender Pay Gap Initiative uses a 2-pronged approach focused on changing the societal, educational, and economic dynamics that contribute the gender pay gap. The YW has been in existence in this country for well over a 100 years and the Alaska YW for 26 years. We are not going anywhere. We are the perfect entity to take this issue on to resolution. With over 200 YWCA affiliates throughout the United States and YW’s in 122 countries throughout the world, we have an established distribution system, as the Alaska effort is successful, to close the gap once and for all. The two prongs of YWCA Alaska’s approach are:
  1. The Initiative works directly with businesses, organizations, and their leaders to create gender neutral workplaces.
  2. The Initiative works to further the education of women and girls on career choice, salary negotiation, and the subtle nuances of gender bias.

To date, YWCA Alaska’s Initiative has nearly completed all their Year 1 action items. They have also received $75,000 for the effort from one of the largest Alaskan employers, Providence Hospital.

Critical steps planned for the Initiative’s first 3 years include:

  • Obtaining endorsements from businesses and community members (Y1-3);
  • Educate community at large on issues surrounding the Gender Pay Gap (Ongoing)
  • Implementing a Best Alaskan Companies for Working Women Survey (Y1 Pilot/Y2&3 Expanded);
  • Creating a consultation and rating program for businesses who wish to implement gender neutral policies (Y2-3);
  • Building high school and college training programs for women on the topics of career planning and salary negotiation (Y1-3);
  • Produce a needs assessment for vocational education programs to promote non-traditional occupations to girls in the state (Y3);
  • Design and implement an Attitudes Towards Working Women survey (Y3)
  • Hosting an annual Gender Pay Equity Summit (Ongoing)

YWCA Alaska knows that by giving businesses the tools to build gender neutral policies and by ensuring women and girls are prepared to enter the workforce, the gender pay gap in Alaska will be eliminated. With over 40 current endorsements from businesses and statewide leaders, including Alaska’s Governor Bill Walker, the Initiative is quickly gaining community support and momentum. We look forward to working with YWCA affiliates country- and worldwide to close the gap once and for all!

Hilary Morgan is the Chief Executive Officer of YWCA Alaska.

Posted in Economic Empowerment, Empowering Women | Tagged | Leave a comment

Taking a Stand in Asheville, NC

By Beth Maczka

CEO, YWCA Asheville

The YWCA of Asheville is dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women. We offer programs that bridge gaps in education, health care, child care and earning power. The YWCA has been in Asheville since 1907 and currently serves more than 2,500 families a year.

Eliminating racism is one of the two central principles of the YWCA mission, along with the empowerment of women. The YWCA has a legacy in Asheville of being at the forefront of this work; in 1956, the United Nations Club invited Eleanor Roosevelt to speak in Asheville, but she would only speak to non-segregated audiences. The YWCA was the only place in Asheville willing to host an integrated audience; she spoke to a sold out crowd of over 800. And in 1970 Thelma Caldwell, then acting Director of the YWCA of Asheville, became the first YWCA African-American Executive Director in the South and only the second in the nation.

The YWCA’s ongoing challenge is to ensure that our programmatic and advocacy work reflects the needs of all the women we serve. We do this in several ways through our many programs. We address the achievement gap through our Child Care and School Age programs, and we address health disparities through our Diabetes Wellness & Prevention program, and by making healthy eating and swimming components of our children’s programming. We address institutional racism through our advocacy around get-out-the-vote efforts and racial profiling, and by increasing diversity and leadership among the YWCA staff and Board. And we address a need for continued dialogue and naming of racism through our mission and strategic plan, through honoring our history, by striving to break down racial and economic barriers through-out our building and in our programs, and through our participation in the Stand Against Racism initiative.

The YWCA’s Stand Against Racism brings people together to raise awareness that racism still exists and can no longer be ignored or tolerated. This April is the 7th year we’ve held the Stand in Asheville, and we’re proud that Buncombe County is one of the most active sites – with currently 43 participating sites! A full list of sites in our community on our website at www.ywcaofasheville.org/stand. Some examples of upcoming public local Stand events include:

Mountain Area Health Education Center’s Health Equity Team will host an event titled Micro-Aggressions: How to Identify and Correct. The objectives of the event will be to define the concept of micro-aggressions, identify forms of micro-aggressions, and utilize strategies to decrease micro-aggressions.

WNC Adoption Resources will host filmmaker and Korean adoptee, Barb Lee – who grew up in WNC – to Asheville, for a day-long workshop based on her films ‘Adopted’ and ‘Adopted: We Can Do Better.’ The event will explore parenting a transracial family, fostering positive identity formation, clarifying parental intentions, and navigating the politics of adoption.

The Asheville Jewish Community Center is having their stand against racism in partnership with Jewish communities throughout WNC. Their stand will feature music, arts, and a brief presentation.

The Asheville JCC is committed to creating a more understanding community that is open to exploring and embracing the many different cultural and ethnic perspectives in our vibrant city,” says Lael Gray, Executive Director of the Asheville JCC. “Overcoming all forms of bias, including racism, is vital to everyone’s well-being, and the JCC is happy to participate in the Stand Against Racism to share this message with our members, children, and families.”

Jubilee Community and The Episcopal Cathedral of All Souls will host “Rootwork: A Path to Liberation” A two-part workshop on racial healing with Vanessa Jackson, author, speaker, licensed Clinical Social Worker and Therapist, “Black Lives Matter” Facilitator.

Asheville Writers in the Schools will take a Stand Against Racism in conjunction with their annual youth spoken word poetry competition, Asheville Wordslam.

Janet Hurley with Asheville Writers in the Schools says: “It’s important for Asheville Writers in the Schools and Community to participate in the Stand Against Racism initiative because our organization is committed to racial equity, and we do our work through this lens.”

The YWCA of Asheville joins YWCA USA in welcoming organizations, corporations, houses of worship, government agencies and individuals to take a stand by participating as a site or individual in the 2015 Stand Against Racism. Any group of any size that believes in a society free of racism is invited to join us. Participation in the Stand Against Racism is free, and becoming a participating site is very simple. Each organization’s “Stand” will differ – from gatherings and discussions at work to larger scale stands like rallies and marches.

Strength comes from numbers. To become a participating site: learn more and register at www.standagainstracism.org.

Beth Maczka is the Chief Executive Officer of the YWCA of Asheville. A native of Maryland, she has lived in Asheville for 26 years. She has worked with the Self-Help Credit Union, The Affordable Housing Coalition of Asheville and Buncombe County, Pisgah Legal Services and most recently as Senior Program Officer with the Community Foundation of WNC. The theme that runs through all of her work – and that continues at the YWCA – is Beth’s commitment to racial and economic justice, particularly for women. 


Posted in Racial Justice, Stand Against Racism | Leave a comment

Mary Wolf: A YWCA Heroine

By Constance Tate

World YWCA

Mary Wolf of New York City has been well-known to friends in our city for her wide interests such as the theatre, music, and the work of Mt. Sinai Hospital, but her many YWCA friends have also admired her amazing, longtime and wonderful commitment to the YWCA for over fifty years at three levels: as a YW leader in the city, as a member of the national YWCA Board for 12 years, and as a supporter of the World YWCA with foreign trips and her role as a UN representative in later years.


As Mary has told some of us, her interest in the YWCA started originally with her husband who took over and ran the family paint supply business located on the West Side of Manhattan from about the early 50’s until the late 90s. After Stephen had become well-known at the West Side branch of the YWCA that was located at 51st street and 8th Avenue, the director there asked him one day if he had a wife who might like to join some of the leading city ladies who were volunteers at that branch. And that was the start of Mary’s volunteer career, which saw her becoming President of that Center for many years where Playwrights Horizons also got its start and where Alvin Ailey began his work and a famous Crafts Students League held classes for twenty years before moving to Lexington Avenue.

The West Side YWCA, also known for a time as the Clark Center, was a colorful and major headquarters, dating from the 1920s. It was a nine-story building with large- sized rooms for classes, dancing and the arts, and sometime in the 60’s it acquired an outside seven-story high mural that made it a landmark until the end of the century. Members involved at that YWCA ranged from such names as the Rockefellers and Polly (Mrs. Cleveland) Dodge back in the 50s and 60s to Robert Moss and Wendy Wasserstein during the 70s and beyond, when finally the closing of several YWCA single-sex residences led to moving most activities to the East Side. Mary as President there thoroughly enjoyed the excitement of fostering experimental theatre at that YW and remembers happily the search for new plays and eventually for a new home for the Playwrights theatre that has lasted to this day.

Meanwhile, as a New York leader, Mary had also been nominated for the National YWCA Board, where she served for three terms from 1979 to 1991, traveling to meetings around the country, working on various committees, and eventually caring enough to donate a decorative statue in memory of her mother to the YWCA Learning Center in Phoenix, Arizona, that was built in the 1980s. By the end of her term, Mary was also actively interested in the work of the World YWCA where she has now been a member of the World Service Council for over 30 years, serving on its Executive Committee, traveling to World YWCA meetings in Finland and Kenya, supporting its worldwide work, and also serving actively for several years as a UN representative at UN meetings in New York.

Those of us lucky enough to have served with Mary at any or many of these sites over the years have always been amazed at her wonderful energy and commitment to the YWCA’s work for women and gender equality. She has constantly been on the side of equal rights and an ardent proponent. As an early World YWCA visitor to Palestine in the 80s, she was equally passionate for the rights of women there, and we salute Mary for being an inspiration to all who have known her in her more than half a century with our YWCA.

Connie Anderson Tate is the current Chair of the World Service Council, and past Chair of the YWCA of New York City. She also served on the National Board of the YWCA with Mary from 1980 to 1992.

Posted in Empowering Women | Leave a comment

The Future Young Women and Girls Deserve and Demand

By Danielle Marse-Kapr

YWCA USA Communications Manager

Earlier this month, I was lucky to represent YWCA USA at a historic event, the first ever Young Women and Girls Forum during the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Hosted by World YWCA and sponsored by UN Women, the daylong event was planned and executed by young YWCA women. The day was full of brilliant speakers from all over the world touching on many of the most pressing issues for women in the United States and abroad: violence against women, access to healthcare, poverty, and education. Between panels, attendees broke into small groups to discuss the Beijing Platforms for Action and make recommendations for the post 2015 development goals. While we worked, artists rendered our ideas and concerns. Poetry group, I Sell the Shadow, facilitated discussions and created a beautiful poem based on our work. You can watch their recitation here!

Young women’s voices were prominent throughout the two week UN CSW. They shared their stories, led NGO side events on a variety of critical topics, and they supported each other as they advocated for the issues impacting their lives and their communities. During the YWCA USA and World Service Council reception, two incredible young women gave remarks about the work their YWCAs were doing. Following the reception, I interviewed both women. Isabella Diaz of YWCA Honduras spoke about how critical higher education was for girls in her community and how her YWCA was empowering women and girls:

Mary Fatiya of YWCA South Sudan also pressed the importance of education but brought a different angle: that education must be affordable and accessible. Young women and girls in South Sudan are often pushed into early marriage as an avenue to accessing education. Mary highlighted the importance of women supporting one another and the impact her YWCA has had:

Spending this time with other young women’s rights advocates was heartening and inspiring, but it also serves as a reminder of all that still must be accomplished here and abroad.

Posted in Empowering Women, UN CSW | Leave a comment

Stand Against Racism






By Dara Richardson-Heron, M.D.


Michael Brown in Ferguson, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Eric Garner in Staten Island, Yvette Smith in Bastrop, Texas, Aiyana Stanley-Jones in Detroit, Kathryn Johnson in Atlanta, the shooting of three young Muslims in North Carolina. The next few months will determine whether this heart-breaking litany of deaths becomes the catalyst for positive change in our society, or just another chance that passed us by.

Many marched in St. Louis, New York, Washington, DC, and other cities. Many carried signs that said “Black Lives Matter” and “Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere.” We all felt the powerful energy of a renewed common desire for racial and social justice.

Now, what is to become of that outrage and that desire to live in a world that fosters peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all?

We at YWCA intend to take a stand to achieve these goals. I invite you to join the YWCA when we Stand Against Racism in Washington DC and around the country April 23-26.

Stand Against Racism grew from the inspired local actions of the YWCAs of Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey in 2007. It quickly spread across the country with over 300,000 participants taking a Stand each year on the last Friday in April. Each year, Stand Against Racism grows in its size and influence. This year, this vitally important initiative became a signature campaign of YWCA USA.

Stand Against Racism

I am delighted to announce that this year we will kick off the campaign with a National Day of Action on Thursday, April 23; Stand Against Racism activities will continue in Washington and around the country through Sunday, April 26.

On April 23, I will lead representatives of local associations to Capitol Hill to press for passage of the End Racial Profiling Act, one of the YWCA USA’s key legislative priorities for the 114th Congress. This legislation would ban racial profiling at the federal, state, and local levels.

Systemic racism is at the core of racial profiling which is why it is a key legislative priority of the YWCA. Our 150 year commitment to racial and social justice and improving the lives of girls and women has led us to this important work. We feel strongly that all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender should be ensured justice and protected equally under the law.

Our National Day of Action will include issue briefings for lawmakers and their staff where we will highlight the harm racial profiling does to women of color. And, we will share information about how our local associations are working to eliminate all forms of racism, including racial profiling.

In the event that you are not able to come to Washington, D.C. to participate in our events, don’t worry because there are plenty of activities you can engage in right in your own community on the National Day of Action. Issue briefings with local government officials, e-mails to Congress in support of the End Racial Profiling Act, advocacy work in each state’s legislature, and community education are just some of the ideas.

Friday, April 24 through Sunday, April 26 local associations will hold a variety of events to raise awareness and build community around their ongoing work to achieve racial and social justice. There will be opportunities to participate in trainings and dialogues sponsored by the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism, and to seek ways to broaden collaboration with other private and public organizations.

The YWCA has a compelling story to tell about its commitment to social justice. Stand Against Racism is where we will share this story to our wider communities.

Make your commitment to end racism. Join me and YWCA participants across the United States from April 23 to April 26 as we collectively Stand Against Racism. Sign up to take a Stand TODAY.

Editor’s Note: Visit our Stand Against Racism website to find out more about the campaign, and to Take the National Pledge Against Racism.

Posted in Empowering Women, Racial Justice, Stand Against Racism | Leave a comment

Hey Girl, I’m Saved By The bell Hooks: A Two-Way Interview Summary

By Liz Laribee
Director, The MakeSpace 

I stumbled onto the concept of intersectionality later than I’d like to admit. I had already earned a degree, I had already learned how to do my own taxes, I had already learned that it’s totally within your right to turn down brunch invitations when you have no reason beyond not wanting to go. But there is always more to know, and one of the most meaningful sources of knowledge in my recent years has been an expert on emancipatory politics: bell hooks. hooks has published over thirty books on how different societal factors “intersect” to create systems of oppression within American culture focusing largely on race, gender, capitalism and class domination.

This focus became the impetus for a strange comedy project I undertook last month: Saved By The bell hooks. It’s a website that applies the writing of bell hooks to stills from the wildly popular 90s sitcom Saved By The Bell. The idea was to let the incredibly far-reaching critical theory of hooks’ words interact with a very familiar and nostalgic staple of my own childhood. When the site reached 20,000 followers in a matter of days, I began to understand that I had accidentally struck a chord.


On a similar note, Danielle Henderson is the creator of Feminist Ryan Gosling, a website that “pairs dense academic theory with pop cultural references” and which had gained much traction as a comedy piece with critical social implications. In fact, a study at the University of Saskatchewan is currently investigating her work to determine what the specific conduit of Ryan Gosling means to the subject matter of feminist theory. Says Henderson of her accidental fame, “There were a few points where I realized this project had shifted into something else entirely. It was featured on Jezebel the day after I made it, which brought a huge audience to the site and made me realize that I wasn’t just talking to the 5 people in my cohort anymore.”


Henderson now writes for several publications on pop culture through the lens of race, gender and class and identifies her practice of daily advocacy as “connecting people to the kind of work they want to do. Women, anyone who identifies as trans*, and communities of color often have a hard time making money from their creative efforts. Their work is appropriated before they ever see a dime, or they feel like they’re creating in a void because they don’t have a visible platform”

The hope is, of course, that leveraging humor against the cult of mass media consumption can identify new platforms for under-told stories. To bring the conversation into different spheres. To dissolve the idea that what we see every day can be separate from what people write in textbooks. And that we can all keep learning.

Read the full interview here.


Liz Laribee is a writer, artist, and community entrepreneur. In addition to helping establish numerous projects centered on arts advocacy, she has exhibited work in a range of regional galleries as well as in national and international print media. She recently launched Saved By The bell hooks, a website that applies the critical theory of bell hooks to images from the hit 90s sitcom Saved By the Bell. She lives in Harrisburg, happily, where she was honored by YWCA Greater Harrisburg as an Emerging Leader at their 2014 Tribute Women of Excellence event.

Danielle Henderson writes about film, television, and pop culture through the lens of race, gender, and class. She is a former editor and current staff writer for Rookie, and a book based on her popular website, Feminist Ryan Gosling, was released by Running Press in August 2012.

Posted in Empowering Women | Leave a comment

Obama State of the Union Speech Puts YWCA Legislative Agenda in Sharp Focus

By Desiree Hoffman
Director of Policy and Advocacy, YWCA USA

At this moment, as you read these words, many working mothers across the United States are anguishing over a choice they should not be forced to make in this country today: Whether she can afford to stay home to care for a sick child.

This is a non-choice – a backward, archaic reality that President Barack Obama, in his 2015 State of the Union address, recognized must be eliminated by guaranteeing every working American seven days of paid sick leave annually, one of several vital policy initiatives that the YWCA firmly supports. At the same time, there were a few other topics we wish he had touched on but we recognize that any broad policy address by the top public servant in a country as large and diverse as the United States will necessarily be a mixed bag.

In thematic focus on “middle-class economics” and a number of specific initiatives, the YWCA heard several ideas we welcome and support fully. These include:

  • The need for guaranteed paid sick days and family leave
  • The need for a higher national minimum wage
  • The need for women and men to be paid equal wages for equal work
  • The need to protect the assurance of affordable healthcare
  • The need for race equity and reform of the criminal justice system
  • The need for access by all working parents to affordable, quality childcare

In the more than 150 years since the YWCA was established, we have consistently advocated for legislation that promotes women’s empowerment and racial justice. The above legislative priorities outlined by President Obama align with YWCA policy positions and with our historic vocation and we will work with members of Congress from any party who are prepared to support them.

On the other hand, we had hoped that President Obama would more clearly address the continuing scourge of racism in America, especially as it is manifests in racial profiling by law enforcement. His reference to the unrest in Ferguson last year and to the parent who worries his child can’t walk home without being harassed – implicitly youth of color being treated unfairly by law enforcement officers – was encouraging but left us wanting more. We must pass the End Racial Profiling Act this year to begin correcting this injustice.

We were also disappointed that President Obama did not mention the dire need to close legal loopholes that allow batterers to have access to firearms. In a country where an average of 46 women are shot to death every month by their intimate partner, domestic violence-related gun homicide is a critical matter that must be addressed immediately through legislation.

The YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. We look forward to working with Democrats, Republicans and Independents in the new Congress to support legislation that aligns with our mission. In that light, President Obama’s State of the Union address this year offered some useful direction that we encourage everyone to consider as we move forward.

Posted in Empowering Women | Leave a comment

Why We Must Protect Immigrant Survivors of Domestic Violence

By Sameera Hafiz
We Belong Together

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Over the years this month has provided us all the opportunity to reflect and refocus on the experiences of survivors of domestic violence and untangle the issue from the tired public debate: the NFL responses, the Chris Browns, and the persistent question, “why does she stay?”

Earlier this spring, I witnessed Adriana Cazorla, a YWCA member and survivor of domestic abuse, as she bravely shared her story publicly before members of Congress. She detailed how her husband, under duress, forced her to migrate to the U.S. For 12 years he physically and psychologically abused her, and threatened to take their kids and have her deported if she dared to leave him. Eventually, he reported her to immigration and she was detained. She spent four terrifying months locked up in detention, wondering if her children were safe and uncertain about whether she would ever be reunited with them.  Through her persistent strength and bravery, however, Adriana was able to get custody of her children, gain independence, and benefit from legal protections for immigrant survivors of violence.

Now Adriana inspires others as a YWCA volunteer by sharing her story and talking to women living with family violence about their options. I wish Adriana was with me last month when I met with survivors at an immigration detention center in Karnes, Texas.  The facility houses over 500 women and children – many who have fled domestic violence, sexual abuse, forced gang recruitment and other forms of violence. The women and children locked up in the Karnes facility face uncertainty about their future. Will they be allowed to stay in the U.S. or forced to return to the dangers and trauma they fled? Many of the women expressed fear. Will their children be taken from them, will they be put in jail for years?

Since I visited Karnes in September, allegations of sexual abuse by facility staff have emerged – stories of guards seeking sexual favors in the middle of the night and groping women in front of their children. I wish Adriana could have talked to some of these women – as an example of someone who survived family violence and the re-traumatizing effects of detention – and redefined her family as one that is strong and free of violence.

As We Belong Together, the YWCA and other allies mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we continue to amplify the voices, stories and experiences of immigrant women.  We urge President Obama to immediately adopt recommendations for executive action that honors the experiences of, and strengthens protections for, immigrant survivors of violence. The President should: 1) immediately end the practice of family detention and ensure that no survivors of domestic violence or other forms of violence against women are placed in immigration custody; 2) end partnerships between immigration and local police, like the Secure Communities program, which prevent survivors from calling the police and seeking help and safety; and 3) ensure that survivors can meaningfully access protections already in the law which would allow them to seek independence and live free from fear.

This month, I will continue to reflect and refocus on Adriana’s story and the stories of the hundreds of survivors locked up today as a result of these inhumane policies. And I hope you will join with the We Belong Together campaign as we continue to pressure President Obama to take executive action on immigration that protects survivors and honors the needs of women and children.

YWCA Week Without ViolenceThis post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.

Posted in Advocacy and Policy, Children's Health and Safety, Domestic Violence, Empowering Women, Immigration, Sexual Assault, Violence Against Women, Week Without Violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Violence Against Women: A New Case For the Equal Rights Amendment

By Desiree Hoffman
Director of Policy and Advocacy, YWCA USA 

When the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decides cases, they set precedents in interpreting the Constitution and federal laws, precedents that all other courts, both state and federal, must follow. In the realm of legal equality, there are several legal provisions that feminist lawyer, Catherine MacKinnon argues, currently guarantee against discrimination including the 14th amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which she contends  they have “gone as far as they will or can to produce equality of sexes in life.”

While these laws are still critical in advancing the legal rights and equality of women, we need a new and different instrument to ensure that women receive fair, just, swift treatment under the law. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a constitutional amendment, would lay a sturdy framework to guarantee women’s equality. In particular, the ERA would go a long way in ensuring that survivors of domestic violence, stalking, and rape are adequately protected under the law.

Violence against women was not a focal point in the prior ERA discussion. With recent events swirling in the media on violence against women and statistics illuminating that on average, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence, and 1 in 5 experience sexual assault, there is a new direction shaping the ERA discussion.

One historic case that denied legal recourse for domestic violence was Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005), heard before the Supreme Court, which ruled that a town and its police department could not be sued under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for failing to enforce a restraining order, which had led to the murder of a woman’s three children by her estranged husband.

In 1999, three little girls, aged 10, 8, and 7, were shot to death by their father who had kidnapped the girls from their mother, Jessica Gonzalez. Jessica called the Castle Rock Police station informing law enforcement that her daughters were missing, she suspected her ex-husband took them, and that the restraining order had been violated. She said that the order of protection stipulated that their father could only see his daughters on alternate weekends and it instructed police to use every reasonable effort to protect the children to prevent violence. After numerous calls later from Jessica Gonzalez searching for her girls, the ex-husband showed up at the police station and opened fire. After he was killed by return fire, the police found the bodies of the girls in the trunk of his car.

The case reached the Supreme Court in which they ruled 7-2 that it did not present a cause of action of the 14th amendment, indicating that the Constitution is not available to compel law enforcement to protect women against domestic violence. The court held that Jessica Gonzalez had no actionable right to the enforcement of the restraining order and therefore no remedy under federal law. In other words, the Supreme Court ruled that due process principles under the 14th amendment did not create a constitutional right to police protection, despite the existence of a court-issued restraining order. Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia concluded that even if underlying state law created an individually enforceable right to police assistance in the enforcement of the restraining order (and it did not, according to the Court majority), a restraining order is not the type of “property” interest that triggers due process protections under the federal Constitution.

When women’s cases are heard by the highest court in the land they often fail because the 14th amendment, Title VII or other laws such as the Violence Against Women Act do not go far enough in protecting and upholding women’s equality. An ERA could require that states meet Constitutional gender equality standards in the enforcement of their laws against gender-based violence and expand the federal power to legislate against these crimes.

Unfortunately, we don’t have an ERA. We came close, but we still don’t have it. In 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment passed both chambers in Congress and went to the state legislatures for ratification. Constitutional amendments require ratification from three-fourths — or 38 — of the states. The amendment set a ratification deadline of March 22, 1979. Through 1977, the amendment received 35 of the necessary 38 state ratifications.

There are currently several bills pending in Congress that would make the ERA a reality.  Senator Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Maloney (D-NY) (HJ Res 56/SJ Res 10) have introduced legislation that would propose an amendment to the constitution guaranteeing equal rights for women. HJ Res 56 has bi-partisan support.

Another ERA bill takes a “three-state” approach, sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Jackie Speier, (D-CA) and would repeal the ratification deadline and make the ERA part of the Constitution when three more states ratify it.

It is critical that we urge Congress to pass the ERA. We also need to take immediate steps to enforce existing laws to ensure that guns are removed and seized from domestic abusers once a protection order is issued. Current federal law prohibits individuals who have been convicted of domestic abuse or are under a permanent restraining order from possessing a firearm. But in the case of Jessica Gonzalez this did not happen. There were a series of overlapping and terrifying events that could have prevented the untimely and tragic deaths of her children. A stronger legal framework in which women are protected, especially in domestic violence cases, is needed.

YWCA Week Without ViolenceThis post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.

Posted in Advocacy and Policy, Children's Health and Safety, Domestic Violence, Empowering Women, Sexual Assault, Violence Against Women, Week Without Violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#WorkAgainstViolence: Immigration-Related Violence

By Tralonne Shorter
Senior Advocacy & Policy Associate for Racial Justice and Civil Rights

Without question, immigration reform is one of the most pivotal civil rights issues of our day. Women are increasingly becoming the face of the immigrant population in the United States. They now make up 51% of the immigrant population; 100 immigrant women arrive in the United States for every 96 men. Unaccompanied child migrants fleeing violence in Central America are expected to reach 96,000 by the end of the year.

The partisanship among Washington lawmakers has not only stopped action on comprehensive immigration reform for this year but also has taken a devastating toll on countless immigrant families, especially women. Immigrant women face increased barriers to safety net services. While one in four women are victims of domestic violence, a national cap of 10,000 U-Visas limit the number of immigrant victims of domestic violence and human trafficking from fleeing abuse.

Immigration reform is the pathway to liberating domestic violence victims by increasing access to U-Visas and allowing victims to petition directly for legal status without relying on an abusive spouse. Without an increase in U-Visas, domestic violence and trafficked victims are subject to remain in progressively violent situations that may lead to death.  Additionally, immigration reform offers refuge to thousands of families fleeing countries ravaged by violence.

It is unacceptable for common-sense immigration reform policy to have languished in Congress for more than one year while immigrant women and children victimized by violence are held hostage to partisanship. Every day we wait for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, an estimated 1,100 aspiring Americans are deported.  Sadly, current deportation totals have reached an all-time high of two million under any president’s tenure. Our country’s growing immigration crisis has become a moral crisis of leadership and character.

We look forward to working with President Obama and Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation that grants citizenship to the 11 million aspiring Americans, ensures due process, the humane detainment, and safe reunification of our immigrant brothers and sisters who are simply seeking compassion beyond refuge.

As one of the oldest women’s rights organizations and the largest provider of domestic violence shelters in the United States, with over 1,300 locations across the country, the YWCA USA is deeply invested in ensuring that comprehensive immigration reform factors in the unique needs of women. Please join us and take action to get comprehensive immigration reform passed in Congress.  

YWCA Fact Sheets


Tralonne Shorter is the Senior Advocacy and Policy Associate for Racial Justice and Civil Rights at the YWCA USA. She is a social justice advocate with a distinguished 17-year career having worked as a non-profit government relations consultant, lobbyist, and senior adviser to various elected officials. Throughout her career, she has worked extensively on major social justice issues addressing domestic violence, immigration reform, racial profiling, workforce development, and civic engagement.

YWCA Week Without ViolenceThis post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.

Posted in Advocacy and Policy, Children's Health and Safety, Domestic Violence, Immigration, Racial Justice, Violence Against Women, Week Without Violence | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment